Sword of the Lictor, chapters 1 to 4


And we're back! Severian is Lictor of Thrax. Dorcas goes missing in the city and when Severian finds her again she is unable or unwilling to speak. Meanwhile, trouble is stirring in Thrax, and the Archon is requests Severian's attendance at a gathering for the great and good of the city- though suggesting he is likely to have to work while there.

Some thoughts:

(*) Thrax is given an interesting description. It sounds like it's built into a hydroelectric dam.

(*) Severian's speech to Dorcas, justifying his profession, sounds more like he's trying to convince himself.

If I can forget some of his previous thoughts and actions, I feel I almost like Severian in these chapters. Based on the last time this happened, he's probably about to do something awful.


  • 1

    I feel the same way. I'm just waiting for him to do something hideous!

  • 1

    There's probably more going on with Dorcas than just her being upset that Severian has a job to do. I don't know what, but could it be connected to the ritual at the end of the last book?

    Severian's speech was one of self-justification. Is this a sign that he's starting to reconsider his role and what he does to support the rulers? Is he starting to become politically aware?

    And it was interesting in his speech that all the justifications were about punishment and retribution. There was little there about deterrence, and nothing at all about rehabilitation. The attitude seems very much to be one of eliminating wrong-doers, rather than trying to return people to being productive members of society.

  • 1
    Yes- Severian hasn't considered that element of things at all, and that is interesting-- and shows the limitations of his thinking. He's not yet developed much of a notion of ethics.

    I agree there's almost certainly more going on with Dorcas. We mustn't forget the trauma of her being dead- and she's not remotely recovered from that.
  • 1

    Good point re: rehabilitation, @NeilNjae . Dorcas seems unconvinced, in any case.

    I feel like the writing is even better in this book than the previous two. The first few chapters are lovely, anyway.

    Interesting that the Archon has a first name, now, and one that isnt widely known to the citizenry. Abdiesus was the name of one (or perhaps a few) early Christian missionaries martyred in Persian during the rule of Shapur II in the 4th C. Shapur was in the process of creating a Zoroastrian state, and Abdiesus (aka Habad Jesus) was in the way. When I read this I recalled that the prophet Mani (Manichaeism) was similarly killed by a Persian King who was considering Zoroastrianism, but checking it turns out that was in the 3rd Century and was King Shapur I.

    I predict @clash_bowley 's new bromance with Severian will not last the week.

  • 1

    I am certain @Apocryphal is correct! Not being a complete and utter dick is high praise for Severian from me!

  • 0
    It was interesting how we jump a long way in space and time to just start at Thrax, as opposed to the tight detailing of the last book. That gives Gene Wolfe the opportunity to bring in previously unrevealed details later on, a narrative strategy he has used a lot.
    Like others, I enjoyed these chapters, with their very different focus. But the city's problems are not very far below the surface.
    If Severian runs to form, he'll find an alternative woman at this party :smile:
    More seriously, the Claw now seems burdensome to him rather than simply a curious gizmo. I wonder also if its presence is part of Dorcas's problems?
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    More seriously, the Claw now seems burdensome to him rather than simply a curious gizmo.

    Good observation. It's almost as if Severian is starting to think of the consequences of his actions, and what he should do with the Claw. Maybe there's yet hope that he'll become an actual human being!

    I wonder also if its presence is part of Dorcas's problems?

    Is it the presence of the Claw, or is it a consequence of her resurrection? It's also curious that Dorcas became ill after they'd been some time in Thrax.

  • 1
    edited September 2019


    "I remember watching once when there was an official of some sort up there with you, and the condemned man and hieromonach. And yours was the only honest face. p.10

    Hieromonach: A monk who is also a priest. Think we had this one before.

    The harena, the pantheon, and the other public buildings occupy all the level land between the castle and the wall (called the Capulus) that closes the lower end of the narrow section of valley. p.10

    Harena: Literally, a sandy place. Figuratively, a place in which organized combats are held - root of Arena.
    Capulus: Here meaning the hilt of a sword. Also means sarcophagus, bier, sepulchre, or tomb.

    Conversely, the hermans of the mountain tribes and the landowners of the region who wish to ship their wool and corn to the southern towns bring them to take boat at Thrax, below the cataract that roars through the arched spillway of Acies Castle. p.11

    Herman: From Old English, meaning army-man or soldier.
    Acies: The name of the castle, comes from Latin "sharp". An obsolute meaning is to devote ones full attention to something.

    As chief executor of the archon's sentences, I was required to attend these sessions, so that he might be assured that the punishments he decreed should be made neither softer nor more severe by those who might otherwise have been charged with transmitting them to me; and to oversee the operation of the Vincula, in which the prisoners were detained, in all its details.

    Archon: The title of the governor of Thrax. From greek, meaning 'ruler' (literally) or 'magistrate' (figuratively).
    Vincula: The name of the prison, comes from the verb vinculum, which means to bind, fetter, or tie.

    In our case, a detached prison in a remote location would have been out of the question. Even if it had been provided with a sufficient number of troops, in addition to its clavigers, to fend off the attacks of the autochthons, zoanthrops, and **cultellarii **who roamed the countryside, not to mention all the retinues of the petty exultants (who could never be relied upon), it would have been impossible to provision without the services of an army to escort the supply trains. p.11

    Clavigers: from Latin, literally a 'club-carrier'.
    Autochthons: An indiginous person - literally someone who arose from the soil. They still use this word in Quebec french to refer to native affairs. The people of Athens also referred to themselves as autochthonous, believe they arose after Hephaestus made a clumsy pass at Athena and ended up getting sperm on her leg, which she wiped off in disgust with a cloth and threw on the ground. And from this the indigenous people of Athens literally sprang from the earth.
    Zoanthrops: Historically, one afflicted with a type of insanity where one believes they are a beast. According to the Lexocon Urthus, however, a Zoanthrop is a person who has elected to become a beast man by having their fore-brain removed.
    Cultellarii: From the Middle-Ages, irregular soldiers whose principle weapon was a long knife or short sword.

    I labored over documents until afternoon, then borrowed a layman's jelab from the sargeant of my clavigers, and went out hoping to encounter her. p.15

    Jelab: Hooded, ankle-length, loose-fitting robe from North Africa.

    Those somewhat less well off had their houses higher, the middle class in general had theirs higher still, and so on until the very poorest dwelt just below the fortifications at the clifftops, often in jacals of mud and reeds that could be reached only by long ladders. p.16

    Jacals: A wattle and mud hut, from Nahuatl word 'xacalli'.

    Nessus is so extensive that... when I saw, for example, a man whose hat was made from a bird's pelt with the wings used for ear flaps, or a man with a shaggy coat of kaberu skin, or a man with a tattooed face, I might see a hundred more such tribesmen around the next corner.
    These men [of Thrax] were eclectics, the descendants of settlers from the south who had mixed their blood with that of the squat, dark autochthons, adopted certain of their customs, and mingled these with still others acquired from the amphitryons father north and those, in some instances, of even less-known peoples, traders, and parochial races. p.16

    Kaberu: African mountain wolf.
    Amphitryons: Amphitryon was a Theban general or king and son of Perseus. In greek myth he killed is father-in-law, then went into hiding. While hiding, he was cuckolded by Zeus, who fathered Heracles on his wife, Alcmene, by impersonating Amphitryon. Poetically, an amphitryon is a host or entertainer. None of these meanings really fit the context, though, unless here an amphitryon is 'an exile'.

    Vodalus, in whose veins flowed the undefiled blood of a thousand exultants - exarchs, ethnarcs, and starosts - was capable of violence unimaginable to the autochthons that stalked the streets of Thrax naked beneath their huanaco cloaks. P. 17

    Exarchs: Governor of a distant province (Byzantine)
    Ethnarcs: Similarly, ruler of a tribe, people, or nation.
    Starosts: Slavic term meaning community elder or clan leader.
    Huanaco: From Quechua 'wanaku', a cameloid similar to a llama.

    Thus, disguised in the dull jelab of a townsman, I elbowed my way down streets packed with humanity and reeking with the ordors of ordure and cookery, with my imagination filled with visions of hanging stone, and crystal streams like carcanets. p.18

    Carcanets: A necklace or ornamental collar, usually made of gold decorated with jewels.

    "Not within living memory, so far as I know, Abdiesus. I have performed decollations - both with the block and with the chair - but that is all." p.27

    Abdiesus: The personal name of the Archon - it means 'one who serves Jesus', which is actually quite similar to the meaning of Christopher.
    Decollations: Fairly obvious from the text, another word for 'behead' or 'decapitate'.

    "Come dressed as you are. It's to be a ridotto - your habit will be your costume." p.28

    Ridotto: 18th C. England - a masquerade.

    "I don't suppose your fraternity has ever considered using food as a torment, instead of starvation?"
    "It's called planteration, Archon." p.28

    Planteration: Wolfe gives the meaning, but in fact I can't verify it anywhere - not even in the Wolfe Wiki or the Lexicon Urthus. Possibly he made it up? My guess this is meant to be "Plenteration" (from the Latin root 'plene' for 'full'). And even so, it's probably still made up.

    My escorts were beefy men chosen for their strength. Flourishing their big iron claves, they accompanied me as I shouldered Terminus Est down the winding streets... p.30

    Claves: Clubs, as per the 'clavigers' mentioned above.

  • 1
    > @Apocryphal said:
    > Capulus: Here meaning the hilt of a sword. Also means sarcophagus, bier, sepulchre, or tomb.
    > Abdiesus: The personal name of the Archon - it means 'one of serves Jesus', which is actually quite similar to the meaning of Christopher.

    A couple of extra thoughts here:
    Capulus might also suggest Capulet (from Romeo and Juliet) and hence hint at rivalry and strife between factions in the city.

    Abdiesus cunningly (to my mind, at least) hints at religious syncretism - the Abd- prefix is one that in today's world we associate with Islamic names, though of course it doesn't have to be so linked.
Sign In or Register to comment.