This week’s Fate/Zero proved to be incredibly interesting, despite the relatively static setting. We find the three servants seated and sharing a drink, discussing what it means to be a king and the philosophies that each hold to what that means. How this tête-à-tête plays out amounts to a verbal skirmish between the characters that doesn’t seek to draw blood, but rather to know each other and their thoughts more personally. Their theories on what it means to be a king were very fascinating to me.
From Saber, we see a sober idea of what it means to be a king. She was appointed to her station divinely, thus she believes that being a ruler infuses one with an immense amount of responsibility and everything should be done out of a sense of duty. She also believes that this a burden that she must bear for the sake of her nation. To be an effective ruler, one must be somewhat disconnected from the world in order to ward off temptations coming from the carnal and immoral sources in life. This plays out in her character and the figure she’s based on since Mordred, Arthur’s bastard son in many iterations of the Arthurian legend, went on to fatally wound the king in a battle which led to the ruin of Camelot.
There are advantages to this mindset for rule. It guarantees a measure of sobriety in decision-making with a desire to aspire to what is just. I also feel that in thinking that she was divinely appointed by God through pulling the sword from the stone, answering to a higher power would enact an instinct to protect the weak and ensure equality amongst the oppressed.
However, being a servant of the people means that there is a self-imposed pressure to please all or as many as possible which we know runs the risk of pleasing none. One of the criticisms I saw levied against Saber in this episode was that because of these sober rationalizations for rule, she isn’t an aspirational figure. The somber mood and attitude can affect morale, possibly on a grand scale.
Aspiration, inspiration, greed. There is no appointment to rule, it is instead seized through effort and merit. Rule and responsibility should not be viewed as a curse, but as an opportunity. These are some core tenets to Rider’s view of what it means to be king. One must live larger than life and extend that to all that he or she does. There is an element of greed that this philosophy necessitates, which will in theory cause one’s subjects to aspire to live like the king and emulate him or her in life, love, work, war, and pleasure. One must put in the utmost effort in all aspects of life, be it king, ally, or subject.
I can see how this kind of philosophy can inspire extreme loyalty amongst your followers and inculcates a high morale amongst the capable. The charisma that one needs to employ this is immense, but definitely not impossible. It reminds one of the legends and myths of heroes around the world who were the pinnacle of humanity and the apex of the respective civilizations from which their stories come from, and to be able to evoke theses sentiments from the populace in your life through your words, deeds, and actions would be a marvel to behold to many.
The shadow cast by the light of admiration is envy. Those who are not considered friend or ally or share in the bounty of your rule or conquest will not be so keen to see you succeed. The idea that those who are capable will aspire to live and work with the same amount of effort as does the king also means that there is an inherent inequality embedded into the fabric of this meritocratic society. I feel that there would be no innate sympathy for those who are unable to live up to the standards put to them by king and culture. Also, seeing that as a ruler, living life to its utmost can also be seen as putting one’s satisfactions above the needs of the society you lead, which can be construed as tyranny. Iskander does not view this as a problem given that tyranny derives from the Greek tyrannos, which means master. A Tyrant in ancient Greece was one who seized power in a polis (city) that was neither democratically administered nor under the direction of an oligarchy, so while the legality of such a station as Tyrant was debated, it was a recognized and often acknowledged method of rule.
Of course, another issue that was brought up was the fact that with no divine appointment or inherent birthright, if succession is to be awarded on a meritorious basis then the chance for chaos is extremely high. Not everyone has the merit to rise and seize the throne to rule through charisma or power or effort in general, and should the ruler who initially led abdicate his throne for any reason, then the void that is left that can’t be filled will prove to be disastrous in a society filled with ambitious and strong citizens.
There is no divine appointment, no reward for merit, no birthright to acknowledge. Gilgamesh lists himself as among the first kings in history, and is by far the oldest of the Heroic Spirits in the continuity that Kinoko Nasu has built up. The son of a king and a goddess, Gilgamesh considers himself divine, therefore entitled to rule. As such, he is also entitled to all of the world’s treasures and to the finest things that world has to offer. It’s a very clear-cut philosophy, and also the most despotic.
With the absolute rule that Gilgamesh feels a king should command, comes with it a certain stability and order. Given a king’s divine status, their word is law, and law is absolute. There is no room for deviation, and this makes for a very safe and stable society (provided that the ruler is in good spirits that is). There is order, structure, perhaps even prosperity because of this. There is no uncertainty for the life of a subject under this king’s rule, as there is no suffering deviation from the law that is laid down. If someone breaks the law, they are to be punished.
The drawbacks to this are pretty apparent. If an absolute ruler rules absolutely, there is no check in place should his whims become sour. And yes, despite the claims to divinity, Gilgamesh is indeed at least partially human and subject to the emotions that a human will feel. Even if there aren’t wild temperamental swings to account for, a static society that values stability and obedience above all else can also succumb to stagnation. Discontent can grow in the heart of a populace that senses no overarching directive or identity or cause beyond what the ruler dictates. And yes, succession again is also an issue.
This episode presented three ideas of what it means to be king. It also served to shake the ideals that Saber had in what it means to rule and be a ruler. At first glance this episode seems like a verbal rout for Saber’s ideals, and there is merit in what Rider says to her, but I found much to criticize in Rider’s philosophies as well. I feel that Saber as a character is meant to grow from this experience and become more well-rounded in her thoughts and ideals as a result. She obviously is a king who is mired in regret, and her actions and desires for the Grail inform this, or else Rider’s words would not have cut to her as much as they did.