Ismail the Bloodthirsty

To The Editor, Natural History Magazine:

I read with great interest the "Abstract" in the 9/99 issue on the subject of the King of Morocco's having sired 888 children between 1672 and 1727. I was especially intrigued by the notion that the king of legend, Ismail the Bloodthirsty, would have had to engage in sexual intercourse 4.8 times per day for 40 years in order to achieve the famous total of begotten children.

What I have found over the last six months is that while it is feasible to have sex four times a day–although it is a bit draining–the real problem is the .8, which can be very painful and in any case, never results in any offspring. I therefore personally recommend having sex five times per day for four days and four times on the fifth day rather than 4.8 times per day. It averages out the same but it's a little easier on the testicles.

On the other hand, if he did father 888 children roughly 300 years ago, it's clear that almost everyone living in Morocco at the present time probably could trace his or her lineage back to Ismail. If the 888 children averaged only 2 offspring each, and if they reproduced similarly only once every 20 years, there would be more than 29 million of them today. On the other hand, if they averaged 3 children each every 20 years, today there would be more than 8 billion great great great....grandchildren of Ismail. And if all of them had had sex 4.8 times per day for the last 300 years, there would be more little Ismails running around than there are ants in Africa.

Dorothy Einon, the psychologist who figured out the improbability of Ismail truly siring so many kids based on our modern knowledge offertility, infertility among a tenth of the women at her university, and related data, overlooks the fact that these matters were not unknown in the Middle East and North Africa at the time of Ismail. Ismail may very well have known precisely when his cows were in estrus and didn't need to spend all day, every day of his life, drinking coffee and counting to 4.8. The rhythm method wasn't invented by Pope John Paul, after all, and Ismail may have had perfect timing.

Finally, we should especially be thankful at times like this that our system of counting is based on Arabic numbers and not Roman, first of all because we cannot count to 4.8 using Roman numbers and second, we certainly couldn't extrapolate 888 times 2 or 3 for 300 years with all those Xs and Cs and Ls.

Very truly yours,

Norman 'the Tired-and-Thirsty' Ross