A wry view of life for the world-weary

Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For The Truth – Part Ten


Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat. One sure sign that Christmas is on its way is the sight of the latest edition of the Guinness Book of Records, a testament to how transitory many bizarre forms of human endeavour, stamina and forbearance are. One record that has appeared in the book for many a year was set by Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the emperor of Morocco who lived between 1672 and 1727. His claim to fame is that he sired 888 children. But is that possible?

A French diplomat, one Dominique Busnot, who was in Morocco in 1704, reported that the lusty emperor had 666 sons from four wives and 500 concubines. Daughters produced by the four wives were allowed to live but those produced by the concubines were suffocated at birth by the over-worked midwives. It is thought that this meant that the total number of children he sired was just over 1,100. As Ismael ascended to the throne in 1672 when he would have had unfettered access to the harem, this gave a 32 year window for his activities.

Austrian mathematicians Elizabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer, according to an article published in the ever popular Plos One Journal, decided to build a statistical model to ascertain whether Ismael’s claims could be substantiated. The starting point was to build a model which allowed them to simulate random access to the harem and to calculate the number of copulations necessary to produce the reported number of children. They then enhanced the model by adding in a number of constraints such as religious taboos preventing copulations for five days each cycle during menstruation, the possibility of ovulation detection and foetal and child mortality.

When they reviewed the results the researchers found that if the copulations occurred totally at random then to have sired the number of children that Ismael claimed he would have had to copulate at a rate of 1.97 a day. Taking all the constraints they introduced into the model into account, this reduced the number of copulations per day to 1.43.

The next consideration was whether one man was really up to all this. A model was developed to simulate the number of offspring produced when copulating on a random basis and then constraints, such as the emergence of love, favouritism and semen deterioration were introduced. Without the presence of one or more of the constraints the model showed it was possible to reach Ismael’s figure but if one or more of the constraints intervened it was a tough call.

And then, of course, how many women were needed to help Ismael set the record. The researchers’ calculations, perhaps surprisingly, suggested that a harem size in excess of 110 would not lead to an increased number of offspring. The minimum number required was around 65. So Ismael was over –stocked from that perspective. The calculations are a bit abstruse and involve graphs which to the naked eye produced curves reminiscent of brewer’s droop.

Of course, all these calculations assume constant and consistent performance and, naturally, more mundane considerations may have intervened – headaches, over-indulgence, loss of libido etc. Equally, like a child in a sweet shop our lusty monarch may have over indulged at the outset and then the novelty of it all may have worn off. But the inescapable conclusion of these calculations is that Moulay Ismael may have sired 888 offspring but it would have been nip and tuck. Either way, it is a record that is likely to stand the test of time.

Isn’t science wonderful?!


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