A Complete History of the World


In the first year known, numbers, letters, and images erased themselves from their containers and catalogues. From books and documents, from digital and audio storage, from monuments and from posters, a new voice had risen up and quashed all of the others: nothing.

Following this period, there were many years of lawlessness and chaos. The old institutions stood abandoned or were crumbling. The men and women lived in the wooded hollows, or in tents set up on the rustling plains. The cities, if they remained, became jungles. Few went to them.

During the chaos a sect of ambitious men had sprung up almost overnight. Some of them were in contact with one another–these called themselves the tradionalists–but the others, even if they were isolated, were of the same mind. They would recreate all of the great works lost during the erasure, those of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Confucious, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Joyce, and Nabokov, among many others. The effort was a unanimous failure. The remembered copies were rough and shoddy death masks which, because of a general lack of vitality, found no home in the collective imagination.

By the time the chaos had ended there were few who remembered the original works, and even those who did couldn’t be sure whether or not they had dreamed them. The copies were widely considered heresies; they had no relation to the world of the present and so must be lies. A few old, decrepit men continued working, oblivious to all that was happening around them; their recollections were dim and clouded, and the work they produced was as cramped and airless as a musty, narrow hallway. The people, who were busy hunting the forests and hoeing the plains, ignored it.

Time passed. As the techniques of the people grew in complexity, less work was needed to support more people, and from this difference came the classes of clerics and administrators. The people arranged themselves into settlements, and these settlements entered into a systematic dance of war, amalgamation, and death. The stories of conquests, and of daily life, were remembered in song. In time the lyrics, which were written by ordinary people, were recorded by one, or many, scholars. The first lines of one of the most famous works, translated into English, went like this:

Achilles’ baneful wrath–resound, O Goddess–that impos’d
Infinite sorrows on the Greeks, and many brave souls loos’d
From breasts heroic; sent them far, to that invisible cave
That no light comforts; and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave:
To all which Jove’s will gave effect; from whom first strife begun
Between Atrides, king of men, and Thetis’ godlike son.

In the eleventh century, twenty-three centuries after these words were written down, one hundred centuries after the chaos, the disciples of Gerbert, having learned of it from the Spanish Moors, first came into possession of the astrolabe, which for the first time allowed them to make accurate measurements of the stars.

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