When the tyrant Peisistratos announced he would pay his weight in gold to the man who could show him verifiable evidence of a physical paradox, conjurers, swindlers, and madmen flocked to Athens to claim the prize.
An office was set up to handle the crowd, and I, Petros Kleitos, senior magistrate, was charged with finding the impossible.
After a few days the initial rush abated, but a steady stream of hopefuls continued to appear as the news spread from city to city. They were laughable, the lot of them. One I remember, a money-changer from Sikyon, claimed to have a stone that could multiply whatever it touched. I asked him how he carried it, he told me there were fifteen of him. When I asked to meet him all at once, he didn’t come back. Another, a sprightly seventy-three-year old mariner from Akragas, declared the ability to make the moon sway. He could only do it when standing on a ship.
One day, a young man came to see me. He told me he was a disciple of Pythagoreanism and he was breaking the vows of his order in visiting me. I offered him wine, but he refused. He gave me a concise outlay of his beliefs, namely, there exist the limited and the unlimited. Without both, we would have nothing, for, in his example, it is the gaps between one, two, and three that distinguish them. He then produced an object from his bag.
It was made of wood and I remember basic shapes, a circle, a triangle within it, a square, each a plane, intersecting the others. He held the thing in front of me and began to turn it.
I will admit I had drunk a lot that afternoon; I am a magistrate, it’s part of the job. But what I saw next – what happened when he had completed half a turn, it would be better to deem it an effect of the wine.
A space opened in the middle of the object, simply opened. Inside there was nothing. Understand, though, by nothing I do not mean the lack of something, I mean a bottomless void, a thing so dark I noticed the room begin to dim. It was not possible to look away. I could feel the pull of it, every part of me leaning towards it, and I had to fight with all my strength to keep from throwing myself at it.
He turned it back, the void closed, and I collapsed in my seat, exhausted. I could see by his face that he was regretting his actions. He quickly dismantled the object, put it in the bag, and left without a word. I tried to stand, but was still too weak from the experience.
I never saw him again. After much deliberation, I decided not to tell anyone of these events. I write them now, old and regretful, soon to meet that void once more.