In the Shadow of the God-King

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Pharaoh Tutankhamen on a hunting expedition

Much has been made of the recent tragic accident in which Vice President Cheney shot one of his companions while quail hunting. The incident was described by the administration as a "peppering" or "dusting" by "BB’s" (which is neocon Newspeak for "he took a shotgun blast to the head")

The hunting expedition has played a vital role in imperial courts throughout history. Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, for instance, was killed while stalking deer just when he was consolidating power over a rival claimant. Roman Emperor Hadrian nearly met an early grave when he fell from his horse while chasing wild boar. (Luckily for his subjects, he only suffered a broken collarbone).

These outings usually included much more than just the God-King and his hunting buddies. Typically, the Blessed One would bring a long train of servants, prostitutes, and jesters. Evenings in the field were spent drinking and enjoying raucous entertainment (though I haven’t heard whether Cheney’s group included any sword-swallowers or juggling midgets).

Imperial expeditions had their serious side too. Courtiers, sycophants, and flim-flam artists desperately tried to include themselves in the imperial entourage in hopes of gaining the emperor’s ear. Exploiting the camaraderie and thrill of the hunt opened doors for lucrative contracts, helped to poison the emperor’s mind against enemies, and allowed one to ascend into the ranks of the emperor’s favorites.

Wealth, power, and celebrity were the real game afoot.

Unfortunately, while the rewards were potentially great, there was significant danger as well. History is replete with imperial courtiers being trampled by the Mogul’s elephants or mauled by Caesar’s hunting dogs.

It comes with the job.

I have no idea whether the unfortunate victim in Cheney’s case was a malevolent imperial manipulator or merely a commoner who zigged when he should have zagged. For all I know, he could be a volunteer for the Special Olympics or an official for the Make a Wish Foundation (though media reports state he is a "lawyer", which certainly warrants suspicion).

Regardless of what he was doing in Cheney’s entourage, we should all wish him a speedy recovery…though I must confess a certain pessimism on this point. In the days of the old Soviet Empire, the peasants used to say "no rumor can be confirmed until it has been officially denied." With that in mind, White House claims that he was only "lightly wounded" don’t bode well for his prognosis.

Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.

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