When it comes to the heading of ‘Inventions’, I think the sublime moment is this:
The main character in “River God” is the head slave of the imperial palace. He’s one of those do-all kind of guys; physician, astronomer, architect, inventor, etc. But, as exciting as his long life is, there is one moment that surpasses all others.
The enemy has invaded and their war chariots, with long razor-sharp blades coming out of the hubs, are slicing the Egyptian legions to ribbons. The horses and riders are both covered with armor and are almost impervious to the Egyptians’ weak spears and arrows. This devastating new weapon panics the remaining Egyptian solders and the battle, and finally the kingdom, is lost.
On a hill high above the battle the slave takes all of this in, but what has him reeling with shock and despair isn’t the fearsome war machines before him.
It’s the wheels the chariots are mounted on.
I admit, it must have been stupefying to the first Egyptians who saw them. After veritably a lifetime of rational, scientific endeavor like the hero in the book; to suddenly see something so obvious must have come as the most mind-altering, ego-shattering blow humanly imaginable.
Not to mention civilization-changing.
As I note in the piece, what’s particularly baffling about it all is that we have natural axle-ready ‘wheels’ around us in nature, i.e., an eroded pebble in a stream bed or a sawed-off piece of tree trunk with a knot in the middle which pops out. So you’d think it would have evolved naturally, like fire, without any historical point of reference you could point to. But nope.
So, if you had to boil it down to one single moment, the great architects of the Egyptian empire seeing the wheel for the first time gets my vote.
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