Notes Ignota: Part the Third

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Chapter the Second: A Boy and His God contd…

Page 19
•    ‘These men are called Aimer, Looker, Medic, Stander Yellow, Stander Green, Croucher, Nogun, Nostand and back there the late Private Pointer’ – most of the soldiers are named by the actions their stance suggest. Verbs to names.
Page 20
•    ‘origami animals’ – any culture with paper has some sort of paper folding arts but Japanese origami is the most famous – although cross-fertilised with Chinese and European traditions. Notably an important art form with ceremonial aspects during Japan’s Edo period 1603-1868. Yes, it is just one word but up until this point, you’ll note the references have all been to either Western Europe or the cultures that Western Europe regarded as foundational (Ancient Greece and Rome plus the Bible).
•    ‘Humanist boots’ – explained later in the text.
•    ‘Mestizo’ – a term that was used to describe a person in South America who was of mixed European/Amerindian descent.
Page 21
•    ‘anti-proselytory laws’ – numerous countries have laws against attempting to persuade people to adopt a given religion. In most cases these are laws aimed at wealthier Christian groups attempting to evangelise in other countries – this includes laws in Russia designed to help protect Orthodox churches from US protestant and Mormon missionaries.
•    ‘Chance, Providence, Fate or the whimsy of pool ball atoms’ – these seem to be the main perspectives on events in Mycroft’s society.
•    ‘Cielo de Pajaros’ – my Spanish is nearly as bad as my latin but I think this means ‘Birds of Sky’ like ‘All the Birds of the Sky’ I guess, if you want another Hugo coincidence.
Page 22
First page where I didn’t make a note. Hoorah!
Page 23
•    ‘Master, do you believe…’ – “master” here means the reader as previously established.
Page 24
•    ‘If Troy’s Queen Hecuba, impossibly mother to fifty sons…’ – Queen Hecuba, wife of Priam of Troy. A character in the Illiad by Homer obviously but also in multiple other classical works about Troy and the fall of Troy and the aftermath of the fall of Troy. King Priam had fifty plus sons (depending on your source) but Hecuba wasn’t mother to all of them. However, she did (according to legend) have lots of children most of whom ended up dead or enslaved (or enslaved and then dead) as a consequence of the Trojan wars. So Queen Hecuba is almost proverbially somebody with lots of tragic offspring. Yeah, yeah, you say, but what’s that got to do with the Enlightenment?
•    Time for some Immanuel Kant. Kant was a rare breed – a Scottish-German and one of the most insightful but unreadable philosophers ever. Here is the preface of one of his attempt to save metaphysics from scepticism:

Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.
It falls into this difficulty without any fault of its own. It begins with principles, which cannot be dispensed with in the field of experience, and the truth and sufficiency of which are, at the same time, insured by experience. With these principles it rises, in obedience to the laws of its own nature, to ever higher and more remote conditions. But it quickly discovers that, in this way, its labours must remain ever incomplete, because new questions never cease to present themselves; and thus it finds itself compelled to have recourse to principles which transcend the region of experience, while they are regarded by common sense without distrust. It thus falls into confusion and contradictions, from which it conjectures the presence of latent errors, which, however, it is unable to discover, because the principles it employs, transcending the limits of experience, cannot be tested by that criterion. The arena of these endless contests is called Metaphysic.
Time was, when she was the queen of all the sciences; and, if we take the will for the deed, she certainly deserves, so far as regards the high importance of her object-matter, this title of honour. Now, it is the fashion of the time to heap contempt and scorn upon her; and the matron mourns, forlorn and forsaken, like Hecuba:
Modo maxima rerum,
Tot generis, natisque potens…
Nunc trahor exul, inops.
—Ovid, Metamorphoses. xiii

Yup, that’s Ovid who we mentioned earlier. “A moment ago I was endowed with the greatest things, so many sons and daughters, sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law and my husband.”

Now Mycroft mentions Queen Hecuba not to make a comment about metaphysics but about scandalous progeny. Kant though uses Hecuba as a metaphor for a mother whose children (the sciences) have gone off their own way and no longer acknowledge their mother. Of course, Mycroft is making his analogy about Carlyle whose profession and interest is…metaphysics.
Page 25 to 27
Aside from how Mycroft and others use gendered and ungendered pronouns, there is nothing specific to note here.
Page 28
•    ‘Cato’ – Cato the Younger famous Roman politician and opponent of Julius Ceaser
•    ‘At the dawn of the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas More’ – Mycroft has his centuries mixed up here. Thomas More was born in 1478 and hence did not exist at the dawn of the FIFTEENTH century. He did, however, publish his famous book ‘Utopia’ (in Latin) from which we derive the term ‘utopia’ in 1516. Mycroft meant to say the SIXTEENTH century.
•    ‘Persian judicial system’ – this is more or less as described from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’. Technically it is a vassal state of Persia that adopts this unusual practice.
Page 29-30
•    Togenkyo – I think this is a Japanese rendition of the name of the place in the Chinese fable ‘The Peach Blossom Land’. A kind of Shangri-La like place i.e. another utopia.

That’s it for Chapter Two – other chapters don’t have quite so much



  1. Andrew M

    I was rather taken aback by Hecuba being the mother of fifty sons, but then I wondered if we were sure she wasn’t. Certainly she didn’t need to be, given practices at the (imagined) time, but what do we know? Casting about for information, I got the impression that while other partners of Priam are mentioned in the sources, references to them are a bit sparse. In particular, though Homer specifically refers to Polydorus as having another mother, other sources make him the son of Hecuba. (And there are also the daughters to worry about, of whom there were a few, though not necessarily fifty.)

    Did Mycroft write ‘Thomas Moore’ (who is a quite different person, of course), or is that a misprint.


  2. Mark

    As you mention them here: the pronouns thing has a great deal to unpack. Obviously the Ancillary books leap to mind when you think about literary tricks with pronouns but it’s really not the same case here because the usage is perfectly normal at first sight, until we get a swift infodump about what is really happening. In this chapter the purpose seems to be to really emphasise how strange this future society is – they’ve banned gendered language! – and let us know that the narrator is rebelling against that. I don’t want to jump too far ahead but pretty soon it starts getting used to show us where the cracks in this society are.
    Maybe the lesson is that if you want to get across to a reader that they’re not in Kansas, wielding your prose to challenge really ingrained assumptions is a great way to point them where you need them to look.


  3. David Goldfarb

    Hm. I didn’t notice Mycroft getting Thomas More’s century wrong. Did you notice him getting his sums wrong in the very first sentence? “…writing in a style six hundred years removed from the events I describe…” – but from the Eighteenth Century to the Twenty-Fifth is seven hundred years.
    I thought that was just an error, but if he’s doing it twice in two chapters it may be something deliberate.


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