Broadcast: 12/21/96

Our planet's odometer is in a period of change. You know, the odometer that was reset to zero, by the factory, nearly 2,000 years ago. Well, if you take a look at the figure on the right, you'll see that the "six" has just been replaced by a "seven". But it's the left-hand figure that's getting ready for a really big change.

There's the number "one", that's been showing as long as any of us can remember. Just a bit of the base of the "one" is still showing at the top of the counter. The number "two" at the bottom is becoming more visible. Three years from now it will fill the space.

I think I can safely say, that every one of us was born toward the end of the present millennium. The majority of us will pass over (as they used to say) in the early part of the next. That makes us what I'll call spanners - our lives will span two millennia. And there are close to six billion of us.

The last group of spanners was much smaller. Of course no exact figures can be computed for the year one thousand, but the world's population could easily have been counted in the millions.

Among those millions were the Viking explorers of North America - Eric the Red and Lief Ericsson, Hungary's Saint Henry I, Byzantium's Empress Zoë, Germany's Conrad II, and England's King Ethelred the Unready. We'll have a look at some of these from time to time. But today's spanner comes from the Far East.

We don't know her real name, but we do know she was born about the year 978, in the 30-year reign of Japan's Fujiwara emperor Michinaga, another spanner. It was an era when military families were gradually gaining control of the country and Japan was beginning to acquire a literature of its own - not borrowed from the Chinese.

Under the pseudonym Murasaki Shikibu, this widowed noblewoman used her first hand knowledge of the imperial court to write a 54-chapter story about Hikaru Genji, a handsome aristocrat, describing his romances, his wives and his children, all against a highly-detailed portrait of the Fujiwara court.

She also left a diary behind, after her death, around the year 1014. But she is best remembered for her Tale of Genji, considered by many to be the first fully-realized novel in history.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

© 1996 David Minor / Eagles Byte