The Allegory of the Palace

“I want to know how great palaces are built; I must know” asserted the bearded young man to the wise man. “First you must learn the laws of mathematics if you are to understand the intricate interplay of forces in every building. You must learn of aesthetics if you are to appreciate the comfort, joy and satisfaction it is possible to produce with these mathematical laws. Go back and study mathematics and geometry, study art, music and poetry, and then you will understand how great palaces are built”

The bearded young man returned to study; every day he piled book after book around himself, drank coffee in the mornings, tea in the evenings and mathematics and geometry and art and music and poetry the whole day. After some years, innumerable library fines, a Siberian forest of paper, and the ink of an extended family of giant squid, he returned to the wise man. “I have studied every book in the library on mathematics, art, music and poetry. I can describe why the arch of the palace doesn’t fall, why the turns on its cornices cease a man’s steps, why the resonance of its chapel makes men think of God, but I would have no idea where to even start if asked to build a palace for myself.” The wise man pondered a moment, “You must study architecture and design, to learn how the arches and the cornices and the domes fit together, how to create them in your mind and with your pen. Then you will know how great palaces are built.”

The bearded man returned to study… jada jada jada. You get it right? He studies architecture and design, then he studies project management and site management, then carpentry and bricklaying, then how sawmills work and lumberjacking, and brick firing and clay quarrying. And yet he is never satisfied, always returning to the wise man downtrodden (somehow the wise man is still alive… it’s a story, he’s magical or something), with the empty feeling that something is missing, that there is something behind it all that he can’t find.

The bearded old man watches the hardened clay fall to the floor and crumble. His knees crack as he bends down and in a cupped hand collects the pieces. Rolling and pressing ‘tween his thumb and other two most useful digits the clay dissolves.  “I have studied and I have searched, pulled apart the palace from the top to the bottom, seen how she makes men wonder, how she keeps them dry and warm, heard the choirs sing and the laughter of children resounding under her domes. These things I always questioned, looked for something more. Now I am old, and I know how a great palace is built. It begins and it ends with a handful of dust.”