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Ludvig Holberg: Military modesty and candor

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Ludvig Holberg
From Diderich the Terrible (1724)
Translated by Henry Alexander

JEW. Who are you?

HENRIK. I’m Christopher Battering-ram.

JEW. Christopher Battering-ram! That’s a strange name.

HENRIK. That name’s a proud one. Open up!

JEW. A little patience, sir.

HENRIK. What d’you mean, patience? I’m an officer.

JEW. And I’m a resident here.

HENRIK. That’s just like saying: “You’re Joergen the Hat-maker and I’m Alexander the Great.” Open up, or you’re a dead man!

JEW. (coming out) What do you want, mounseer?

HENRIK. Perhaps you don’t know Christopher Battering-ram?

JEW. No, sir.

HENRIK. Haven’t you read my name in the papers?

JEW. No, Mr. Battering-ram.

HENRIK. Haven’t you heard of the battle of Ragusa?

JEW. No, sir.

HENRIK. You civilians are as stupid as oxen.

JEW. Everyone knows something; maybe I understand some things you don’t understand.

HENRIK. What do you understand? Heark’ee, poltroon! What’s a counterscarp?

JEW. I don’t know.

HENRIK. What’s a ravelin?

JEW. I don’t know.

HENRIK. A company in square formation?

JEW. I don’t understand that.

HENRIK. A Gregory regiment?

JEW. I’m not a soldier.

HENRIK. An approach of petards?

JEW. I don’t know that either.

HENRIK. An escort, a battalion, a squadron, an order of battle, an order for the ramparts, a protective volley, a platoon, a bastion, a company, a dromedary, a military commissar?

JEW. Mounseer, I don’t understand any military language.

HENRIK. Then you’re as annoying as a brure beast.

***

MENSCHENSKRAEK…The Turks were so terrified of my name that they wouldn’t try to take any plunder, I’d make them so sick of that business. I dare say that all by myself in battles here and there I killed twenty thousand men, and once during one month I massacred two thousand Janissaries with my own hand. Isn’t that so, Christopher Battering-ram?

CHRISTOPHER. Certainly.

MENSCHENSKRAEK. That’s why the general himself gave me the name Menschenskraek (“The Terrible”).

ELVIRE. Is that possible? Is that how you got your name?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. Yes, he himself did me the honor of presenting me to the Duke of Dalmatia with these words: Your Highness, here is a second Scanderberg, the scourge of the Turks.

ELVIRE. Really?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. Nothing was more pleasant to me than to meet a whole company of armed Turks all by myself. Isn’t that so, Battering-ram?

CHRISTOPHER. Certainly.

MENSCHENSKRAEK. I had the Turkish vizier Mahometh Podolski by the heels, but just at that moment a bomb came and blew my hand back, so he escaped that time. But it’s only a short respite. I’ll never forget how he shrieked in Turkish: oh, la, la, la.

ELVIRE: What does that mean in our language?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. It means: Oh, great Mahomet, help me against this this strong warrior Menshencskraek.

ELVIRE. Can those few words mean so much?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. Yes, the Turkish language is very rich.

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