Persians and Their Imperium: At World's End

For C.S., who recently remarked on the blog’s literary eclecticism.

Warning – spoiler alert! This post reveals critical plot points of Isaac Asimov’s classic science-fiction masterpiece, The Foundation Trilogy.

The riddle:

Seldon said, “… It is enough for the moment that you know that a scientific refuge will be established on Terminus. And another will be established at the other end of the Galaxy, let us say,” and he smiled, “at Star’s End. …”1

“But this I can tell you: Terminus and its companion Foundation at the other end of the Galaxy are the seeds of the Renascence and the future founders of the Second Galactic Empire. …”2

The Answer That Satisfied

The Epiphany

And then something else occurred to Arcadia, something that had been stirring and moving at the base of her brain ever since the flight began – something that forever killed the fourteen in her.

And she knew that she must escape.

That above all. Though they located every conspirator on the Foundation; though they caught her own father; she could not, dared not, risk a warning. She could not risk her own life – not in the slightest – for the entire realm of Terminus. She was the most important person in the Galaxy. She was the only important person in the Galaxy.

She knew that even as she stood before the ticket-machine and wondered where to go.

Because in all the Galaxy, she and she alone, except for they, themselves, knew the location of the Second Foundation.3

The Message

“One other thing.”


“Would you tell him something from me?”


“I want to whisper it to you.”

He leaned his plump cheek toward her, and the little whispered sound passed from one to the other.

“Pappa’s eyes were round. “That’s what you want me to say? But it doesn’t make sense.”

“He’ll know what you mean. Just say I sent it and that I said he would know what it means. And you say it exactly the way I told you. No different. You won’t forget it?”

“How can I forget it? Five little words. Look – “

“No, no.” She hopped up and down in the intensity of her feelings. “Don’t repeat it. Don’t ever repeat it to anyone. Forget all about it except to my father. Promise me.”

Pappa shrugged again. “I promise! All right.”

“All right,” she said, mournfully, and as he passed down the drive towhere the air taxi waited to take him to the spaceport, she wondered if she had signed his death warrant. She wondered if she would ever see him again.

She scarcely dared to walk into the house again to face the good, kind Momma. Maybe when it was all over, she had better kill herself for what she had done to them.4

Star’s End?

Turbor seemed stunned. “Then it’s all over. Great Seldon, it’s all over.”

“Well,” said Darell, “not exactly.”

“How, not exactly? Is there something more?”

“Yes, we haven’t located the Second Foundation yet!”

“What,” roared Anthor, “are you trying to say – “

“Yes, I am. Kalgan is not the Second Foundation.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s easy,” grunted Darell. “You see I happen to know where the Second Foundation really is.”

Turbor laughed suddenly – laughed in huge, windy gusts that bounced ringingly off the walls and died in gasps. He shook his head, weakly, and said, “Great Galaxy, this goes on all night. One after another, we put up our straw men to be knocked down. We have fun, but we don’t get anywhere. Space! Maybe all planets are the Second Foundation. Maybe they have no planet, just key men spread out on all the planets. And what does it matter, since Darell says we have the perfect defense?”

Darel smiled without humor. “The perfect defense is not enough, Turbor. Even my Mental Static device is only something that keeps us in the same place. We cannot remain forever with our fists doubled, frantically staring in all directions for the unknown enemy. We must know not only how to win, but whom to defeat. And there is a specific world on which the enemy exists.”

“Get to the point,” said Anthor wearily. “What’s your information?”

“Arcadia,” said Darell, “sent me a message, and until I got it, I never saw the obvious. I probably would never have seen the obvious. Yet it was a simple message that went: ‘A circle has no end.’ Do you see?”

“No,” said Anthor, stubbornly, and he spoke, quite obviously, for the others.

“A circle has no end,” repeated Munn, thoughtfully, and his forehead furrowed.

“Well,” said Darell, impatiently, “it was clear to me – What is the one absolute fact we know about the Second Foundation, eh? I’ll tell you! We know that Hari Seldon located it at the opposite end of the Galaxy. Homir Munn theorized that Seldon lied about the existence of the Foundation. Pelleas Anthor theorized that Seldon had told the truth that far, but lied about the location of the Foundation. But I tell you that Hari Seldon lied in no particular; that he told the absolute truth.

But, what is the other end? The Galaxy is a flat, lens-shaped object. A cross-section along the flatness of it is a circle, and a circle has no end – as Arcadia realized. We – we, the First Foundation – are located on Terminus at the rim of that circle. We are at an end of the Galaxy, by definition. Now follow the rim of that circle and find the other end. Follow it, follow it, follow it, and you will find no other end. You will merely come back to your starting point

“And there you will find the Second Foundation.

“There?” repeated Anthor. “Do you mean here?

“Yes, I mean here!” cried Darell, energetically. “Why, where else could it possibly be? …”5

[Bolding added.]

There’s nothing new under the sun(s); here’s the thirteenth century Provençal translator, exegete, Maimonidean-scientist-philosopher and physician Rav Moshe ibn Tibbon, as cited by the sixteenth century Safedian Kabbalist, poet and exegete Rav Shlomo Alkabez:

מהודו ועד כוש רב ושמואל חד אמר הודו בסוף העולם וכוש בסוף העולם וחד אמר הודו וכוש גבי הדדי הוו קיימי כשם שמלך על הודו וכוש כך מלך מסוף העולם ועד סופו

כיוצא בדבר אתה אומר כי הוא רודה בכל עבר הנהר מתפסח ועד עזה רב ושמואל חד אמר תפסח בסוף העולם ועזה בסוף העולם וחד אמר תפסח ועזה בהדי הדדי הוו קיימי כשם שמלך על תפסח ועל עזה כך מלך על כל העולם כולו6

כתב הר”ר משה ן’ תיבון ז”ל בספר פאה וז”ל יש לתמוה מה להם לחלוק על זה ומה לשקר במקום עדים יחקרו וידעו. וכן במחלוקת תפסח ועזה. והאמת כי לא נחלקו על זה. אבל דעת שניהם שהם בהדי הדדי אבל במשמעות איך כלל כל העולם בהם הם חולקים חד אמר כשם שמלך מהודו ועד כוש כך מלך על כל העולם. וחד אמר הודו בסוף כי דבר ידוע כי הארץ כדוריית ואין סוף לכדור כי אם במקום אשר יתחיל ממנו עכ”ל

וכוונת דבריו כי אם הודו הוא ההתחלה כוש הוא הסוף ושתיהן בהדי הדדי קיימי

וכן מצאתי במדרש לקח טוב לר’ טוביה בר אליעזר ז”ל מהודו ועד כוש רב ושמואל וכו’ והיאך אתה מקיים דברי שניהם אלא כך פירוש הדבר. ביחד היו עומדים אלא כאדם שיוצא מהודו והולך למזרח אל כוש והולך וסובב לדרום עד שחוזר להודו אצל כוש. מגיד שכל העולם היה תחת ממשלתו ע”כ

והא לך צורה להבין דבריהם [לא העתקתיה; עיין שם בספר]7

[Bolding added.] The citation from ibn Tibbon is from a work which has apparently never been published but remains extant in manuscript, the Sefer Peah, “an allegorical commentary to Aggadic passages, which explains them allegorically, to defend them from the charges of the Christians that Hazal believed in corporeality and similar things”.

Update: Eliezer Brodt informs me that the Sefer Peah has finally been printed last year, along with several other works of Ibn Tibbon, from manuscript, and that it does indeed contain the above excerpt.

  1. Foundation, Part I: The Psychohistorians Chapter 1 p. 35. []
  2. Ibid. p. 74. []
  3. Second Foundation, Part II Search By the Foundation Chapter 14: Anxiety, p. 153. []
  4. Ibid. Chapter 18: Ghost Of A World, pp. 186-187. []
  5. Ibid. Chapter 20: “I know” / Chapter 21: The Answer That Satisfied, pp. 209-211. []
  6. מגילה יא. – קשר []
  7. מנות הלוי: (ויניציאה ה’שמה) עמוד כד. – קשר, (נ.י. תשי”ד) עמוד כה: – קשר []

3 thoughts on “Persians and Their Imperium: At World's End”

  1. While not quite the same, I recall hearing a piece from Tzofnas Paneach on hilchos Sefiras HaOmer in which the Rogachover posits that a line of infinite length can’t really have a specific starting point (he uses this with regards to time).

  2. Although I like Asimov’s sci-fi (though not nearly as much as I like the unfathomable genius Robert Scheckley’s, or most of the other Hugo winners) I didnt think Foundation was so great. It was kind of ehhh. I will say this, though – the ideas posited in Foundation are darn near similar to the ideas posited by R’ Aryeh Kaplan in “If you were God”. And I wonder if perhaps R’ Kaplan may have been influenced by Asimov. This is pure speculation, but I would think R’ Kaplan would have read Asimov’s works.

    Asimov, though not religious or frum in the slightest, had profound religious instincts. One of his most famous stories ends with a verse from Genesis, which may easily be read as a medrash on what God was doing in the tiime prior to creation. But anyway.

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