Sometimes changes in public opinion can be an author’s friend. While the recent drastic decline in poll numbers and growing discontent over the war in Iraq may not win a legion of prospective purchasers for The Legend of Bushistotle, it certainly can’t hurt. Besides, what satirist wouldn’t be happy if it seems more people are coming to agree with his point of view?
The Legend of Bushistotle is a fictional satire told in the first person. Author Steven Hanley takes a job with the Vatican to translate ancient Greek manuscripts that may shed light on the true story of Bushistotle, “History’s Greatest Philosopher-Warrior-King.” The first of many problems is that Hanley doesn’t really know how to translate ancient Greek. That means neither he nor the reader of this book really know if what he is translating is what the original text really says. Yet this actually aids Hanley with his biggest problem. The Vatican does not want a true translation. Instead, to advance interests that quite frankly don’t make a great deal of sense, the Vatican wants to revise any translation so as to not only elevate Bushistotle’s status but to show him as related to Jesus and, in fact have him replace Christ as the true Messiah.
While not the finest example of satiric form, the book certainly lands some well-aimed shots using recent history. Bushistotle is the king of Athens and is surrounded by a core of key advisors — Cheneyon, Rumsfeldiavelli, Powellonius, Constantina, and Ashcroftus. Hanley explores a variety of Bush Administration actions and “Bushisms,” such as Administration policy on torture and the holding of enemy combatants, the role of family values, uniting and not dividing, and how to spin adverse turns of events politically.
For example, in setting up Bushistotle’s invasion of Persia, Hanley’s translation of the original Greek shows that on September 11, 350 BC, Bushistotle is reading a book to his advisors written by Mrs. Bushistotle, “Dudley the Donkey Learns a Lesson.” Rumsfeldiavelli, the only advisor not at the reading, rushes in and tells Bushistotle that Spartan terrorists have attacked the Athenian colony at Syracuse. Bushistotle sits somewhat perplexed and then simply resumes reading about Dudley. His advisors’ insistence that Bushistotle do something leads to this exchange:
“Oh,” said Bushistotle. “A decision. Well, if Spartan terrorists have attacked us in Sicily, we must declare war on Persia.”
“Why?” asked Powellonius. “That makes absolutely no sense!”
“War on Persia!” Rumsfeldiavelli cried. “War on Persia!”
“Hear, hear!” said Constantina. “They are part of the Axis of Evil!”
“Because your enemy’s enemy is your enemy,” Bushistotle answered. “The old outage….”
“Adage,” Powellonius corrected. “Adage.”
“Can I please finish reading Mrs. Bushistotle’s story?” Bushistotle complained. “There are still a lot of important lessons for Dudley the Donkey to learn.”
Thus, Athens decides to invade Persia, although the translation insisted upon by the Vatican revises Bushistotle’s key statement to “Well, if Spartan terrorists have attacked us in Sicily, aided and abetted by Persia, we must also declare war on Persia since we are already at war with Sparta.” It is irrelevant that the revisions are not true.
Bushistotle’s coterie embarks on the “Doctrine of Preemptive Retaliation.” They tell the public about the dangers posed by Persia’s weapons of mass destruction (the 10 plagues on Egypt from the Old Testament). Truth is, Persia has no such weapons, only Athens. Of course, in the hands of Athens, they are referred to as weapons of limited destruction. And while Bushistotle is assured that invading Athenian forces will be welcomed with open arms, the invasion leads to a mass insurrection among the Persian citizenry and things there go from bad to worse. Of course, Bushistotle insists on staying the course. And whether author Hanley was lucky or the timing of the publication enabled him to pick up part of what is now Katrina lore, Bushistotle tells Rumsfeldiavelli, “Rummy, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Bushistotle and crew are not the only ones Hanley pillories. Whether it’s the nuns dragging the narrator around the Vatican by his ear (an image many who attended a Catholic grade school can identify with) or a gay narrator discussing the sexual predilections of the priests, monks and leadership of the Vatican or the Vatican’s insistence on the infallibility of its views regardless of the actual evidence, the Vatican and the Catholic Church are also clearly in Hanley’s sights.
The Legend of Bushistotle is strained at times, such as trying to explain the Vatican’s desire to promote Bushistotle as the Messiah. It also has a tendency to have problems with flow, something aggravated by a highly distracting Italian “accent” used by one of the cast of Vatican characters. Additionally, the repeated thesis that it is unclear whether the translations are accurate and reflect actual “history” seems to confuse the work rather than leave the reader to come to their own impression. Still, this is for the most part a fun look at modern events through the perspective of ancient “history,” a look much more palatable to the left than the right but which will find wider acceptance today than a year or so ago.