Citadel of the Autarch, chapters 16 to 19


Severian goes on his errand for the Pelerine priestess, meeting a hermit, who dwells in a house where the top stories are in the future - and it's an icy future for Urth, where no New Sun comes. So much for prophecy.

Trying to take the hermit out of his dwelling, Severian finds that he evaporates, coming from only a possible future rather than the future. So much for prophecy again.

Getting back, Severian finds the Pelerine camp and lazeret destroyed, with only Foila there, dying. He promises to share the stories told. Severian then runs into a mercenary unit and takes part in an initiation challenge, which he wins or subverts. The next chapter will reveal which.

There's a lot for me to think about in these chapters, but I'll let others talk first.


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    What was the purpose of the Hermit interlude, in the end. It's got to be a journey, rather than a quest. He fails to bring back the hermit, and in the end the person who sent him on the mission is dead or gone, and nobody cares that he went, or even came back.

    One piece of information tucked away in here is that Severian reveals that he think he might have resurrected his dog Triskele from the pile of fighting animal corpses. This was long before he had the claw. I always imagined Triskele to be a little yappy dog, but it had a head as big as a bear's - not so little, afterall.

    Severian professes his belated love for Dorcas.

    I wonder where this new mercenary gig will take him.

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    I think the reason for the trip to the Last House, in the narrative, is for Severian to understand more about prophecy and time travel, and for us to be reminded that such things are possible. The reason in-fiction? I'm not so sure. But how did the Pelerine know of the Last House, and what was her motive for wanting to rescue the hermit? He very clearly didn't need rescuing.

    I also think that, at the end of the book, Severian will expound that the stories people tell are more important than events themselves. A reasonable for Wolfe (an author) to suppose, but I've never been convinced by the argument.

    Triskele, in my mind, was always a big dog, something like a mastiff. Speaking of animals, we discover that destriers not only have fangs, they also have three-clawed toes and protruding spines on their backs.

    Did anyone else think the mercenary recruiter was extremely trusting, just offering a ride to a random armed stranger?

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    I liked the exploration of time in these chapters... these various places we have met before are actually layering through time as well as space, brought into particular focus with the house. I reread the Hut in the Jungle portion from book 1, and there were odd archaisms in that, such as an old-style aeroplane. With the knowledge here, maybe Severian and co were actually revisiting a past era, rather than witnessing a kind of reenactment show?

    Makes you wonder again about Mannea sending Severian away. Did she know that the Pelerine camp was doomed, and was ensuring his survival? Did she know what the Anchorite's house was really like? Did she know that the Anchorite could quite likely not be rescued, and probably didn't need rescuing anyway?

    But most of all I loved the passage about how Severian's upbringing shaped the metaphors he uses for the world "I had conceived of time as a river... you came from a city built around a river... you would do better to think of time as a sea. The waves ebb and flow, and currents run beneath them." And then this emerges in practical form when the Anchorite has no reality in Severian's time - presumably because the probability of his existence there vanishes to zero - while S is solid in the Anchorite's time. He is solid there, perhaps because his wave function has collapsed into a single state rather than a smeared probability of many states. Great stuff.
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    @RichardAbbott said:
    He is solid there, perhaps because his wave function has collapsed into a single state rather than a smeared probability of many states.

    Clear as mud! :-)

    I did like the idea of the house with different floors located in different eras. Sounds perfect for a Call of Cthulhu scenario set-up! Maybe the basement is in the future - look out the basement window to see a wasteland. Crawl out the basement window and look back to see a demolished house with only the basement intact. On the second floor, look out and see the past. Want to visit the past, then jump out the window. Look back and what do you see? The single floor of a house hovering above you with no top and bottom? Or maybe the whole house, but all of it apart from the second floor exist in only in this time zone.

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    I loved the idea of the anchorite's House with each floor in a different time. I also think the whole sequence showed the uncertainty of any prophecy - no prediction of the future, even with some sort of mirrors through time possible (and I don't think it's "true" time travel; Severian couldn't leave the hut in the jungle and explore his past time and I think the Green Man in book two was also confined).
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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > (Quote)
    > Clear as mud! :-)

    Hoho yes! I'll try again...
    So going with the time-like-a-river metaphor, and looking forward, the future becomes more and more blurry. The same set of starting conditions might lead to a huge range of possible futures, with greater or lesser probabilities. That's Severian's perspective. In quantum mechanical terms you would say that there is a probability wave function across that huge range of futures, where the total probability is of course 1, and each future could be assigned a larger or smaller fraction of the whole.

    The Anchorite is looking back in time. He sees a known present, which might have come from any of a huge range of possible pasts, with greater or lesser probabilities. This gives us a wave function across all those possible pasts.

    Then try to put the Anchorite into Severian's present. Rather than seeing all this smear of possible options, you pick one, and force that wave function to collapse to a single choice. In that choice, maybe the Anchorite exists - ie it is a real past for his present - or, as in fact happens in the book, he does not exist.

    Now take the alternate metaphor of time-as-a-sea. This means that instead of taking either point of view as definitive, we try to hold both together at once, one each going forward and backward... the waves ebb and flow. The two men can meet on some virtual space, but not in the real space of Severian's world.

    Or something like that, anyway :)
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    First section I have unreservedly enjoyed. Nice time ideas. @Richard Abbot gives a solid explanation!

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    LEXICON they neared the door they seemed the regular tread of a man with purpose, such a one as might, perhaps, command a maniple or an ile of cavalry.

    Maniple: Easy - a sub-unit of a Roman legion consisting of 120 or 60 men.
    Ile: This one is trickier - obsolete word for an 'aisle' or an 'ear of corn' or Latin for 'intestines', but the latin etymology reveals a Greek root meaning 'I throng, press', which is interesting. Lexicon Urthus simply gives 'Greek squadron of cavalry'. p.281

    "And are you, sir, the anchorite of the Last House?" p.282

    Anchorite: One who lives in isolation - a hermit.

    You call your enemies Ascians, which of course is not what they call themselves, because your fathers believed they came from the waist of the Urth, where the sun is precisely overhead at noon. The truth is that their home is much further north. Yet Ascians they are. In a fable made in the earliest morning of our race, a man sold his shadow and found himself driven out everywhere he went. No one would believe that he was human.

    Ascian: Latin - Ascius is literally 'without shadow. An Ascian is 1. a person or thing without a shadow, or 2.
    person or thing found close to the Equator.

    The dead beasts were lying outside their door waiting for the nacker. There was an arsinother and a smilodon, and several dire wolves. p.292

    Arsinotherium: This thing:

    "I'm Ibar, of the Seventy-eighth Xenagie, patrolling the road until evening, worse luck."

    Xenagie: In the Lexicon Urthus, a Xenagie is a unit of 500 cavalry, lead by a hipparch. p.293

    I was more chary of of showing myself than I had been on my way from Master Ash's. p.p296

    Chary: Cautiously or suspiciously reluctant to do something. the male's seed penetrates the female body to produce (if it be the will of Apeiron) a new human being, so she, entering my mouth, by my will had combined with the Severian that was to establish a new man: I who still call myself Severian but am conscious , as it were, of my double root. p.296

    Apeiron: Another word for the Increate - from Apeiron (/əˈpaɪrɒn/; ἄπειρον) is a Greek word meaning "(that which is) unlimited," "boundless", "infinite", or "indefinite"

    ...the destrier of an estafette...despite his haubergeon... "You're a schiavoni? An irregular?" p.297

    Estafette: A dispatch rider, from the Italian for 'stirrup'.
    Haubergeon: A short, sleeveless hauberk.
    Schiavoni: Referring to the Slavs of the Doge's bodyguard, or more generally a Slavonian.

    "Severian of Nessus, you're standing in the presence of the Eighteenth Bacele of the Irregular Contarii, every one of us a fighter of dauntless courage whenever there's a speck of money to be made. p.299

    Bacele: According to the Lexicon Urthus this is a unit of 50 or 60 horsemen, led by a lancer.
    Contarii: A unit of contus (pike) bearing men.

    We flashed past her, and I caught her by that flaming banner and threw her over the arcione before me. p.300

    Arcione: A saddlebow - from French/Latin roots.

    Yellow flowers, each blossom no bigger than a drop of water, grew in the grass; I picked a few and found they smelled of calambac. p.301

    Calambac: A fragrant wood - 'agarwood' (or similar).

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    edited December 2019

    An Ile would be a row or column of soldiers, by extension from an ear of corn (wheat, rye or barley), which has parallel rows of kernels, or an aisle, which is long, straight, and narrow.

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