spring/summer 2006, no. 7


Arcana Imperi           


by G. Krishna Vemulapallii


The fit was perfect.  It was natural.  It suited him.  And he had known all along that it would.
Even when he was braying and kicking the dust around, in the company of his cousins, he had the thought – nay, the premonition – that he wasn’t one of them and that he was indeed a fierce mountain lion trapped in the body of a lowly burro.

Now that he walked with dignity covered with a lion’s skin and mane, discovered in the nearby canyon, he felt that he had at last found his true identity among the animals.  He wandered around assuming the airs of a mountain lion.

A cotton tail saw him and leaped away, frightened.  A jack rabbit almost jumped out of his skin to get away from the apparition of a mountain lion.  The sheep took to flight, his heart pounding.

The aspiring mountain lion was immensely pleased.  He was indeed powerful.  He could not be ignored.
The coyote, however, wasn’t fooled.  From behind a tall saguaro he said, “I’ll make a deal with you, you silly burro.”  Then, after some discussion, the two reached an agreement of which no one else would know.

Days after that meeting the coyote assembled the animals of the desert and informed them about the fierce mountain lion at the far end of the canyon.  “He is the rightful ruler of the desert and the animal kingdom. He will punish you if, you break the law.  He is strict but merciful,” the coyote told the assembled beasts.

Then the coyote spelled out for the animals the rules they had to obey and the sacrifices they had to make. Otherwise, he said, the wrath of the fierce mountain lion would obliterate them. 

The animals said they understood.  They promised never to question the authority of the lion or of the coyote, designated representative of the ruler among them.

As time passed, the animals did not complain about their losses but remained grateful for the mountain lion’s protection and for the coyote’s  intercession on their behalf.

The burro in the lion’s skin, watching all this from a distance, was pleased.  He finally had what he deserved.

The coyote was pleased that he could have whatever he wanted by merely hinting about the mountain lion’s authority.  But in public he would say that serving the ruler and his subjects, while putting his own selfish desires aside, had given him the greatest satisfaction in life.

They all lived happily ever after.

Continued stability of a society depends on having sheep and rabbits for citizens, coyotes for managers, lions for symbols and jackasses for rulers.


G. Krishna Vemulalpalli is an emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Arizona where he taught from 1967 to 2002. His interests are in physical chemistry and in philosophy of science. He's published a textbook of physical chemistry (Prentice-Hall) and has several articles in technical journals. His recent philosophy of science articles appeared in Annals of New York Academy of
and Boston Studies in the Philosophy volume.

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