GOD FINALLY REALIZED WHAT WAS GOING ON AND DECIDED TO END LIFE ON EARTH ITSELF BY SENDING A MASSIVE FLOOD. EUROPE HAD JUST concluded a bloody world war. And the deluge would sympathetically wash everything away that disfigured the aging planet: the bloody snow fields, the mountains bristling with cannon, the decaying bodies and those who mourned them, the wrathful and the bloodthirsty, including the poverty stricken, the starving, and the mentally ill. The azure heavens looked down upon the cleansed sphere with compassion.
In spite of all the violence and destruction, European technology had been able to maintain itself nobly until the end. For weeks Europe prudently and tenaciously held out against the slowly rising waters. At first, they used monstrous dams, on which millions of war prisoners slaved day and night. Then, they used artificial elevations, which were constructed with fabulous speed and, in the beginning, resembled giant towers. From these towers the heroic character of white humanity held out with a touching fidelity until the day of judgment. While Europe and the entire world was being inundated and engulfed, there shone searchlights, still and calm, through the damp twilight of a declining world from the last high iron towers. And from cannons were spewed shells that screamed back and forth in elegant arcs. Two days before the end, the leaders of the Central Powers decided to make an offer to their enemies by using light signals. The enemies demanded, however, the immediate evacuation of the fortified towers that were still standing, but not even the most ardent advocate of peace could declare himself in favor of that condition. Therefore, they heroically continued to fire on each other's fortifications until the very last hour.
So water inundated the entire world. The only surviving European floated in the floodwaters, wearing a life belt. Before his final powers deserted him, he busied himself with the writing of an historical account of the past several days' happenings, for he wanted all future humanity to be aware of the fact that his fatherland had outlived the defeat of its enemies by a few hours and had thus assured itself of the palm branch of victory forever.
Then there appeared on the horizon a dark, gigantic, and unwieldy vessel that slowly approached the exhausted European. With gratification he made out a massive Ark and saw, before he collapsed, the ancient Patriarch, tall and with a windblown silvery beard, standing on board the Ark. A huge African fished the castaway out of the water — he was still living and soon returned to his senses. The Patriarch wore an amicable smile. His task had been successful, for at least one exemplar of all types of life here on earth had been rescued.
While the Ark moved calmIy with the wind and waited for the dark, muddy waters to recede, a colorful life developed on board. Large fishes followed the vessel in thick schools; the insects and fowl of the earth hovered above the Ark's roof in fantastically colorful swarms. Every animal and every human was full of an inner joy — they were saved and preserved so as to create a new life. Bright and shrill screeched the morning call of the multicolored peacock above the waters; the happy elephant used his raised trunk to spray himself and his mate as they bathed; the lizard shimmered in the sunny beam work of the Ark; with quick moves, the Native American speared sparkling fish out of the immense flood. The African was at the hearth where he made a fire from dried sticks of wood while he rhythmically and joyfully patted the plump thigh of his spouse; the Hindu stood thin and erect, with folded arms and mumbled to himself some ancient verses from The Songs of the Creation. The Eskimo lay basking in the sun and sweated out the water and fat that was part of his diet, as he smiled from his small eyes. Simultaneously, a good-natured ant-eater sniffed around him. The short Japanese had carved for himself a thin staff that he carefully balanced first on his nose and later on his chin. The European used his writing materials to inventory the teeming life on board the Ark.
Groups and friendships developed, and wherever and whenever an argument threatened to break out, the Patriarch settled it with a gesture. Everything was pleasant and in accord. Only the European isolated himself as he worked on his inventory and other writings.
Then there developed among the dark-skinned peoples and animals a new game. In this game, the different forms of life on board the Ark displayed in a sort of competition their individual arts and capabilities. Since everybody wanted to be the first to begin, the Patriarch himself had to determine the order. He separated the large animals from the small. Then he separated the humans. Each participant had to introduce itself and present to the group the accomplishment it believed made it outstanding, each in its turn. This wonderful game lasted for many days because repeatedly, one group would interrupt its demonstration to run over to watch that of another. Every beautiful accomplishment was recognized with loud applause. An abundance of wonderful things was there to be seen! It was splendid how each of God's creatures showed its hidden talents! How splendid it was to see life's riches revealed! All life on board the Ark laughed, applauded, crowed, clapped, stomped with their hooves, and neighed superbly!
The weasel scampered wonderfully, and the lark sang magically. The turkey puffed out its chest, spread its tail feathers, and strutted majestically, and the lizard scooted unbelievably fast. The mandrill mimicked the Malay, and the baboon the mandrill. Tirelessly, runners and climbers, swimmers and flyers competed with each other, and each in his own way was unexcelled and received recognition. There were animals that could make an impression by means of their magical aptitudes, and there were animals that could make themselves invisible. Many excelled because of sheer strength, many because of their cunning, many because of the way they hunted, and many because of the methods they used to protect themselves. Insects could protect themselves by looking like grass, wood, moss, or rocks. Among the weak, there were those who received applause and put the laughing spectators to flight since they protected themselves from attack by exuding horrible smells. No one was left out. No one was without some special natural talent. Birds' nests were twined, pasted, weaved, and constructed. Birds of prey displayed being able to see the minutest object from tremendous heights.
The humans also performed their individual tasks superbly. How easily and effortlessly the large African raced up the Ark's rigging. The Malay made a rudder out of a palm leaf in three simple motions and knew how to steer and turn on a tiny board. This was, indeed, worth watching. With the lightest arrow, the Native American hit the smallest mark, and his woman weaved a mat out of two kinds of raffia. This mat was highly admired. For a long time everyone was silent and astonished when the Hindu came forward and displayed several feats of magic. The Chinese, however, showed how one could triple the wheat harvest by industriously pulling up the very young plants and transplanting them at regular intervals.
Many times, the European, who was remarkably unpopular, aroused the ill will of his fellows when he severely and contemptuously belittled their deeds. When the Native American shot a bird down from the high blue heavens, the European shrugged his shoulders, saying he could shoot three times as high with twenty grams of dynamite! And when someone challenged him to do what he had just bragged about, he couldn't. On the contrary, he would stutter and say, if he had this . . . and that . . . and the other thing, along with ten other materials, then he could show it. In fact, he even ridiculed the Chinese and said that the transplanting of young wheat plants would, to be sure, require immense diligence, and that people probably could not be made happy by means of slavish labor. Applauded by the other people of color, the Chinese responded: "A people is happy when it hears it has enough to eat and when it honors its gods." Upon hearing this the European laughed scornfully.
The merry competition continued, and finally all of the animals and humans had shown their talents and skills. The impression was great and joyous. Even the Patriarch laughed into his white beard and said with praise: "Now the waters can gradually recede and a new life can begin on earth. For each colorful thread is still present in God's gown — nothing is lacking to reestablish eternal happiness on earth."
Only the European had not yet shown a skill, and now all the others stormily demanded that he should come forward and present his particular capability so they could decide whether he also had a right to breathe God's air and receive sustenance from the Patriarch's Ark. For a long time, the European refused to participate and made up all kinds of excuses. But after a while, Noah himself put his finger on the European's chest and demanded that he follow him.
"But I . . . ," the European began to plead, "I too have developed a particular skill to a high degree of proficiency. It is not my eyes that are better than those of any other being, and it has nothing to do with my ears, nor my nose, nor any manual skill, nor with anything of the sort. My talent is of a far superior nature. My gift is my superior intellect."
"Show me!" the African insisted, and everyone crowded closer around. "There is nothing to show," the European said calmly. "You haven't quite understood me. The thing by means of which I stand out is my ability to reason, my intellect."
The African laughed cheerfully, showing a full set of snow-white teeth. The Hindu's lips curled up, indicting his scorn. On the Chinese's face appeared a sly but good-natured smile, a smile meant only for himself. "The intellect?" he asked slowly. "Come on, show us, if you please, what this thing is you call your intellect. Until now we have seen nothing of the sort around us."
"But there is nothing there to see, "the European retorted, sullenly trying to defend himself. "My gift and individuality is simply this: I store up in my head images, pictures of the external world. I am able to produce from this warehouse of images (entirely for myself alone) new images and systems. Since I can conjure up in my mind the world in its entirety, I can, therefore, create it anew."
Noah placed his hand over his eyes in embarrassed amazement.
"Forgive me," he said slowly. "Why is that supposed to be so good, to recreate the world God has already created, and especially to recreate it in your small head for yourself alone? What purpose could it possibly have?"
All the Ark's inhabitants shouted their applause and became very inquisitive.
The European protested: "Wait! You still don't understand me correctly. The workings of the intellect are not as easily displayed as some manual art."
The Hindu smiled. "O, yes it is, my white cousin. I think it is possible. Just display for us an intellectual feat; for example that of counting. Let us have a counting competition! Here: a married couple has three children, each of the children later establishes a family. To each of the young couples is born a child every year. How many years must pass before the figure 100 is reached?"
All listened to the problem with curiosity, started to count on their fingers and to stare abstractedly. The European also began to count. But, after a few minutes, the Chinese announced that he had solved the problem.
"Very good," the European admitted. "But that is a mere skill. My intellect wasn't given to me to engage in such mediocre tricks. Indeed, it was given to me to solve major problems, problems on whose solution the future happiness of the world depends."
"Well, that certainly pleases me," Noah said encouragingly. "The pursuit of happiness is definitely greater than all other skills. In that instance you are right. But tell us quickly what you know about the happiness of humankind, and all of us will be grateful."
Everyone waited, tense and breathless, for the European's response. In a matter of moments, as if from one voice, was heard: "Honor we bestow on him who can show us where human happiness lies! May he, the magician, forgive us for every evil word we said about him! What need would he have for art and skills that require he use his eyes, ears and hands? What need would he have for industry and mathematics when he knows such things?"
The European, who had up to now displayed a prideful disdain, gradually became embarrassed by this respectfulness in their curiosity.
"It isn't my fault!" he said hesitatingly, "You always misunderstand me! I didn't say that I knew the secret of happiness. I simply said my intellect works on problems whose solution will advance man's happiness here on earth. The road to this solution is long, and neither I nor you will be able to see its end. Many future generations will still have these difficult problems to brood over!"
The people just stood there confused and suspicious. What was the man talking about? Even Noah turned his head to the side and frowned.
The Hindu smiled at the Chinese, and when everyone else remained embarrassingly silent, the Chinese, without any animosity, said: 'Dear brothers, this white cousin of ours is a jokester. He wants to tell us that a process is going on in his head, the result of which the great grand children of our great grand children will perhaps get a chance to witness, but then again maybe not. I suggest that we recognize him as a jokester. He says things to us, however, that none of us are quite able to comprehend. We must suspect that these things, if we could really understand them, would give us reason for endless laughter. Don't you have the same feeling? — WelI then, let's give our jester a cheer!"
Most of them agreed and were happy to see this sinister story brought to an end. Several were, however, indignant and irritated, and the European remained alone and without consolation.
That evening, the African, on the other hand, accompanied by the Eskimo and the Native American and the Malay, came to the Patriarch and said the following: "Most honorable Father, we have a question to direct to you. We do not like this white fellow who has made fools of us here today. We ask you to consider this: all the humans and animals — each bear and each flea, every pheasant and every dung beetle as well as every human — have had something to show that we could use to honor God and enhance, protect, and beautify our lives. We have seen wonderful natural gifts, and many were amusing. Even the smallest animal had, despite its size, something entertaining and pretty to offer — only this colorless man, whom we fished out of the water last, has nothing to give but strange and haughty words, allusions and jokes that no one understands and that no one receives any pleasures from. — Therefore, we ask you, dear Father, if it is not incorrect to allow such a creature to help found a new life on this dear earth? Couldn't that result in a misfortune? Just look at him! His eyes are gloomy. His forehead is full of wrinkles; his hands are pale and weak, and his face looks evil and sad. His words don't ring true! There must be something wrong with him — God only knows who has put this fellow on our Ark!"
The Old Patriarch amiably raised his bright eyes to the petitioners. "Children," he said softly and full of grace so their dispositions would be lighter. "Dear children! You are right, and you are also incorrect! God had already given an answer to your petition long before you posed it. I must agree with you. This man from the land of the warmongers is no very gracious guest. It is very difficult to see why there had to be such odd people in the world in the first place. But God, who created his ilk, knows why he did it. All of you have a large and extensive fist of wrongs committed by Europeans to forgive. They are the ones who ruined our earth right up to the day of judgment. However, take heed, God has given a sign of what he has in mind for the European. All of you, you, my African son, and you, my Eskimo son, you have your faithful wives to help you reestablish a new life on earth — you have your spouse, and you your woman. Only the European is alone. For a long time, I was upset about that; now, however, I believe that I have surmised the rationale behind it. This man remains as a warning to us, as a stimulus, as a ghost perhaps. He cannot reproduce unless he is willing to dive back into the stream of multicolored humanity. He will not be allowed to ruin your future life on a new earth. Of that you can be assured!"
fell, and on the next morning could be seen
in the east, sharp and small, the peak of the holy mountain Ararat
from the flood waters. . . .
Noah the rainbow sign,
no more water, the fire next time!"
For bibliographical information on Hermann Hesse click here.
HieroGraphics Online has published this page for educational purposes exclusively. We offer it here in draft form to solicit reactions from our readers concerning the publication's linguistic style, readability, clarity, and appropriateness to the issue of cultural understanding and diversity. We ask our readers, therefore, to mark those places that have misspelled words, unclear or clumsy English, etc., copy it, and e-Mail the copy along with their comments to the HieroGraphics Online Webmaster.
Translated from the German by Edward W. Crosby, Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville, January, 1969. Revised and edited at Kent, Ohio, May 1, 1998. This piece was originally published under the title: "Der Europäer" in Traumfährte. © Copyrighted in 1945 by Fretz und Washmuth Verlag A. G., Zürich, Switzerland. This translation was independently © copyrighted 1998 by E. W. Crosby. All rights reserved. No copies of this translation can be distributed without the translator's express written permission.
The Ida B. Wells Community Academy