‘The Sickman’ by Roger Casement

‘The Sickman – A Fable that Cost Dear’ by Roger Casement (X. of X.) was published in The Continental Times September 6, 1915. The title was inspired by the view in Western Europe that the Ottoman Empire was “the sick man of Europe.” Only when the Entente Powers went to finish off the sick man and take his possessions did they find that he was not so sick after all:

Once upon a time there was a Sickman.

And his friends gathered round and said: “Be kind enough to give us the Key of your House so that we may come in and help you.”

But the Sickman replied: – “It is true I have been ill and ye have all prescribed for me, and I see verily that in the multitude of doctors is much illness and heavy charges. Now, be it known to you, dear Friends, that I have chosen a Doctor, whose medicine is strength, and that the Key of my House I keep in mine own hands.

“God be with you, dear Friends, and requite you as you deserve.”

And with one accord the friends of the Sickman fell to cursing together and the Chief among them said: “He hath dug his Grave with his own hands.”

And they spoke bitterly to each other and said, “Come, let us take the Key of the House from this Son of Belial and cast him out utterly, so that we may enter in and take possession, for it is not right that a Sickman should choose his own Doctor.”

And it was agreed that two of the friends should attack the house by the front door, and another friend, whom they could see but afar off, by reason that the Sickman’s house and garden stood between them, should assail it by the back door.

And at the Noise of their attack the Sickman rose from his bed and first he locked the front door and the back door, and then with the medicine of strength his Doctor had given him he proceeded to defend his house and garden.

And he took the Shovel, wherewith the Friends desired that he should dig his grave, whereon were many strange names engraved, and he dug with it many trenches and Schützengraben, like unto graves and said:

“But who filleth them, Dear Friends, let him that liveth tell.”

And after the Friends had attacked the Front Door by Night and by Day and with much Noise, for the space of six months, and by Reason of their attacks and the violence thereof their heads and their hands were much bloodied and their strength greatly diminished, whereby their resentment against the Sickman was augmented beyond all endurance, they cried aloud, and said: “Since we do this thing for the sake of others, nay, for the very cause of humanity itself and so that the Small Nations may live, it is but right that others should Help us.”

So they cried together with a loud Voice: “Come over and Help us O! ye Small Nations, lest this Son of Satan get the better of Us, who do but seek the welfare of Mankind, and so ye and your Cause be lost for evermore.”

Now the Small Nations walked delicately, each in his appointed path, and when they heard the Cry of the Friends they replied not by reason that the tongue was in the Other cheek, and each, passing over on to the other side gathered his robe discreetly, so that the Dust and the Blood and the Dirt of the Conflict should not soil his garment.

And when the Friends saw this they were exceeding wroth and laid hands on all that was within reach and said: “verily, since ye will not attack the Sickman who, in truth hath dug his grave with his own hands, now shall ye lose This and This and that,” and they seized hold of many things the Small Nations treasured greatly.

And when the Small Nations saw that their own goods were like to all disappear and that the two friends were heavy- laden, they took Counsel together and said:

“Verily such friendship costeth dear, and we have not means to support it. Now the Sickman we know of old but who are these that we should bear these things in peace?”

“Go to”, they said, “see ye not that they are heavy- laden”, and with that, with one accord, they took up Stones and Things and threw them at the friends from behind, while the Sickman, opening the Door, came out and smote them in front, so that there was neither going forward nor going backward nor yet staying. And the two Friends, lying down in the Trenches and the Schützengraben that the Sickman had dug with his own hands, fell asleep.

And when the Sickman saw what had befallen the two friends he gazed sadly on the shovel whereon the many strange names were engraven and said:

“Lo! They have Dug their Grave with their own Hands!”

“Let it be called Achibaba.”

[Achibaba was the main position of the Ottoman Turkish defences at Gallipoli in 1915.]


Republished in Irish Foreign Affairs June 2017

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