the lottery in babylon

like all the people of babylon, i have been a proconsul; like all, a slave; i have also known omnipotence, oppobrium, jails. look: my right hand is missing its index finger. look; through this tear in this layer you can see on my stomach a [Bermejo] tattoo: it is the second symbol, Beth. That letter, on nights of a full moon, confers me power over those whose mark is Ghimel, but subordinates me to those of Aleph, who on moonless nights owe obedience to Ghimel. in the [crespusculo] of dawn, in a cellar, i have slit the throats of sacred bulls before a black stone. for a year of the moon, i have been declared invisible: i shouted and no-one responsed, i stole bread and no-one decapitated me. i have known what the greeks ignored; uncertainty. in a bronze chamber, before the silencing handkerchief of the strangler, hoep has been faithful to me; in the river of delights, panic. Heraclides Pontico mentions with admiration that Pythagoras remmebered having been Pirro, and before that Euphorbo and before that some other mortal; to record analogous vicissitudes i dont find it necessary to appeal to luck nor to imposture.

i owe this near atrocious variety to and instituion that other republics ignore, or that works in them in an imperfect and secret way: the lottery. i have not investigated its history; i know that the magicians can't manage to work out an agreement; of their powerful propositions, i know what someone not versed in astrology can know of the moon. i am from a vertiginous country where the lottery is the principal part of reality; until the day today, i have thought as little about it as about the conduct of the indecipherable gods, or of my heart. Now, far from Babylon and its beloved customs, i think with some amazement about the lottery and the blasphemous conjectures that guarded men mutter in the [crepusculo].

my father told me that latterly - a matter of centuries, of years? - the lottery in Babylon was a game of plebian character. He told me (i am ignorant of the truth of it) that the barbers gave out, for small change, rectangles of bone or parchment adorned with symbols. in the heat of day, a raffle was verified: the fortunate received, with no other corroboration of chance, coins plated with silver. The procedure was elementary, as you see.

Naturally, thess "lotteries" failed. their moral virtue was void. they were not directed at all the faculties of humanity: only at hope. Faced with public indifference, the marketers who founded these venal lotteries began to lose money. someone attempted a reform; the interpolation of a few adverse chances in the roll of favourable numbers. By means of this reform, the purchasers of numbered rectangles ran the double chance of winning a sum, or paying a rather bigger fine. this slight danger (for every thirty favourable numbers, there was one ill-fated number) awoke, as is natural, the public interest. the babylonians surrendered to the game. He who acquired no chances was considered pusillanimous, timid. With time, this justified disdain duplicated. not only was he who did not play despised, by losers who paid the fine. the Company (as it then started to name itself) had to look after the winners, who could not collect their prises if the business had not almost the total fines in its accounts. they took legal action against the losers; the judge condemned them to pay the original fine, plus costs, or spend some days in jail. all opted for the jail, to defraud the Company. from this boast of a few, originated the allpower of the Company; its ecclesiastical, metaphysical value.

Shortly afterwards, the news of the raffles omitted the enumeration of fines and were limited to publishing the days in prison that each adverse number designated. this laconicism, almost inadvertent in its time, was of capital importance. it was the first appearance in the lottery of non-financial elements. the [exito] was big. instigatd instigated by the players, the Company aw itself required to increase the adverse numbers.

No-one is unaware that the city of Babylon is very devoted to logic, and also to symmetry. It was incoherent that the auspicious numbers were counted in round coins, and the inauspicious in days and nights in jail. some moralists reasoned that the possession of money did not always determine happiness, and that other forms of good fortune were perhaps more direct.

another worry spread in the lower neighbourhoods. the members of the sacerdotal college multiplied the draws, and they enjoyed all the vicissitudes of terror and hope; the poor (with reasonable and inevitable envy) knew themselves excluded from that swing, notoriously delicious. The just longing of all, poor and rich, to participate equally in the lottery, inspired an indignant agitation, whose memory the years have not overdrawn. some obsitante people did not understand (or pretended not to understand) that they dealt with a new order, a necessary historic stage... a slave stole a [carmesi] ticket, which in the draw made him worthy of having his tongue burned. The code applied that same penalty to those who stole tickets. some babylonians argued that it merited red-hot iron, in that quality of thief; others, magnanimous, that the executioner should assign it, as this was what chance had determined.... there were riots, there were lamentable effusions of blood; but the babylonian people finally imposed their will, against the opposition of the rich. the town fully achieved its generous ends. the first end, it resulted that the Company would accept the sum of public power. (this unification was necessary, given the vastness and complexity of the new operations) The second end, resulted that the lottery would be secret, free and general. The mercenary sale of chances was abolished. Already initiated in the mysteries of Bel, every free person automatically participated in the sacred draws, which were effected in the labyrinths of god every sixty nights and which determined desitny until the next exercise. the consequences were incalculable. a happy speculation could motivate one's elevation to the council of mages, or the prison of an enemy (notorious or intimate) or the rediscovery, in the [pacifica] [tiniebla] of a room, the woman who starts to worry us and who we never hoped to see again: mutilation, various infamies, death. at times just one deed - the tavern assassination of C, the mysterious apotheosis of B - was the genial solution to thirty or forty draws. to combine selectionswas difficult; but it must be remembered that the individuals of the Company were (and are) allpowerful and astute. in many cases, the knowledge that certain happinesses were simple fabrications of luck might have lessened virtue; to elude this inconvenience, the agents of the Company used suggestions and used magic. their steps, their schemes, were secret. to investigate the intimate hopes and the intimate terrors of every one, they deployed astrologers and spies. there were particular stone lions, there was a sacred latrine called Qaphqa, there were some cracks in a dusty aqueduct that, according to general opinion, led into the Company; malign or benevolent persons deposited denunciations at these sites. an alphabetic archive recollected these notices of variable truthfulness.

incredibly, there was no chortage of mutterings. the Company, with its habitual discretion, did not reply directly. It preferred to draw in the ruins of a mask factory a brief argument, which now figures in the sacred writings. this doctrinal piece observed that the lottery was an interpolation of chance in the worldly order, and that to accept errors is not to contradict chance; it is to corroborate it. It also observed that those lions and that sacred receptacle, although not unauthorised by the Company (which did not renounce the right to consult them) worked with no official guarantee.

this declaration pacified the public nervousness. It also produced other effects, although not foreseen by the author. it modified deeply the spirit and the operations of the Company. Little time is left me; they advise us that the boat is about to to weigh anchor; but i will attempt to explain it.

because it seemed unrealistic, no-one had yet attempted a general theory of games. the average babylonian is unspeculative. he accepts the dictates of chance, surrender life, hope, panic terror, but it did not occur to investigate their labyrinthine laws, nor the gyratory spheres that it revealed. without doubt, the officious declaration i have mentioed inspired much dicussion of juridico-mathematical nature. from one of these emerged the following conjecture: if the lottery is an intensification of chance, a periodic infusion of chaos in the cosmos, would it not come about that chance intervened in all the stages of the draw and not only in one? is it not [irrisorio] that chance dictates the death of someone and that the circumstances of that death - the reserve, the publicity, the place of an hour or a century - should not be subject to chance? Such righteous scruples provoked, in the end, a considerable reform, whose complexities (aggravated by the exercise of centuries) no-one understood but a few specialists, but that i intend to summarise[resumir?], although in a symbolic way.

Let us imagine a first draw, which dictates the death of a man. for its carrying out, we proceed to another draw, which proposes (let's say) nine possible executioners. Of these executioners, four can initiate a third draw which will tell the name of the twig, two can replace the adverse order with a happy one (finding some treasure, let's say), another exacerbates the death (that is to say, brings it infamy or enriches it with tortures), other can refuse to complete the sentence... such is the symbolic scheme. In reality the number of draws is infinite. no decision is final, all have ramifications in others. the ignorant presume that infine draws require an infinite time; in reality, it suffices that the time be infinitely subdividable, as the famous parable of the Contest with the Tortoise teaches. this infinity [condice] in admirable fashion with the sinuous numbers of Chance and with the Celestial Archetype of the Lottery, which the platonists adore... some deformed echo of our rites seems to have resounded in the Tiber; Elle Lamprido, in the Life of Antonino Heliogabo, tells that this emperor wrote on conches the chances that were intended for the guests, in such a way that one would receive ten gold pounds, another ten flies], ten lirones, ten bears. It is allowed to state that Heliogabalo was educated in Asia Minor, among the sacerdotes of the eponymous god.

There are also impersonal draws, for indefinite propositions; one decrees that there be thrown into the waters of the Euphrates, a sapphire of Taprobana; another, that from the roof of a tower a dove should be let go; another, that each century one takes away (or adds) a grain of sand from the innumerable grains there are on the beach. the consequences are, at times, terrible.

under the beneficent influence of the Company, our customs are saturated with chance. the buyer of a dozen amphoras of damascene wine will not marvel if one of them encloses a talisman or a [vibora]; the scribe who draws up a contract will hardly ever omit to introduce some erroneous date; i myself, in this [apresuada] declaration, have falsified some splendour, some atrocity. perhaps, also, some mysterious monotony... our historians, who are the most persipicacious on the planet, have invented a method to conduct chance; it is rumoured that the operations of this method are (in general) trustworthy; however, naturally, they are not divulged without some dose of trickery. otherwise, nothing is as contaminated with fiction as the history of the Company... a paleographic document, exhumed from a temple, can be a work of yesterday's lottery, or of a secular draw. not a book is published without some divergence between each instance of it. the scribes [prestan] secret oath of omission, interpolation, variation. they also exercise indirect lies.

the Company, with divine modesty, eludes all publicity. its agents, as is natural, are secret; the orders that it continually, (almost incessantly) imparts dont differ from those produced by impostors. what's more, who can boast himself to be a mere impostor? the drunkard who improvises an absurd mandate, the dreamer who awakes with a blow and drowns with his hand the wife who sleeps at his side; do they not execute, perhaps, a secret decision of the Company? This silent functioning, comparable to God, provokes all luck of conjecture. Someone abominably insisted that the Company has not existed for centuries, and that the sacred disorder of our lives is purely hereditary, traditional; another judges it eternal and teaches that it will persist until the last night, when the last god overwhelms the world. another declares that the Company is omnipotent, but only has influence in minute things: in the cry of a bird, in the [matics] of rust and powder, in the between-dreams of the dawn. another, through the mouth of masked heretics, that it has never existed and never will. another, no less vile, reasons that it is pointless to affirm or deny the reality of the tenebrous corporation, because Babylon is nothing other than an infinite game of chances.