loreology: assassin

If you’ve got a memory like an elephant, the old saying goes, then your noggin’s in good shape. Mine, when challenged under the gun, tends to shoot blanks. I’m a research kind of guy, not a living, breathing almanac…. Each week “Loreology” will unravel the mysteries behind something in gaming that I may have known once and completely forgot, or something that I should probably know and cram up into my nearly full brain cavity.

This Week: A deadly enemy might have a deadlier origin

I might be getting up there in years, but I wasn’t alive in 1191. Thankfully. It was a time of rough lives, superstition over science and unsanitary conditions by most commonsense standards–people scraped their teeth clean with twigs or dirty fingernails, if at all. The Third Crusade cut through the Holy Land like a bloody Spear of Destiny, and you could walk out your front door and greet death as easily as a smiling neighbor. No wonder you could find loads of secret societies and any number of mysterious organizations, including a merchants’ guild or even brotherhood of assassins.

Yeah, you got me…I’ve been immersed in Assassin’s Creed recently, and that got me thinking where the term “assassin” originally came from. As with a lot of words, we can’t be sure how it fully came into the vernacular. The earliest literary use of the word “assassination” was by our friend the Bard, William Shakespeare, back in 1605’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. The true origin, however, probably goes back 900 years earlier to the Hashshashin militant sect. You can hear the word’s sound in the sect’s name, though a corruption of the tongue over time has changed its spelling.

The Hashshashin carried out political and religious assassinations in the Middle East from the 8th to 14th centuries, and it’s speculated that the drug hashish (hence the name) played a part in their rites of initiation or killing sprees. Now, I’ve gotta think this made the Hashshashin wildly unpredictable during those party times, and how many of these guys dropped dead before an enemy’s sword even came close to their necks? I’d also hazard a guess that their planning, accuracy and cunning went to hell. It sure doesn’t sound like any of the assassin’s guilds I knew from my D&D days.

So, they’re no Altair Ibn La-Ahad, battling enemies with discipline, focus and “grace under pressure” in 12th century Jerusalem. Still, they lasted 700 years so they must have done something right, or should I say, something artfully wrong.


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