April 21st, 2013

Dore: Ogre


   The sage of Toledo finished his story and, turning toward Beremitz, addressed him in a friendly manner: "My wish is, O, calculator, that you prove, as did the third sage in my story, that you are able so to unite the material and the spiritual, and to solve not just human problems but the problems of the spirit. My question then is as follows: Which is the famous act of multiplication, which all histories mention and all men of culture know well, which uses only one factor?"
   That question took the illustrious gathering by surprise. Some of the present did not conceal their impatience. A judge at my side grumbled in irritation, "That question is outrageous!"
   Beremitz, after a moment's thought, replied as follows: "The only multiplication using a single factor, known to all historians and men of culture, is the multiplication of loaves of bread and fishes performed by Jesus, the son of Mary. In that multiplication there is only one factor: the miraculous power of the will of God."
   "An excellent reply!" said the sage of Toledo. "It is the best answer I have ever heard, and the Man Who Counted has solved my problem irrefutably. Praise be to Allah!"
   Some of the more intolerant among the faithful looked at one another in astonishment, and there was much whispering. The caliph interrupted in a loud voice; "Silence, all of you! It is for us to venerate Jesus, the son of Mary, whose name is mentioned nineteen times in the Holy Book of Allah."

-- Malba Tahan, The Man Who Counted, a collection of mathematical adventures, W.W.Norton & Company, 1993.