Asterix Roman soldier. Click for credits and to enlarge

A silly story I wrote over at The Critical Line, where Richard, a witty lawyer from London, entertains his guests with his vast knowledge and adorable English humour.

Richard though has a problem.

He’s terribly profound in mathematics and so are many of his guests who seem to share the same horrible contagion.

But, it’d be fair to say, I am the one to have a big problem, and, what is this tale but a burst of frustration because of my mathematical ineptitude?

The Tale of Manius

English sheep. Photo by Bernard Durfee (2008). Click for credits and to enlarge

Britannia, 526 CE, in a parallel (and almost identical) universe.

The Western Roman Empire has collapsed. Angles, Saxons and Jutes are invading the Roman province of Britannia from the East. All continental Roman soldiers have gone – but the Romano-Celtic in the West are resisting bravely. Only Manius Papirius Lentulus from Roma has stayed. He lives with the barbarians but risks nothing since he’s considered innocuous by the Angles (or Angli as he says in his language.)

The last Roman soldier has made friends with a few of them: Richard (whom Manius sometimes calls Britannia), Dafna (happened there from a far away land), Cheri, Mr. Crotchety and Phil. In their abstruse language – that Manius understands a bit – they sometimes call him MoR (or, in their weird but cute Latin, Roma.)

A goose has just died for occult reasons MoR isn’t willing to investigate.

A Melodious Sequence, 1,2,3…

Manius felt sorry for the poor goose but also curious about how Cheri might prepare it for lunch.

Approaching Mr. Crotchety he told him he had been so lentus and had forgotten he had something important to tell him.

Dafna was weirdly chanting a melodious sequence of numbers:


Getting closer in rapture MoR noticed Richard and Phil approaching her as well. Her song seemed the usual diatonic scale kids learn by just pressing the white keys of a keyboard, do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do.

But MoR couldn’t figure out a kinda weirdness in that melody, so a stupid look froze in his face. Richard’s smile became sly instead. Phil was scribbling like crazy on a roll of papyrus.

Britannia finally lost his patience and shoved an elbow into Roma’s ribs.

“Ouch Richard!! Are you crazy??”

Then it finally hit Roma. That devil of a woman!! She was chanting her sequence according to an ancient tuning!

“Yes – said Richard triumphantly – it is the Pythagorean tuning based on a stack of perfect fifths, each tuned in the ratio 3:2. The Babylonian tuning, actually, more than 1 thousand years older than Pythagoras. Starting from D for example, the A is tuned such that the frequency ratio of A and D is 3:2, so if D is tuned to 288 Hz, then the A is tuned to 432 Hz, the E above A is also …..”

Dafna interrupted Richard with an odd smile:

“What he means – she said – is that the Pythagorean love for proportions is evident in this scale’s construction, as all of its tones may be derived from interval frequency ratios based on the first three integers: 1, 2, 3. Isn’t that amazing?”

Surrounded, Outsmarted

Roma felt trapped.

He was surrounded by the Angli and their allies. And they were ALL mathematicians!!

He began to panic. The last Roman soldier in Britannia, outnumbered, outsmarted, began to run wildly uphill and got lost among the sheep never to be seen again.

Sheep in English countryside. Click for credits and to enlarge

The Legend of Roma Continues

A legend says Roma took seven Anglia wives and mixed his blood with the natives.

“Why seven?” asked the Anglia kid to his Anglia grandfather.

The tribe was sitting before a big fire. The summer night was full of stars.

“Because seven is a magic number” replied the Anglia grandfather showily. “The seven hills of Rome, the seven wonders of the world, Jesus saying to Peter to forgive seventy times seven times.”

“But seven – added the Anglia cutie – is also the fourth prime number. It is not only a Mersenne prime (since 23 − 1 = 7) but also a double Mersenne prime since it is itself the exponent for another Mersenne prime, ie 127.”


The Anglia Grandfather paled.

It’s like he saw all his life fall apart in a second. His mind went back to the time when a Roman soldier had fled wildly uphill and had got lost among the sheep.

Even the Anglia kids!! Even THEM!!

His flight had been useless.

That same feeling of panic, of claustrophobia pervaded him.

He was trapped. Trapped forever.

14 thoughts on “The Strange Story of Manius, the Last Roman Soldier in Britannia

  1. From 1939 to 1946, all over Canada, huge billboards were selling 4$ Victory Bonds worth 5$ at maturity whenever that would happen. The selling pitch was:”2+2=5. Since I was still at a tender age, that thing has ruined all my mathematical skills and my faith in governments.


  2. Math is for computers. The mere thought of it sends me running as fast as your Roman.


  3. @All

    I’ll be there. Trying to write something about Gramsci, as Andreas unfortunately asked me. Germans, one must be careful about them ya know.


  4. Damn straight one must be careful about Germans. NEVER NEVER drink with them. It is even more dangerous than drinking with the Anglia.


          1. Carmina Burana has the ripsnorting spirit but after about three beers, no one could manage “In Taberna” without spoonerizing it.

            I grew up on Erich Kunz’s German University Songs, two volume set. It’s a blast listening to those and then Brahms’ Academic Festival.


  5. Reblogged this on Man of Roma and commented:
    I had planned “Why we still like the Germans (and will always like them)” 3.

    I’ve instead reposted the first idea germinale of my interrupted novel “Misce stultitiam consiliis”.

    Extropian: “Why on earth?”
    Massimo: “Giovanni told me it’s because of the Germans.
    Extropian: “What??”
    Massimo: “He met two fascinating German women at ‘Lo Spartito’ in via Cavour. Extremely charming, intellectualy profound. Plus he was in that store in order to buy a real ‘gem’: The Golberg Variations BWV 988 by Johann Sebastian Bach for guitar by Hungarian genius József Eötvös”
    Fulvia *rolling her eyes*: “Got it. He adores Bach & the Germans, of the female kind, especially. Went home, still under the spell of ehm German Kultur … played the Variations and all …”

    They all laugh.

    They all laugh


  6. “…….the A is tuned to 432 Hz……”

    “432”, with varying “0”s added to it, appears frequently in mythology.

    I learned from Graham Hancock’s “Fingerprints of the Gods” that the Great Pyramid of Giza is mathematically a 1/432,000 representation of the earth’s northern hemisphere to an accuracy of 100% for all intents and purposes.

    Was this just a fluke?


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