Esperanto Literature in English Translation

The Perfect Citizen

Sándor Szathmári
Translated by Colin H. Hewitt


Gladion the Third, Great King of Bergengotia, was seated upon his throne as the courtier prostrated himself and, with his forehead touching the dais of the throne, announced that the command of the Most High had been executed—the Master zem Fabius had been procured.

“Let him enter,” said Gladion, the Great King.

The courtier arose and withdrew through the door, bowing low and retiring backwards. A moment passed, then the Master zem Fabius strode in. He prostrated himself before Gladion, touching the dais with his forehead.

“Glory to thee, Gladion the Third, Great King of Bergengotia!”

“You may stand to hear our words.”

Fabius stood.

“Boundless is thy grace, Lord!”

“'It is so. For we have not yet struck off your head, although you have deserved it long since. It is to be hoped that you realise your transgression?”

“Spare my pitiful soul, Lord!”

“We elevated you to First Craftsman to the Court, for we knew you to be a skilled master of all crafts. At first, indeed, you were worthy of that honour. You fashioned for us a throne upon which we sat and a roaring of lions was heard and from the ceiling flowers rained down upon us. Below the divan in our sleeping-chamber you cut a trap-door through which we could toss our staled concubines into a well of deep water. You compounded a poison to which our guests succumbed only after they had returned to their own dwellings. And we have showered you with favours. We have granted you leave to have a violet button sewn upon your cap. We have bestowed upon you the right to style yourself ‘zem’. We have allowed that at the court balls you should clean the dust from the slippers of our daughter, the Princess Magnesia Caramella Lenia. We have even permitted that at the celebration of our crowning, immediately after the Chief Justice of the Realm, you should touch the pedestal of the Imperial Ibis Bird. Was this so, or not?”

“Boundless is thy grace, Lord!”

“And one year ago, we charged you to create for us the ideal citizen. A mechanical figure in which would be found all the virtues of a subject. But we required that it should be complete within one year, and if it were not, you would lose your head!”

“Boundless is thy grace, Lord!”

“Well, you led us to hope for one whole year. But one month ago,” continued Gladion in a sharper tone, “you requested permission to go abroad in order to study mechanics. Was this so, or not?”

“It was so, Lord.”

“So-o-o?” said Gladion malevolently. “But you could not outwit us! We had already guessed that you wished only to save your own head because the machine not been contrived. Or, perhaps, that it was completed and you wished to sell its secret to my odious enemies in Operentia. So, we did not permit you to flee."

“And I obediently remained at my home.”

“Yes!” laughed Gladion, “save that you tried to visit the international fair in Operentia. But all this is of no consequence. The year has passed and we shall wait no longer” — he spoke severely, and then suddenly roared: “Is the ideal citizen ready or not?”

“Yes, Lord, it is ready.”

Gladion was surprised, and in a much milder but still doubtful tone, he asked: “Truly? And when may we see it?”

“At this very moment, Lord. The figure is before Your Majesty’s door and awaits your command.”

“Bring it in.”

“Your Majesty directed an ideal citizen, so it will answer only to your command. Call it yourself, by name.”

“What is its name?”

“It is called Mizerius.”

“Very well,” said Gladion and cried, “Mizerius, enter!”

The door opened and Mizerius entered with stiff, slow strides. It came to a halt before the throne and began to bow, bending its torso up and down, grating as it did so.

Gladion looked at it for some time, finally asking: “Why does it bow perpetually?”

“Its spine is of the most soft and delicate elastic.”

“And will it not break?”

“Quite the contrary, it will support the greatest burdens at your direction.”

“It mutters disagreeably. It is almost weeping.”

"The heavier the burden that you load upon it, the less it will murmur and weep.”

“Does it not need to be greased?”

“It will serve its king without grease, but of others it would indeed require greasing.”

“And can it not speak?”

“It can,” said Fabius, and turning to Mizerius he said loudly and slowly: “Miz-er-i-us, speak!”

The figure immediately began to speak in a rising voice: “Long live the sage and benevolent King of Bergengotia, who vanquished his loathsome predecessor and leads his people on the road to happiness!”

Gladion, pleased, nodded, but asked: “Why does its voice crack so unpleasantly?”

“This cylinder is already well worn.”

“But why? You have assembled this machine only recently.”

“Yes, but I bought the cylinder during the reign of your predecessor, cursed be his memory! Even then it had been well used, for it had been prepared during the reign of his predecessor, whom your execrable and cruel predecessor had burnt at the stake.”

“Could you not find a newer cylinder?”

“This cylinder is old and worn, but it is unusually durable. It serves just as well today, and will be even more suitable for a few dynasties to come.”

“Can I also ask something of it?”

“Of course.”

Gladion said slowly to Mizerius: “Are you able even to enter fire upon my command?”

Without a word, Mizerius turned and set off towards the burning grate. Fabius leaped after it and barely succeeded in turning it from its purpose.

“O Majesty!” he addressed Gladion, “do not wish that even in the form of a question, for it will immediately fulfil your every wish!”

“That is good,” said Gladion. “I will ask another question.” And turning to Mizerius, he asked: “Tell me, Mizerius, what time is it now?”

In the same cracked tone, Mizerius replied: “Long live the sage and benevolent King of Bergengotia, who vanquished his loathsome predecessor, and leads his people on the road to happiness!”

“What! Is it just playing the same thing again?” asked Gladion, annoyed. “Does it know nothing else?”

“Indeed it does—it will go back and forth, working exactly as you command. You may even harness it.”

“And what besides?”

“Nothing.”

“Does it know nothing else?”

“Do not forget, Lord, that you commanded an ideal citizen.”

“But what in it forms the words?”

“The cylinder, Lord.”

“Can it not think?”

“Think! Heaven keep us from that!”

Gladion reflected, and in a few moments asked: “But what about eating? Is it not able to eat?”

“It does not usually eat, Lord.”

“Does not usually eat?”

“I say again, Lord, you commanded an ideal citizen.”

“So it takes no sustenance?”

“Indeed it does, but only paper upon which is writing. That is much less costly provender than bread!”

“Truly fascinating! Well, let us try.” Taking a book in his hand, Gladion removed from it a page which he passed to Fabius: “Make it eat!”

“Your pardon, Lord, but it will ingest only that which you yourself make it take.”

“Very well.” Gladion turned to Mizerius. “Swallow this paper, Mizerius.”

Mizerius accepted the page, placed it in its mouth, and swallowed it. Then, in a monotonous voice, it said: “Der Vater ist gut, die Mutter ist auch gut . . . der Vater ist gut, die Mutter ist auch gut . . .” and it thus repeated the same maxim until the patience of Gladion was exhausted, and, bellowing above the noise of the figure, he demanded of Fabius: “What is the matter with its movement?”

“Be pleased to show me the book, Lord.”

Gladion handed him the book, Fabius glanced in it and immediately discovered the cause.

“The answer is simple to understand. This is a German grammar!”

“But I do not wish it to repeat the same text forever!”

“Give it another piece of paper, Lord.”

“Very well. Here, this text. Mizerius, swallow it!”

Mizerius fell silent, took the text, put it in its mouth, ate it, and in the same tone began to say: “Expose traitors!”

And Mizerius endlessly repeated this slogan until Gladion furiously shouted above it: “What is the matter this time?”

“What did you give it, Lord?”

“The report of the Minister of Police.”

“Then it is not to be wondered at, Lord.”

“But I do not wish it to speak further! What must be done to silence it?”

“That is simple. You must kick it.”

“Kick it? Will it not cease to function?”

“The more you kick it, the more fervently will it serve you.”

Gladion regarded Mizerius dubiously, but finally he descended from his throne, passed behind the figure and kicked it. Mizerius swayed and fell to the ground. In some concern, Gladion said: “Look, it has fallen!”

“It has not fallen, Lord, it is merely lying down. It lies down before any who kick it.”

But a thought struck Gladion. He stood in quiet reflection. Finally, after some hesitation, he said: “But mind! What strange kind of softness was that . . . ?”

Fabius trembled and reddened.

“Which, Lord? What?”

“On the back of the figure. When my foot landed . . . well, it was very soft . . .”

Fabius, disquieted, stuttered: "Why . . . ? Well then . . . why is it soft? Oh, I filled it with soft wool in order to make kicking it more pleasing to you.”

“Truly, it was agreeable. . . .”

“Oh!” said Fabius quickly, and delighted that he had evaded the dangerous question, “whosoever kicks this perfect citizen just once, conceives a passion for such a regal pastime. It was for that same purpose that I applied the softest of leather to the nether parts. I covered only the face with thick leather. . . .”

But Gladion fell deep into thought and silenced the Master with a gesture.

“Nevertheless,” he said gravely, “it is somewhat odd. . . .”

He approached the figure, felt its hand and suddenly cried: “It is unquestionably warm!”

Then he bent right down to Mizerius, who still lay upon the floor, but he straightened immediately, and in tumultuous anger bellowed at Fabius: “It breathes! You rogue, you have tricked me! It is a living human being!”

Fabius fell to his knees before Gladion.

“Spare my unworthy head!”

“You scoundrel! You betrayer! How do you dare trick me, you perfidious villain?”

“O forgive, most merciful Majesty! For one whole year I built machine after machine, I sought and studied the workings of the ideal citizen, but at the end I could not but own that it was absurd and that in no fashion could I fulfil this task. You demanded of me the impossible, Lord! Never could any kind of contrivance do so much! It could only be done by an animated, conscious, living human being!”


FONTO: Szathmári, Sándor. “The Perfect Citizen,” translated from Esperanto by Colin H. Hewitt, The British Esperantist, November/December 1973, p. 167-171. (Reprinted in Short Stories from Esperanto, 1991, pp. 22-26.) The original / la originalo: “Perfekta civitano” (1956) / Unikoda versio / Ankaŭ ĉe Finkel.


“Matena Distriĝemo” de Poul Thorsen /
“Aubade: A Dream,” trans. Rachel M. Dhonau

La Klera Despoto” de John I. Francis

Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide

Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Retgvidilo pri Esperanto & Interlingvistiko

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Uploaded 2 September 2014

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