Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

The Great Pyramid of Bono

The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) is thought to have been built between 2589 - 2566 BC, so it is now approaching 5,000 years of existence. To build it took over 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight of 2.5 tons each. The total weight would have been 6,000,000 tons and a height of 482 feet (140m). It is the largest and the oldest of the Pyramids of Giza. Not much is known about Cheops (Khufu). He was buried alone in this massive tomb. His wives may have been buried nearby in smaller mastabas. The encasing marble which covered the outside of the pyramid has eroded or been removed over time. With this casing off, the pyramid lost 33 feet (11m) of all of its dimensions. The top platform is 10m square. The base of the pyramid is 754 feet and covers 13 acres. The original entrance to the pyramid was about 15m higher than the entrance that is used today.

And yet, thanks to Professor Lessig and the others challenging the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (the so-called "Bono Act"), we now know that the pyramid's endurance for all this time was all a silly mistake, since Cheops' life plus only seventy years was already functionally equivalent to infinity. Cheops simply had no rational incentive to construct a tomb that lasted the extra four thousand plus years that the Great Pyramid has been around.

If only this terrible mistake hadn't been made, Cheops could have substituted something like mud or plaster of Paris for the more than 2,300,000 blocks of stone it took to build his tomb. After all, with the desert conditions obtaining where the Pyramid sits, such materials could probably have lasted seventy years. It could have been painted very nicely to resemble its original marble skin, which would have further prolonged its life at almost no extra cost! If only Cheops had had access to an MBA to fill him in on all this!

Of course, there is another possibility: maybe interest rates in ancient Egypt were very, very low.

And, to make matters worse, all those other Pharaohs also had the same wrong idea and built really elaborate tombs and temples that were clearly designed to last a lot longer than the funtional equivalent of infinity! And then the Romans seem to have got misled, too, since Emperor Hadrian, for example, built his tomb in the Second Century - and its still inefficiently around!

And, wouldn't you know it, pretty ordinary people started getting confused, too. Like poor old Marius Gratidus Libanus and his wife who lived in the First Century. Knowing the husband was very sick and terrified he was not long for this world, they commissioned a stone monument (Can you believe it? Stone!) in which the artist conveys the fraility of the man and his extreme anxiety as his worried young wife tries to comfort him. This monument is still around to charm and move us today. If only Marius had realized that seventy years following the end of his (or at least her) life was the functional equivalent of infinity. They could have had the monument made of clay - or at least cheap-and-easy-to-carve sandstone or pine, which could have been painted up and made to last for another seventy years (not that either of them rationally cared anyway, their being dead and all).

And, unless I'm mistaken, some of this kind of thing is still going on today. This is true even though the modern attitude is pretty well summed up by Woody Allen: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

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