The Grail Code 
Did you know…?

Did you know that, in 374 a.d., the emperor Constantine suppressed the most important pagan festival of the year by simply striking those three days out of the calendar? To this day, February is three days shorter than the other months—all because Constantine was determined to impose Christianity on the Roman Empire at any cost. You didn’t know that, did you?

Well, of course you didn’t know that. I just made it up. Constantine wasn’t even alive in 374. Not a word of it is true.

But how many times would I have to say it to make it true?

Some of you—the hopelessly naive ones—may answer that I can’t make it true, no matter how often I say it. I am touched by your childlike innocence, and I hope you live your whole lives without ever having to read a book by a conspiracy theorist.

The answer, actually, is twice. To make any statement true in the world of conspiracy theories, you have to say it twice, in two different books or articles. That works no matter how easily disprovable the statement is in itself. I call it the Two-Statement Rule.

Let me explain how it works. First I make a ridiculously false statement, like the one about Constantine striking three days out of February. Then, under a different name, I make the same statement in another book, citing the first book as my source in a footnote.

Now I’ve made the statement true, because it’s based on research. (“His research is impeccable,” one reviewer said of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.) Other books can cite my second book, and still other books can cite the other books, and so on. Will any of them ever try to figure out where the original statement came from? Of course not. It’s in a book, and the book has a footnote. What more do you need? Soon the popular media will report both sides of the “controversy” about Constantine and February, and the real historians who attempt to set the record straight will generally be dismissed as cranks, if not conspirators.

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown introduces us to Sir Leigh Teabing, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Holy Grail. Where does his vast knowledge come from? Does he spend his days poring over ancient Welsh poems, or French and German romances? Hardly. Mr. Brown helpfully describes the most-used books in Sir Leigh’s library, so we can see for ourselves what kind of research a Royal Historian does. All the books are conspiracy-theory books, most of them based on other conspiracy-theory books. You won’t find Chretien de Troyes or Walter Map—or the Bible, for that matter—anywhere among them. Original sources only cloud the issue.

This is why Mike and I both have such an obsession with reading the original sources and forming our own conclusions. When it’s possible, we prefer to hear what the original writers had to say for themselves. The Two-Statement Rule is especially hard at work in the world of Arthur and the Holy Grail, where the original sources are meager compared to the huge libraries written about them.

So we’ll be getting back to Nennius and his friends soon. I apologize for the long delay between postings; we’ve had more illnesses in our household than we expected. But more will be coming soon. We’ll be searching for Arthur in saints’ lives and local traditions, but we’ll also be hunting an even more elusive quarry: the historical Merlin.

21 Responses to “Did you know…?”

  1. Pauli Says:

    Very good on the Constantine/Feb conspiracy. You had me going for a second.

    But how do we know you and Mike both had illnesses in your households? Why don’t you provide links each to the other’s blog - that will prove it via the Two-Statement Rule!

    Juuuuuuuuuuuuust kidding. Good to see you back.

  2. ralphg Says:

    There is another aspect: people want to believe it’s true.

    My cousin’s girlfriend’s sister is a medical doctor in her mid-30s. She agrees that Dah Vinci Code is fiction, yet insists the content is true — because she wants to believe that women were supressed, the Catholic Church is covering up, etc.

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(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey