December 04, 2016

Horse 2196 - Oddvent: Dec 4 - The Christmas Penguin

'twas the twenty-first night before Christmas.

December 4th is the fourth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Tam's Day, the day that a Penguin saved a child's life, we shall now tell the story of Tim & Tam the Penguin.

Everyone has heard of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in which the protagonist, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three specters who reform him and change his attitude. In the tale, he is warned that the son of his employee Bob Cratchitt, who is called "Tiny Tim", will die unless an unnamed course of medical treatment is given to him. The tale is supposed to be precautionary and act as an object lesson for all of us to change out ways. What you might not be aware of though is that this was based on a far older legend and dates from the middle of the second century AD.

Gaius Petruvius was the Governor of the Roman province of Numida Inferior from the year 164 to 196. He was a brutal and unforgiving ruler, who exacted heavy taxation from his province and put down rebellions and uprisings without mercy. The story which Dickens drew from revolved around a man called Haki and his son Timaeus.

Haki was a goat farmer and eked out a modest living in selling meat, wool, milk and cheese. Like most farmers in the province, his was not an overly abundant living but it was adequate to keep him and his three children in a reasonable standard of living. Unfortunately the winter of 167 was singularly bitter and he lost many of his flock. It was so bad in fact, that when the taxation assessors came around in the summer, they took pity upon Haki and he escaped without having any taxation imposed upon him at all. This would have been fine if it wasn't for the further heartache of there being a flood at the beginning of the fall and even more of his flock was lost in the raging waters.

This would have been an ordinary tale of agricultural loss if it wasn't for the Governor himself, Gaius Petruvius, who took a liking to the goat meat and demanded to know specifically which farm it had come from. Haki was summoned to the governor's palace and instead of having pity taken upon him, Gaius Petruvius thought that this was a sign that Haki must have done something to invoke the anger of the gods and rather than risk what else he might bring upon the province, he ordered that Haki be thrown into prison.

Legend has it that that night, Gaius Petruvius was visited by three specters who showed him summers past, summer present and summers future and that it was not Haki's fault that misfortune had occurred but it was the fault of his son Timaeus. If nothing was done, then the future would continue to be awful and there was nothing for it: the child must die.

Gaius Petruviius organised a maniple of troops to visit the household of Haki and when they arrived, they found Haki's wife attending to the needs of the house and Haki's older two sons out on the hillsides keeping the goats. Haki's youngest son Timaeus was an exceptionally small and scrawny looking child and could be found not terribly far away from the house playing with his pet penguin Tam. When questioned as to what his name was, the child answered "Tim" and when he was stolen away, he put up so much of a protest that the soldiers decided to bring along his companion, Tam the penguin.

The child was brought to the palace of the governor and was asked several questions about what he had done which might have caused the terrible winter and following flood. This was all too much for Tiny Tim who was no more than seven years old and instead of answering the questions, he could only stand in the middle of the palace crying. Gaius Petruvius had no time for the nonsense of a crying child and ordered that Tiny Tim be quartered and the four parts be sent to the furthest reaches of the province.
Just as one of the soldiers was about to hack off Tiny Tim's head with an axe, Tam the penguin broke free of his captors and waddled as fast as he could to be with Timaeus. Gaius Petruvius was so moved to see this display of affection for the boy by the penguin that he immediately revoked the order that Tiny Tim be killed and also immediately ordered that Haki be set free and that no further impost would be payable.

From here the legend is unclear but we do know that Gaius Petruvius ordered that special black biscuits be baked in honour of the penguin and the dispute lies in the question of whether or not they should be called Tim-Tam biscuits after Timaeus and Tam, or just Penguin biscuits.

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