I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me, you probably spend too much of your too-valuable time imagining improbable hypothetical situations. One of my favourites is “If you could travel back in time, when would you go?” Although as an Australian, the question also implies that you can travel in space (or through Time and Relative Dimension in Space) at the same time, because after you visit a few key moments in Australian history you’d be hopping back into sparsely inhabited bushland. Which I guess is rather – well, it’s not Eurocentric, ‘because there are definitely events in China and the Americas that I would want to witness too. Globocentric? Anyway.
The big problem with travelling back in time (and through space at the same time, obvs) is the problem of blending in. Not only would my visit to the ascension of the Meiji emperor be noticed (only white face in the room), but even travelling back into European history beyond the last hundred to two hundred years would present a whole host of problems.
- “Who’s that then?”
- “I dunno. Must be a king.”
- “He hasn’t got shit all over him.”
- Monty Python (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
I don’t speak much in the way of Middle English, for instance. I’d need a magnificent props department just to pull off the right clothing, let alone to get the smell right. You’d be killed as a witch as soon as they heard you babbling on about the importance of bathing and good hygiene in general, send you to the madhouse once you mention the invisible little creatures that live on your skin and on everything else – the disgusting little creatures that MAKE YOU SICK. Sure.
Not only that, but you’ve got to think of all the diseases that they (the peasants of the time) are carrying that you have no immunity to. What the hell was Saint John’s Dance, anyway? And the diseases that you’re carrying back with you won’t be good for the natives. Remember when syphilis became the next big thing in Europe? It wasn’t pretty (ask the guy to the left.) So, avoid everyone for a while. In the forest somewhere, for preference (I hear being a madman/monk living in the forest was pretty much a growth industry for most of the Middle Ages.)
Anyway, putting aside boring questions, we need to turn back to the exciting one. Now, understandably, I have a huge range of answers to the question of when and where. And I’m going to tell you about them (in more than one article, to be honest I’m surprised you stuck around this long…)
First up, (although it’s in no particular order) if I could go anywhere and anywhen:
A Hero for the Ages
I’d probably go back to around 10CE and visit Alexandria. Alexandria! Home of the Great Library and the Musaeum. Alexandria! A city built in the mouth of the Nile Delta, waiting to be swallowed by water boiling down from the cataphracts.
Specifically I’d be there to see Hero (of Alexandria), a Greek inventor who has probably caught a bad case of historical invisibility. He built the first ever vending machine (it dispensed holy water), the first ever wind-powered device, programmable carts (basically robots), and the force pump (they built a fire engine.)
He designed various mechanisms for use in the theatre (clockwork ‘play’ that lasted for ten minutes, had jumping dolphins, the sound of thunder…all automated.) The man was a genius – he invented the aeolipile (a FREAKING STEAM ENGINE, which worked using the same mechanism as modern rockets) as well as a few other brilliant machines.
Moreover, when you consider the shirt I’ll be travelling back in time WEARING:
I figure he and I could get passed the language difference (maybe take an automatic translator, even though they just tend to garble the words…pretty sure that Babelfish does ancient Greek translations (EDIT: Nope. This website does, though), and I could show him what he could do with that steam engine. They had thrown up the Diolkos (a railway, for ships) on the Isthmus of Corinth which operated between 600 BCE and 1CE (that’s SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS, btw.) Although that then begs the question, “Of what use is a steam train (or the Industrial Revolution) in an era where most of the work was performed by slaves?” Especially as slaves would probably be cheaper to maintain and develop compared to a prototype steam engine.
Hero of Alexandria.
History is Awesome.