X The Building of a City

Some people came to me and asked me to build a city for them. I said there were far too few of them, there would be room enough for them in one house, I was not going to build any city for them. But they said there would be yet others coming along and that there were, after all, married people among them who were expecting children, nor need the city be built all at once, but only the ground plan established and the rest carried out bit by bit. I asked where they wanted to have the city built; they said they would show me the place in a moment. We went along the river until we came to a fairly high board hill, steep on the side next to the river but otherwise sloping away gently. They said up there was where they wanted to have the city built. There was nothing there but thin-growing-grass, and no trees, which suited me, but the drop of the river seemed too steep to me and I drew their attention to this. They said, however, that there was no harm in this, the city would, after all, extend along the other slopes and would have enough other means of access to the water, and besides, in the course of time ways would perhaps be found of somehow coping with the steep cliff; in any case, that was not to be any obstacle to founding a city on this spot. Besides, they said, they were young and strong and could easily climb up the cliff, which they said they would demonstrate to me at once. They did so; like lizards their bodies darted upwards among the crevices in the rock, and soon they were at the top. I went up too and asked them why they wanted the city to be built precisely here. The place did not seem to be particularly suitable for purposes of defense, its only natural protection was on the riverside, and precisely there, after all, was where one would have wished to have the means of setting out easily and freely; but the plateau was easily accessible from all other sides, and for that reason, and alse because of its greater expanse, difficult to defend. Apart from this, the ground up here had not yet been tested for its fertility, and to remain dependent on the lowlands and at the mercy of transport was a dangerous thing for a city, especially in times of unrest. Further, it had not yet been established whether there was enough drinking water available up there; the little spring they showed me did not seem good enough to rely on.

“You’re tired” one of them said, “you don’t want to build the city.”

“Yes, I’m tired” I said and sat down on a boulder near the spring. They dipped a cloth in the water and freshened my face with it. I thanked them. Then I said that I wanted to walk round the plateau once by myself, and left them; it took a long time; when I came back it was dark; they were all lying round the spring, asleep; a light rain was falling.

In the morning I repeated my question. They did not immediately understand how I could repeat the evening’s question in the morning. Then, however, they said they could not give me the exact reasons for which they had chosen this place, but there were ancient traditions that recommended the place. Even their forefathers had wanted to build the city here, but for some reasons, which tradition did not record exactly either, they had not begun after all. In any case, then, it was no wanton whim that had led them to this place; on the contrary they did not even much care for the place, and the counterarguments they had already thought of for themselves and acknowledged to be irrefutable, but there it was, they said there was this tradition, and anyone who did not follow tradition would be annihilated. For this reason, they said, they could not understand why I was hesitating and had not, indeed, begun to build the day before.

I resolved to go away, and climbed down the cliff to the river. But one of them had awakened and had waked the others and now they stood on the edge of the cliff and I was only halfway down and they pleaded and called to me. So I turned back, they helped me and pulled me up. They were very grateful to me, made speeches to me, kissed me.