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.
This post will take us through to the end of the third day. Then Part the Eighth should reach to the end of the book (tomorrow).
Page 175 Chapter the Fifteenth: If They Catch Me
• ‘the Moriarty’ The nemesis of Sherlock Holmes whom he called The Napoleon of Crime (which I think will be the closest we will approach Napoleon as a figure). Moriarty was a professor of mathematics. The name is Irish and possibly related to Murtaugh as a different Anglicisation of Gaelic.
• ‘Les Miserables’ The novel by Victor Hugo set between 1815 and 1832 in post-revolutionary France. Hugo is buried in the Pantheon in Paris.
• ‘Odysseus’ Greek hero in the Illiad and central character of the Odyssey the story of his protracted return home from the Trojan wars. Known for his intelligence.
• ‘Determinists’ – people who believe in determinism, a range of viewpoints on the extent to which events are predetermined to occur. Mycroft is referring to a theological position in which God has predetermined everything.
Page 180-182 End of chapter 15
Page 183 Chapter the Sixteenth: Thou Canst not Put if Off Forever, Mycroft
• The title is written in the style Mycroft reserves for his imagined readers. We are writing his chapter headings now.
• ‘Robespierre’ Mycroft broaches the topic of the French revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror and also invokes the name of noted revolutionary and head of the infamous Committee of Public Safety during the Terror: Maximillien Robespierre. Robespierre would himself be executed by guillotine by the Committee for Public Safety.
• ‘Are both this home’s set-sets Pythagorean?’ The exchange is set up to contrast Pythagorean with Cartesian but notably, Cato sees it as JEDD Mason not knowing the right word. I’m still not clear in what sense the set-sets are Cartesian nor is it clear here whether JEDD sees the two terms to be synonymous in this context or ‘Pythagorean’ being a better description of the twins or something else. Like ‘Cartesian’ the term could mean many things from a mathematical context to a view of souls/mind/body. I mentioned the Cartesian Product earlier (essentially the resulting 2D grid generated by two sets) but there is a product that could be called Pythagorean which is the ‘dot product’ for vectors, which in a sense works the other way: turns 2D coordinate like things into a single number.
Page 195-202 End of chapter 16
Page 203 Chapter the Seventeenth: Tocqueville’s Valet
• ‘Tocqueville’s Valet’ – Mycroft explains most of this reference in the text. Alexis de Tocqueville was a nineteenth-century French diplomat and political theorist. Notable for his book ‘Democracy in America’ his more relevant work for this story is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Regime_and_the_Revolution which analysed French society in the lead up to the French revolution. For Tocqueville, the revolution suppressed aspects of French society but without transforming it, so France then lurched back to monarchy as a consequence. The anecdote about his valet relates not to the French Revolution which is looming across The Enlightenment but to the 1848 revolution(s) aka the spectre that was haunting Europe. Notably, Mycroft and Palmer are now referencing figures from French history that take us beyond the Enlightenment and to periods of revolution: Robespierre, Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (which features the 1832 June Rebellion) and Tocqueville and the 1848 revolutions. Mycroft isn’t going to mention Karl Marx* but you can’t allude to 1848 and not mention Karl Marx for which the wave of revolutionary protests across Europe helped shape his view of revolution as a historical process. Those revolutions were important to not only socialist movements but also democratic reform, anarchism and nationalism. *[Actually he does in the next chapter, thus ruining that theory]
• ‘protagonist’ Mycroft insist that Bridger is the protagonist of the story
Page 213-215 End of Chapter 17
Page 216 Chapter the Eighteenth: The Tenth Director
• ’71 minutes’ Just noting the time it takes to get from Cielo de Parajos to Romanova
• ‘Patrem Meum’ – ‘My father’ in latin.
• ‘Francois Quesnay’ Francois Quesnay 1694-1774 a pioneering French economist as described in the text. Contributor to Diderot’s Encyclopaedia. Quesnay was an advocate of ‘oriental despotism’, a term that arose from Aristotle who contended that due to the climate people of the Orient (which at the time, Aristotle would be thinking of the near east and maybe India) were more inclined to despotism because they were smart but servile, whereas the people of the colder climbs of Europe were less smart but unruly. For Aristotle, the Greeks (surprise surprise) were from just the right climate to have the best of both worlds. The term became associated with arbitrary rulers who commanded extreme power and cultish devotion and excess. Quesnay, however, and other Enlightenment thinkers had a broader notion of the term and also of ‘the orient’. Quesnay’s physiocrats saw wealth as based on land and natural resources, and they saw China (based on their limited understanding of it) as an example of a kind of highly organised and well-managed despotism. The Quesnay reference (and perhaps inclusion in the list) is a double commentary on the Mitsubishi Hive in that they value land and are of the orient. Really, the reference is quite rude in context.
• Adam Smith – 1723-1790 Scottish economist and smarty pants
• Marx – Karl Marx who I discussed prematurely on Page 203
• Morais – I don’t know who this is. Wikipedia tells me it is a Portuguese surname
• ‘we manage to believe and not believe’ – hmmmmm
• ‘…the Masons are ancient…’ the paragraph refers to the contrast between Masonic traditions which date the movement back to far antiquity and documented history which basically doesn’t.
• ‘Mithras and Orpheus’ Two examples of Greco-Roman mystery cults. Like the Freemasons, the existence and membership of such cults were not necessarily secret but the rituals involved (centred on initiation and spiritual revelation) were. The Pythagoreans also had elements of a mystery cult. Orpheus was the figure of Greek myth who descended to the underworld and that theme of descent into hell or below the earth was a common theme of a set of mystery cults referred to as Dionysian after the god Dionysus. The Orphics believed in metempsychosis. Mithras was also the subject of another Dionysian mystery cult but Mithras himself was coopted from Persia. Christianity and Mithraism were rival religions in Rome at one point and all sorts of points of comparison can be made between the two to varying degrees of credibility. The Easter story, with the ritual death, burial and rebirth has some obvious mystery cult aspect. Easter Sunday in 2454 would be in April but I briefly got excited wondering if it was in late march that year and hence around the days the story is set but, well, it isn’t.
• Ramses and Ozymandias – Both Ramses and Ozymandias are variations on the name Ramesses and typically refer to Pharaoh Ramesses II, who did not build pyramids but did build lots of monuments many of which are still around. Ozymandias is, of course, a poem by Mary Shelley’s husband Percy Bysshe Shelly which carries a similar theme as this speech. Palmer, a historian, obviously knows that Mason is citing the same person twice but I’m not sure why she is making him do so. To suggest his speech is actually film-flam? Mycroft describes the quote as ‘fiction’.
Page 229 End of Chapter 18
Page 230 Chapter the Nineteenth: Flies to Honey
• ‘Gibraltar Chagatai’ – Chagatai Khan 1226 – 1242 was the second son and one of Ghengis Kahn’s heirs. Gibraltar is the tiny chunk of the Spanish peninsula occupied by Britain since 1703. The territory was formerly given to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht which defined the spheres of influence of the European powers at the time. At that point, the royal House of Hapsburg was on its last legs as the dominant royal family in Europe and had controlled the throne of the Holy Roman Empire (such that it was) since 1438. In-breeding, mismanagement, bad luck and changing times would lead to multiple crises for them over the 18th century. Louis XIV aka the Sun King was monarch of France at the time and of House of Bourbon.
• ‘modo mundo’ world something? [eta] I had to cheat here and go off what the TV-Tropes page says http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/TooLikeTheLightning ‘modo mound’ is a punishment used by the Utopians where somebody is cut off from media.
• ‘the protagonist of every work of fiction is humanity, and the antagonist is God’ – According to Aristotle, the first person to act as a protagonist was the poet Thespis (as in the term ‘thespian’ for actor) prior to whom, Greek plays were conducted only by a chorus speaking as one (about gods). So this punishment is, among other things, a kind of reversion to the roots of Greek theatre.
Page 240 -242 End of Chapter 19
Page 243 Chapter the Twentieth: A Monster in the House
• An aside: I think there is some missing time here. Mycroft heads to Romanova in Ch 18 and on the way gets to hear the discussion (via JEDD) of the directors of the Mitsubishi Hive. Ch 18 follows Thisbe and Carlyle in Avignon and then this chapter starts with Mycroft heading back to Cielo de Parajos from Romanova (across the Atlantic). So we don’t learn what Mycroft does at the Censor’s.
• While a lot is revealed in this chapter, specifically the horror of Mycroft crimes, I don’t have very few specific notes here. Given the repeated pointing of the text to the rituals of Freemasonry and Mystery cults which themselves contain ritual but not actual torture there may be allusions here but they aren’t something I’m going to look up at this point.
• ‘He chose that night, March twenty-fifth to reveal’ – ‘He’ being God. Again, lots here. Mycroft compares himself to a monster in the chapter and also questions why he was ‘made’ what he was. Given the Frankenstein connections we’ve had already, there are obvious ties between Mycroft and the monster of that story. March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation, the point nine months before Christmas day when in the Catholic calendar the Virgin Mary is told by the Angel Gabriel that she is pregnant with and by God. God’s getting people pregnant is another theme we keep meeting but it is nigh on impossible not to occur if you make references to Greek/Roman myths.
Page 256 Chapter the Twenty-first: That Which is Caesar’s
• ‘That Which is Caesar’s’ – A partial quote from the New Testament by Jesus on the question of whether people should be paying the taxes of the Roman occupiers. Jesus gives a clever reply that operates on multiple levels. He is referring directly to the Roman coins stamped with Caesar (probably Tiberius, son of Livia) i.e. saying that the coins are already Caesar. But, the coin also counts as a graven image of somebody claiming some degree of divinity, so, at another level, he is saying to spurn unholy things for holy things and also getting one up on his religious rivals that by not paying their taxes they are holding onto to sacrilegious objection. On another level again he’s giving an answer that the Roman authorities can’t object to (‘pay your taxes’) while implying that his god is the true authority. As the answer also suggests a dichotomy between Earthly political matters and holy ones, the quote has been much debated in terms of the distinction between Church authority and secular authority.
• ‘9A’ – Who? Somebody ‘secretly’ has added translations of the Latin without Mycroft or Martin Guildbreaker’s permission but this is within the book that has been approved for printing with their names on it? Has Mycroft not checked the proofs? As others have pointed out, that latin quote on the ersatz title page at the beginning of the book refers to a formal stage in approving a book in the Catholic Church. ’Nihil obstat’ means the book is good to go, which then the overseeing authority would add ‘Imprimatur’ i.e. let it be printed. ‘Imprimatur’ isn’t there. 9A? Looks a bit like AP backwards so maybe its Ada Palmer inserting herself as a character – Mycroft’s subeditor.
• ‘Ur and Uruk’ Ancient Mesopotamian cities. Uruk was the city of Gilgamesh.
• ‘Athens and Sparta’ – You know about these cities already.
• ‘Vienna and Cusco’ – Vienna being the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of many seats of imperial power of the Holy Roman Empire (whose final Emperor was defeated by Napoleon and who was also Emperor Francis of Austria. Cusco was the seat of the Incan Empire and is still a major Peruvian city. At one time the heart of vast Andean Empire and then coopted by the Spanish as a seat of power. It’s really high up and has great beer. Full of Incan ruins and Spanish churches and prone to earthquakes, friendly stray dogs and tourists with altitude sickness.
• ‘Paris, Istanbul, Kiev’ and…hold on. What big city that was the centre of an Empire is missing? OK, yes Alexandria is on the next page but London is conspicuous by its absence, particularly as it has its fair share of Masonic and classical connections. However, remember that Britain’s (and hence London’s) world dominance was a 19th-century phenomenon – it is easy to see with hindsight the growing power of Britain during the 18th-century but the loss of the American colonies would have looked like Britain was losing influence rather than gaining it. London as an imperial capital is a notion from a later, more vulgar time for Mycroft.
• ‘Alexandria’ – named after Alexander the Great and one of a whole plethora of cities named after him or by him as he slaughtered his way around the known world of the Greeks. In this case, I assume it is the major Egyptian city that was itself a major centre of Greek, Roman, Mediterranean, Islamic and North African learning at varying times. Home to the oft-burned down and lamented Library of Alexandria. Home of Euclid, Hypatia, Saint Augustine, all sorts.
• Ziggurat – a stepped pyramid, a feature of cities like Ur but also found in central America. Note the notion of a tiered mountain again.
• ‘Aeneas’ – a member of the Mardi bash’ murdered by Mycroft but also a reference to Aeneas, a Trojan hero from the Illiad who via the intervention of the gods doesn’t get slaughtered by the Greeks. For the Roman’s, however, this minor role became expanded and Aeneas is seen as the founder of a Troy-in-exile dynasty that results in Romulus & Remus and Rome itself. The most famous retelling of this Roman fan-fiction is Virgil’s Aeneid.
• Heinlein – Robert A. you know who he is. The Utopian canon being more orientated to Sci-Fi than Virgil or Ovid. “Michael” here being the central character of Stranger in a Strange Land, which is probably the Utopian’s fave Heinlein rather than Starship Troopers.
• ‘Micromegas’ – I discussed this already, Voltaire’s proto-science fiction story.
Page 268 End of Chapter 21
Page 269 Chapter the Twenty-Second: Mycroft is Mycroft
• ‘Senator Aeneas Mardi’ I said I wouldn’t dwell on Mycroft’s murders because it is a factor in the novel that people (including myself) find disturbing. I think there are deeper reasons for this than them simply being appalling crimes but I’ll discuss that in a review. However, I’ll highlight this one though for a couple of reasons. The first being that Aeneas died. The name sort of implied somebody who might survive for the reason I gave. The second is that his killing was staged to resemble the murder of Julius Caesar and hence was an implied threat to the then emperor of Romanova.
• ‘Mycroft is not a monster’ Frankenstein again.
• ‘one bilingual copy of Homer’s Iliad’ Mycroft would have no need of a bilingual copy of the Iliad. It is implied that the copy was previously owned by Apollo Mojave. A confirmation of Mycroft’s use of Troy references.
Page 276 Chapter the Twenty-Third: Pontifex Maxima
• ‘Pontifex Maxima’ The Pontifex Maximus was a position in ancient Rome that oversaw the chief priests of the official religion. It literally meant chief bridge builder in the sense that the authority to bridge the river Tiber was religious in nature and also that priests were an effective bridge between mortals and the divine. If you like ‘pontiffs’ were people who bridged things, aka “Bridgers”. I wonder who named Bridger? “Maxima” is a feminine form of ‘Maximus’ to point at Julia Doria-Pamphili.
• ‘Doria-Pamphili’ Being Pope sometimes runs in the family and the Pamphilis were one example. The later combination of great Genoese families formed the House of Doria-Pamphili-Landi – or so Wikipedia tells me. Julia seems to have adapted the family business to modern times.
Page 276-285 End of Chapter 23
End of the Third Day.