Tag Archives: Genghis Khan

The Inexorable Mongol Emperor of the 13th Century—Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan was responsible for some astute  aphorisms. The legacy he strived to leave upon his death was the Yassa, a set of laws for the peoples of his empire to abide by.

Here are selections underlined while reading Genghis Khan: Emperor of All Men by Harold Lamb:

“Word breaking,” he said in after years, “is hideous in a ruler.”

 

…when men increase and crowd one another they build walls. And they divide themselves into different classes of human beings.

 

Human life had no value in the eyes of the Mongols, who desired only to depopulate fertile lands to provide grazing for their herds.

 

When food failed, they opened a vein in a horse, drank a small quantity of blood and closed the vein.

 

At one place some people saved themselves by lying down among the knots of bodies of those already slain. The Mongols heard of this, and an order was issued to cut the heads from the inhabitants in the future.

 

    Without any in-depth knowledge of Genghis Khan other than the universal recognition of his historical impact and legendary brutality, the portrait painted in this brief account of Genghis Khan’s upbringing and assent to emperorship was exciting in the same way as some of the science-fiction stories I have so happily devoured. As I have just recently read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and am currently engulfed in the first novel of Frank Herbert’s Dune series, a background of Genghis Khan fit right in with my most recently explored literary themes of war and royalty. A specific common element generated through the comparison of these texts is the theme of the young heir with a solemn inheritance of immense responsibility.

    What separates the novels of Cards and Herbert from the depiction of the once-great emperor of eastern civilization is an obvious disparity in time—the two science-fiction stories being set far into the future while the story of Genghis Khan took place nearly eight hundred years ago. The fabled warlord could easily be used as a fantastic model for an interplanetary epic, replacing his sword for a lasgun, his horse for a ‘thopter.

    It is an entertaining thought to regard the fictitious imaginings played out in fantasy novels to be more-or-less derivative of historical events. I would the hold the genre of science-fiction to be particularly adept at enacting an interpretation of and an expansive rumination upon the collected writings of historians; writings which, ironically enough, more often than not take place in a future time.  In fact, Card describes Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, a major inspiration for his own Ender series, as “an extrapolation of the ideas in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, applied to a galaxy–wide empire in some far future time.” It is natural to imagine a thorough understanding and appreciation of history and the science fiction novel, particularly the epic, existing together in a harmonious, interesting way.

    On an unrelated note, it is said the Genghis Khan, who died at the age of sixty-five, was buried in his homeland under a great tree which was said to be guarded by members of the Mongol military, burning incense unceasingly, “until the surrounding forest grew so thick that the tall tree was lost among its fellows and all trace of the grave vanished.”

    There’s also a myth that during his burial, forty white horses and forty beautiful women were taken to his grave and slain. Crazy…

    You can read the full text of Harold Lamb’s book here.