Readings — From the March 2014 issue

The Academies of Siam

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By Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839–1908), from Stories, out this month from Dalkey Archive Press. Translated from the Portuguese by Rhett McNeil.

Do you know about the academies of Siam? I am well aware that there have never been any academies in Siam, but suppose that there were, and that there were four of them, and just listen to my tale.

I.

Upon seeing a cluster of milky-colored fireflies fluttering throughout the night sky, the stars used to claim that they were the sighs of the King of Siam, who was entertaining himself with his three hundred concubines. And winking slyly at one another, they’d ask:

“Oh royal sighs, what is our handsome Kalaphangko up to this night?”

To which the fireflies replied solemnly:

“We are the sublime thoughts of the four academies of Siam. We carry with us all the wisdom of the universe.”

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