The Prince

King Prius of Athens glared down from his throne.

‘Well?’ he demanded.

Erastones swallowed. This was going to be difficult.

‘We have tried, Sire. We have given your son the best possible tuition. Unfortunately, we have once again been unsuccessful.’

Prius banged his fist on the throne’s wooden arm.

‘By the gods! How can this be? How can anyone of royal blood be so completely useless?’

‘With respect, Sire, he is only thirteen. You are perhaps being a little harsh.’

‘Harsh? We have tried to teach him to be a general – he has failed. We have tried to teach him to be a politician – he has failed. Orator, athlete, artist: all of these things are beyond him. Even the work of tradesmen: carpentry, pottery, fishing; he can do none of these.’

Prius slumped back in his seat.

‘Tell me, old friend. Is my son some kind of oddity?’

‘Actually, Sire, he is not. There are many young men who struggle to find a place in society, and I believe there always have been. Young men who are socially awkward and have no talent for practical work.’

The king’s face showed surprise.

‘Indeed? I had no idea.’

‘But you would never come into contact with these people, Sire.’

‘I suppose not. So, what do we do with them?’

‘Most are put into the first row of the infantry and sent off to battle, so they may at least die a noble death. A futile one, but noble. Of course, we cannot do that with your son.’

Erastones hesitated.

‘There is one possible job for him which we have not yet tried. Clerk.’

Prius’ eyes narrowed.

‘A clerk? Somebody who spends their entire life counting groceries and adding up receipts? Hardly a suitable role for a prince.’

‘Yes, Sire; it is a menial function. However, I do not believe it will always be regarded as such. I have had a vision.’

‘Is that so? Tell me.’

‘I believe that, many years from now, the world will be a different place. A place where young men such as your son will find that they are needed at last. Their lack of social skills and tendency to think about abstract problems will finally prove to be useful. Their love of numbers and algorithms will be vital for trade, and for operating our systems. They will seldom be revered, but they will be essential. And in that far-flung future, people will look back at men like your son, who struggled to fit into a world which was not yet ready for them. And people will say: truly they were the Ancient Geeks.’