Greek Myths 4 Kids Presents: CASE FILES
FROM THE HERCULES DETECTIVE AGENCY
CASE FILE: The Charcoal Burners
No Problem Too Large or Too Small, Reasonable Fees
Proprietor Hercules (Roman name), also known as Heracles (Greek name), also known as Herc (Nickname)
Ancient Greece was a fuel-hungry society. People needed heat and a way to cook their food. Businesses such as bakeries demanded a great deal of wood and charcoal on a daily basis to operate. If you had a nearby forest, you might gather wood yourself if you were not encroaching on someone's property. You could hire someone to chop and deliver wood. But there were many steps and jobs involved in the process, transportation, and distribution of charcoal, which was the preferred form of heat.
Charcoal burners were the people who actually made charcoal for distribution and sale. You might think that was a pretty easy product to produce, but it wasn't. It took careful planning to grow the right trees, give them care, and wait many years for the trees to grow to useful heights prior to harvest. Once trees were harvested, the final process of making charcoal began. Some charcoal was made using pits. Other charcoal was made using mounds. But all charcoal took knowledge and time to produce. It was one of the most important industries in ancient Greece. The city of Athens was famous for both the quality of its charcoal and its talented charcoal burners.
It's no wonder that when the charcoal burners, who made their home and operated their business in the countryside of Athens, began seeing a problem with some of their trees, they were quite upset. Charcoal production was important to their well being, but it was also important to so many families and businesses who depended upon their steady, quality supply of charcoal.
Which all goes to explain why a group of very worried men set out to visit Hercules.
Hercules was working in his courtyard, leveling some of the paving blocks, when he heard someone at the courtyard gate.
Hercules answered the gate and found a delegation of working class men waiting.
"Good morning. What can I do for you?" asked Hercules.
"Hercules your fame has spread through out Greece, and the fame of the Hercules Detective Agency has spread also, " said the leader of the men
"How kind of you to say so," smiled Hercules, feeling rather pleased. "Now, how can I help you?
"Hercules we are a group of poor charcoal makers. We have a real problem."
Hercules waited, but no one said anything. Becoming a little frustrated with the reluctance of the workmen to state their problem, Hercules tried again. "Gentlemen, how can I help you?"
"Hercules please be patient with us. We really need to explain the situation so you can understand our problem."
"Okay," nodded Hercules, trying to look enthusiastic, and not quite pulling it off.
"Well," began the leader, in his slow and careful way. "We are charcoal burners. Our fathers were charcoal burners. Their fathers were charcoal burners, and as far back as memory goes our families have been charcoal burners. Now we, by law, have the exclusive use of the trees on a certain mountain and we have always taken care of this mountain. We work our way around the mountain cutting trees and burning them to make charcoal for the local cities. It takes us about 30 years to work our way around the mountain, which allows trees to grow and mature while we work. We always plant trees behind us as we cut. As supply fluctuates, we expand up or down the mountain to meet demand."
"And?" hinted Hercules, wondering if the leader would ever get to the point.
"Do you understand how we work? We plant trees as we cut so that by the time we get back around they are ready to cut down and burn. It has always been so as far back as any can speak about."
Hercules took a deep calming breath. He did not wish to be rude, but truly he wished these men would stop explaining their job and explain their problem instead. His courtyard was not going to fix itself.
Hercules gave it one last try. "I understand what you have told me. Now, what is your problem?"
The leader's eyes widened with worry. "Hercules, the trees have stopped growing. The trees we have planted to replace those we cut down are not growing like they should. Before you ask, I can tell you that the weather has not changed. We get the same amount of rain and the same amount of sunshine that we always get. There has been no change."
"I see," said Hercules, although he did not see at all.
"Second, the older sections have not been affected. The trees planted 3, 4, even 10 years ago are doing fine. It is only the section from last year that is not growing."
Hercules did not say anything. He simply waited.
"Finally, "the leader continued. "We have made all the proper offerings to Dionysus and Pan, the protectors of forests. So we are stumped. Please help us. If these trees donít grow, we will be out of business in 30 years, not to mention the people of all the nearby city states will have no charcoal to burn for heating and cooking. So again Hercules, we beg you, please help us."
Hercules looked at the workers in amazement. These men were worried about something that was thirty years away? That did not sound especially urgent, although he could see they were quite upset at the thought.
"I donít know anything about how trees grow," Hercules decided to say. He started to turn around, and leave the worried men standing by his gate.
"Hercules," said a voice from the darkest corner of the courtyard. "You want to help the Greek people, so help them."
"I wouldnít know where to even start, Tor," Hercules responded to the voice coming from the darkest corner.
"You want to be a detective," the voice pointed out. "So detect."
Hercules considered for a short moment. He turned his attention back to the men, waiting hopefully. "I will take this case," Hercules decided. "You can pay me with charcoal for my heating and cooking. Since this is a big problem, it must be a lot of charcoal, enough for my needs for an entire winter. Is this a deal?"
"It is a deal," agreed the leader, formally. "If you solve our case we will pay you enough charcoal for your needs for an entire winter."
"In that case," Hercules told them, "I will get on the case right away, so please go back home or back to work, whichever you need to do. I will come to you with an update once I figure out what is going on."
"How will you find us?" asked one of the men.
"Gentlemen. you are famous. You are the charcoal burners. I will find you."
After they left, Hercules shouted to the corner, "Thanks Tor for reminding me why I really do this work."
"You're welcome," responded the Minotaur. "Charcoal for an entire winter!" he awed. "That would be a marvelous thing."
"It would set us up nicely, I must say. Provided I solve their problem. Considering I know nothing about trees, I think it's highly unlikely, but I will give it a shot."
The Minotaur laughed. "But you know a great deal about two gods, who by the way happen to be two of your very best friends - Pan and Dionysus."
"What do they have to do with it?" Hercules asked, sounding puzzled. "Pan is the god of shepherds and Dionysus is the god of wine."
"Didn't you hear the men? Pan and Dionysus are the protectors of the forests. They share the responsibility. It's their job to keep an eye on things. Zeus doesn't assign just one job. Most gods have more than one job. And Pan and Dionysus are no exception."
"You're right," Hercules nearly gasped. "One or both of them will know what's going on. Tor, you're brilliant."
Hercules decided to visit Pan first, since Pan owed him a very large favor. After tracking down his good friend Pan in a nearby forest, Hercules asked him what was going on with the charcoal burners' trees.
"I have no idea," mused Pan. "This is the first I have heard about it. Let me go talk to some wood nymphs and see if they know anything. Wait here Hercules. You will scare them away if they see you."
And with that Pan was gone.
"Wait," Hercules called after him. "I am actually pretty good with nymphs," he shouted, thinking about the water nymphs he had helped in the past. But these were wood nymphs. Perhaps they were different.
But Pan was already gone. It wasnít very long until Pan returned.
"The wood nymphs donít know anything about why the trees arenít growing. They never go into those woods since the charcoal burners are always cutting down the trees there. Oh, by the way, the woods nymphs wanted me to pass on that anytime you wanted to visit they wouldnít run away."
That was good news, Hercules supposed, but it did not help him solve this case. He was grateful for Pan's help, though, and told him so.
"Consider your debt to me paid," Hercules added.
"No trouble at all. Besides, I like the wood nymphs." With that, Pan ran off into the woods again.
Hercules thought for a minute about all the places Dionysus, the god of wine and also forests, might be.
It took him eight stops, but Hercules finally caught up with Dionysus in his palace on Mt. Olympus, a place Dionysus rarely visited.
"Dionysus. Do you have a minute? I need you," Hercules told him when he spotted him.
"You know I'm on the Council of 12. That's why I'm here and not home with my wife. The twelve Olympian gods, of which I am one, are meeting very shortly to talk about ... something .. l really wasn't paying attention. But I'm sure they think it's important. They always think it's important," Dionysus laughed. "But for you, I'm all ears. If I'm late to the meeting, I can always blame it on you!"
"Always so thoughtful, Dionysus," Herc told his friend.
"Do you want my help or not? I am a very busy and important god these days," Dionysus puffed.
"I was wondering, your great and mighty, if you knew anything about the trees on the charcoal burners' mountain?"
"Of course I know," nodded Dionysus. "What kind of a god do you think I would be if I neglected my forests and trees?"
"Here's the problem," Hercules started to explain, but Dionysus was still talking.
"I have been watching those hard working charcoal burners for many years. I see how they take care of my forests and always replant whatever trees that they cut. So I decided to see if I could make their lives easier. I'm on the Council now, you know. Part of our job is to keep on eye not only on other gods, to make sure they don't misbehave too much, but also to keep an eye on mankind. So I started an experiment. Every time it rained, I replaced the rain water with wine. I figured that since wine makes my life so good, it must be good for trees as well. So yes, I'm very familiar with the charcoal burners and their mountain and their trees."
"Dionysus," Hercules sighed. "I donít know how to break this to you, but wine isnít good for trees, or for most plants."
"Wine isn't good for trees? Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. If you compare the trees you've been helping to other trees in the forest, you'll see what I mean."
Dionysus disappeared for a while. When he returned, he had an embarrassed look on his face.
"I see what you mean, Herc. I will allow the trees to get their normal rainfall. I added some nutrients to the soil as well to help fix the problem I created. The trees should soon recover and start growing normally. I still canít believe wine doesnít help trees grow."
"I guess that shows even gods can learn new things," nodded Hercules.
"You're not going to tell anybody, are you?" Dionysus asked nervously. "I'm only on the Council because Hestia (the goddess of hearth and home) didn't want to be. I would hate Hera to have an excuse to kick me off. She's a horrible queen but very powerful."
"What kind of a friend would I be if I blabbed everything we did? I won't tell anyone."
"I promise," Hercules promised.
"And make Tor promise, too," Dionysus said.
"I won't tell him. I won't tell anyone. But I do have to tell the charcoal burners that their problem is solved. I'm going to tell them I talked to you personally about this, and you promised to fix the problem, and keep an eye on their trees in the future so that they would start growing again like always. How's that?"
"That," agreed Dionysus, recovering his normal swagger, "would be perfect. Gotta run!" Dionysus disappeared.
With a shake of his head, Hercules headed for the charcoal burners' village to tell them the good news and to remind them of their promise to pay him an entire winter's worth of charcoal.
It was not what Hercules would call an urgent case, not to him at least, but it certainly seemed urgent to his clients, who were very happy with the outcome. Hercules named this case simply The Charcoal Burners, and filed it away with the other case files from the Hercules Detective Agency. But, before he did, he wrote a note to himself on the cover of the file with big, thick, bold letters so that he would not forget - NOT YET PAID: ENOUGH CHARCOAL FOR AN ENTIRE WINTER. It was that important.