# LITERATURE /// The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

For a reason that I ignore, it has been brought to my attention that the following article has disappeared from this blog  in the transfer of the boiteaoutils’ archives…I am therefore re-publishing it here, apologizing to the people who already read it or who were looking for it on this blog…

One story by Jorge Luis Borges is interesting to read as it reveals his vision of his own work. This short story, entitled The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths in fact compares two types of labyrinths; the first one, complex, full of tricks and devices and the second whose labyrinthine aspect comes from its extreme simplicity and “desertness”. It has been written that those the first labyrinth was assimilated to Borges’ vision of James Joyce’s litterature, which lost the reader thanks to the complexity of its form, whereas the second labyrinth was Borges’ interpretation of his own work which lost the reader thanks to the vertigo of its essence.
The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths

It is said by men worthy of belief (though Allah’s knowledge is greater) that in the first days there was a king of the isles of Babylonia who called together his architects and his priests and bade them build him a labyrinth so confused and so subtle that the most prudent men would not venture to enter it, and those who did would lose their way. Most unseemly was the edifice that resulted, for it is the prerogative of God, not man, to strike confusion and inspire wonder. In time there came to the court a king of Arabs, and the king of Babylonia (to muck the simplicity of his guest) bade him enter the labyrinth, where the king of Arabs wandered, humiliated and confused, until the coming of the evening, when he implored God’s aid and found the door. His lips offered no complaint, though he said to the king of Babylonia that in his land he had another labyrinth, and Allah willing, he would see that someday the king of Babylonia made its acquaintance. Then he returned to Arabia with his captains and his wardens and he wreaked such havoc upon kingdoms of Babylonia, and with such great blessing by fortune, that he brought low his castles, crushed his people, and took the king of Babylonia himself captive. He tied him atop a swift-footed camel and led him into the desert. Three days they rode, and then he said to him, “O king of time and substance and cipher of the century! In Babylonia didst thou attempt to make me lose my way in a labyrinth of brass with many stairways, doors, and walls; now the Powerful One has seen fit to allow me to show thee mine, which has no stairways to climb, nor walls to impede thy passage.”

Then he untied the bonds of the king of Babylonia and abandoned him in the middle of the desert, where he died of hunger and thirst. Glory to him who does not die.

From Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley, Penguin Books, 1998, p. 263-264.

6 Comments on “# LITERATURE /// The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

  1. the story is about hippocampus and its function – spatial navigation. borges spoke about brain by literature. and don’t forget the borges was rather blind so spatial navigation was very important for him

  2. As great as Borges is as a writer, like myriads of writers before and after him, he confuses the labyrinth with the maze. A maze is a puzzle,designed through the use of multiple turns, dead ends and deceptive leads, to confuse and baffle those walking it. A labyrinth has a single entrance and follows a single path, winding, serpentine, sometimes seeming to reverse direction, sometimes leading away from the objective but always returning and always leading directly to the center. The path out is the same as the path in, reversed.
    Borges writes fantasy, the word “irreality” has been applied to his work. In this story, it is a maze the Babylonian king has built, not a labyrinth. The Arabian king, however has led the Babylonian king into a labyrinth of a sort. The path out would have been the same as the path in if he Bablylonian had been able to follow the footprints of the camels out of the desert. “If” is the key word. Footprints in sand are extremely ephemeral.

    • Max Nicks, perhaps there is something lost in translation since there is no proper word in spanish that translates into “maze“ and therefore “laberinto“ is used to refer to both concepts

    • Actually, that’s only true for colloquial english. The original greek sense of the word means a system of turns that is nearly difficult to successfully navigate.

      In the original story of the labyrinth, Daedalus claims that his labyrinth was so confusing that he himself barely made it out alive after finishing. This certainly would not be true if he only had to follow a single path.

      So Borges’ use (and the spanish language use generally) is actually closer to the true meaning than the colloquial english meaning.

  3. Max Nicks, perhaps there is something lost in translation since there is no proper word in spanish that translates into “maze“ and therefore “laberinto“ is used to refer to both concepts.

  4. But you just showed an aspect in which Borges mother tongue (and mine) is limited.

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