The Lottery in Babylon

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"The Lottery in Babylon"
Author Jorge Luis Borges
Original title "La lotería en Babilonia"
Translator Anthony Bonner
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Genre(s) Fantasy, short story
Published in Ficciones
Media type Print
Publication date 1941
Published in English 1962

"The Lottery in Babylon" (or "The Babylon Lottery"; original Spanish "La lotería en Babilonia") is a fantasy short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. It first appeared in 1941 in the literary magazine Sur, and was then included in the 1941 collection The Garden of Forking Paths (El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan), which in turn became the part one of Ficciones (1944).

Plot summary[edit]

The story describes a mythical Babylon in which all activities are dictated by an all-encompassing lottery, a metaphor for the role of chance in one's life. Initially, the lottery was run as a lottery would be, with tickets purchased and the winner receiving a monetary reward. Later, punishments and larger monetary rewards were introduced. Further, participation became mandatory for all but the elite. Finally, it simultaneously became so all-encompassing and so secret some whispered "the Company has never existed, and never will."

A further interpretation is that the Lottery and the Company that runs it are actually an allegory of a deity or Zeus. Like the workings of a deity in the eyes of men, the Company that runs the Lottery acts, apparently, at random and through means not known by its subjects, leaving men with two options: to accept it to be all-knowing and all-powerful but mysterious, or to deny its existence. Both theories have supporters in this allegory.

In many other books, Borges dealt with metaphysical questions about the meaning of life and the possible existence of higher authorities, and also presented this same paradoxical vision of a world that may be run by a good and wise deity but seems to lack any discernible meaning. This view may also be considered present in "The Library of Babel" ("La biblioteca de Babel"), another Borges story.

Borges makes a brief reference to Franz Kafka as Qaphqa, the legendary Latrine where spies of the Company leave information.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Complete text of the story in the original Spanish: [1][dead link]
  • Complete text of the story in English translation: [2]