It's well known that Asimov modelled his Foundation series on the Rise and then Fall of the Roman Empire. One of the key villains in the later volumes of the Foundation series is the Mule, a mutant that can not only read human minds but also reset them by manipulating their minds as though they had 'dials on them.' I don't recall there being any particular redeeming virtues about this character. He seemed to be purely motivated by the accumulation of power for powers sake. By resetting their minds he possessed them, in a sense, stealing their souls. The worst thing of course they weren't even aware of it. But we of course, as readers are.

Did Asimov have any character, real or literary in mind, when he thought this character up?

The word mule itself means a kind of mutant, a sterile cross between a male donkey and a female horse and in general, is not seen as a term of approval or approbation in anyway. But I'm looking for more in-depth analysis of this character and its antecedents.

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    It doesn't directly answer the question, but I'd note that Jenkins’ Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov explains a little about the out of universe origin of the Mule "asimovreviews.net/Stories/Story180.html" “In ‘The General,’ Asimov had established that the Foundation could pretty much not be defeated, no matter what. At John Campbell’s suggestion, then—and rather reluctantly—in ‘The Mule’ he goes ahead and defeats it.”
    – b_jonas
    Sep 3, 2020 at 18:19

1 Answer 1


One influence was Timur, also known as Tamerlane, a Turco-Mongol conqueror:

[My] notion of the Mule as someone who destroyed an apparently inevitable sweep of victory, which was then reconstituted after his passing, was based on Tamerlane’s disruption of the march of the Ottoman Empire—which resumed after Tamerlane’s death.
From a letter of Isaac Asimov to Joseph F. Patrouch, quoted in The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov, 1974

The Mule's appearance was based on a friend of Asimov:

As for the Mule himself, his personal appearance was based on my friend Leonard Meisel, who by then was the only person at the Navy Yard with whom I could completely relax.
In Memory Yet Green, 1979

  • Good quote to find. I had been thinking Napoleon,
    – Spencer
    Jul 28, 2023 at 16:24

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