9

I want to identify a short story about a man who wants to create a better human race by pushing the ancient Greek intellectuals a little further. He builds a time machine goes back and tells the Greek intellectuals that the eastern intellectuals have created these amazing science and mathematics. But when he comes back he finds that the world instead of progressing has regressed into a jungle life style.

3
  • This kind of story is actually more common than you might imagine. Can you think of more details to the story? Also, when did you read it, in what language, in what medium, was it illustrated etc.
    – Mr Lister
    Jul 31, 2015 at 8:20
  • Language: english. It was almost ten years ago, I borrowed a book from the university library, a thick book with yellow pages ( so the story is old ) and most probably an anthology of some sort.
    – mukhujje
    Jul 31, 2015 at 8:22
  • @user14111 please see more descriptions I have added as a comment to your answer below.
    – mukhujje
    Jul 31, 2015 at 15:47

2 Answers 2

9

The story is "Aristotle and the Gun" by L. Sprague de Camp, first published in Astounding Science Fiction, February 1958, available at the Internet Archive. The thick old book you read it in might be The Legend Book of Science Fiction (Gardner Dozois, ed.), U.S. edition retitled Modern Classics of Science Fiction; or else maybe de Camp's 1963 collection A Gun for Dinosaur and Other Imaginative Tales. You wrote in a comment:

The inventor definitely went back and pretended to be a scholar from Pataliputra, India.

Quoting from de Camp's story:

"I am Zandras of Pataliputra," I said, giving the ancient name for Patna on the Ganges. "I seek the philosopher Aristoteles."

Here is a plot summary from Wikipedia:

Speculating that small changes in history might have profound consequences on the present day world, scientist Sherman Weaver appropriates a prototype time machine to project himself back to the era of Philip II of Macedon. There he hopes to meet Aristotle. Believing that the influential ancient philosopher's lack of interest in experiment had retarded scientific progress through much of subsequent history, Weaver aims to nudge the savant in what he considers the proper direction - with the intention of creating a different Twentieth Century dominated by a super-science hundreds of years in advance of ours.

Weaver pretends to be a conventional traveler from India. Equipped with modern-day marvels, he attempts to demonstrate to his new acquaintance (Aristotle) the value of experimentation in the furtherance of knowledge. Weaver's task is complicated by the malicious mischief of Aristotle's students, the coterie of young Prince Alexander (subsequently Alexander the Great), and by being suspected as a spy for the King of Persia, against whom Philip is about to go to war. He is ultimately forced to defend himself with a handgun he has brought, and is on the point of being executed as a spy and murderer when he is snapped back into the present day when the effects of his time projection wear off.

Weaver finds himself in a world very different from the one he left – but not in the way he hoped. Aristotle, convinced that the tedious accumulation of experimental knowledge is beneath the dignity of civilized philosophy, and that it is a waste of time attempting to catch up to "India" in that regard, turns out to have come down strongly against the notion in his writings. The result is a backward present of petty states considerably behind Weaver's original timeline in technology. His own United States is not even a dream, its physical confines being controlled by various Amerindian nations influenced by but having long since thrown off any subjection to the civilizations of the Old World. Enslaved in one such state, Weaver is only delivered from endless drudgery after many years when his scholarly talents are finally recognized.

The narrative of the story is set forth by Weaver in a lengthy letter to an acquaintance curious as to his remarkable background, in which he concludes that he would have done better to leave well enough alone.

2
  • This is the one, thank you.
    – mukhujje
    Aug 1, 2015 at 3:41
  • You're welcome. The 1991 anthology I suggested doesn't seem old enough to have yellowed pages when you read it, so I made another suggestion.
    – user14111
    Aug 1, 2015 at 4:22
7

I want to identify a short story

"The Red Queen's Race", a novelette by Isaac Asimov, first published in Astounding Science Fiction, January 1949, available at the Internet Archive. It has a Wikipedia page.

about a man who wants to create a better human race by pushing the ancient Greek intellectuals a little further.

"'Imagine, then, if somehow the ancient Greeks had learned just a hint of modern chemistry and physics. Imagine if the growth of the empire had been accompanied by the growth of science, technology and industry. Imagine an empire in which machinery replaced slaves; in which all men had a decent share of the world's goods; in which the legion became the armored column, against which no barbarians could stand. Imagine an empire which would therefore spread all over the world, without religious or national prejudices.

"'An Empire of all men--all brothers--eventually all free. . . .

"'If history could be changed. If that first great failure could have been prevented--'"

And I stopped at that point.

"Well?" said the Boss.

"Well," I said, "I think it isn't difficult to connect all that with the fact that Tywood blew an entire power plant in his anxiety to send something back to the past, while in his office safe we found sections of a chemistry textbook translated into Greek."

He builds a time machine goes back and tells the Greek intellectuals that the eastern intellectuals have created these amazing science and mathematics.

He doesn't go back in person; he has only enough power to send a one-pound payload into the past. He hires a consultant to translate a modern chemistry textbook into Attic Greek, and that's what he sends back to Greece.

But when he comes back he finds that the world instead of progressing has regressed into a jungle life style.

The outcome is less tragic than that. The translator played a trick:

"In other words, gentlemen, while you are right that any change in the course of past events, however trifling, would have incalculable consequences, and while I also believe that you are right in supposing that any random change is much more likely to be for the worse than for the better, I must point out that you are nevertheless wrong in your final conclusion.

"Because this is the world in which the Greek chemistry text was sent back.

"This has been a Red Queen's race, if you remember your Through the Looking Glass. In the Red Queen's country, one had to run as fast as one could merely to stay in the same place. And so it was in this case! Tywood may have thought he was creating a new world, but it was I who prepared the translations, and I took care that only such passages as would account for the queer scraps of knowledge the ancients apparently got from nowhere would be included.

"And my only intention, for all my racing, was to stay in the same place."

4
  • You beat me to it. This is definitely it. Good work and +1. There seems to be a formatting issue with your answer. I've edited it. If it conflicts with your intent, feel free to roll back the edit. :-)
    – Praxis
    Jul 31, 2015 at 10:29
  • No worries. :-)
    – Praxis
    Jul 31, 2015 at 13:19
  • Sounds similar but not the one I am looking for, the inventor definitely went back and pretended to be a scholar from Pataliputra, India (capital of an advanced dynasty contemporary of the greeks in India, Ashoka's time more or less) and taunted the Greeks with geometric constructions that they did not know and would not be invented till the current time. He also showed a gun of some short to them as a proof of mechanical advances. He had to leave the gun, he comes back to find that the human race has moved back to jungle life style but they have guns.
    – mukhujje
    Jul 31, 2015 at 15:46
  • @user14111 : Wow, I was certain from the original description that it was Asimov's story! +1 on your (correct) answer, too.
    – Praxis
    Aug 1, 2015 at 13:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.