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.
Page 72 Chapter the Sixth: Rome Was Not Built in a Day
• ‘Agrippa’ – too many possibly relevant Agrippas to list sensibly. A mythological king in pre-Roman southern italy and a whole gaggle of generals, consuls, emperors.
• ‘The Censor’ – in ancient Rome, the censor was the person who maintained the census. A side task was to keep an eye on public morality and hence our modern use of ‘censor’.
• ‘If you see violence here…’ – this is a disturbing twist on the way Mycroft casts himself as a servant.
• ‘Caligula’ – Roman Emperor – technically a nickname meaning ‘boot’, which makes me wonder about the ‘humanist boots’ they keep mentioning. Eventually murdered by his own guards and succeeded by Claudius.
• ‘to crash on Crete’ – The tsunami would have been from the explosion of the island of Thira (the remains of which are now more commonly known as Santorini. A Krakatoa scale volcanic event that would have impacted the whole Mediterranean. The event is often cited as explaining numerous myths including the parting of the Red Sea in the Bible. However, aside from not matching several elements of Plato’s myth, it is a plausible contender as a historical root for Atlantis.
• 33-67, 67-33, 29-71 just noting them down to help we watch out for other numbers.
• Apoll->> – Apollo, god of poetry and oracles.
• ‘masochist’ – Mycroft appears to mean it straight forwardly. The ‘masochist’ was named after the Austrian writer Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch 1836-1895 whose most famous novel is Venus in Furs which has overt BDSM themes. The counterpart term of ‘sadist’ is, of course, from the Marquis de Sade 1740-1814, who is perhaps the strangest figure of the French enlightenment.
• ‘I the Greek’ – Mycroft is Greek. The relationship between Rome and Greece is a complex one in Ancient History as the hegemony of the cultures shifted over time and the Roman Empire expanded eastwards.
Page 89 Chapter the Seventh Canis Domini
• ‘Canis Domini’ – as later explained in the text ‘canis domino’ means hounds of god and is a pun used to describe the Dominican order aka ‘The Order of Preachers’ or OP. Like any order, the Dominicans had a wide-ranging remit on matters spiritual but they are most closely associated with the suppression of heresy. Their founder (Saint Dominic) was strongly opposed to the Albigensian/Cathar heresy of Southern France and the subsequent bloody crusade against them led to the Dominican role in the Inquisition.
• ‘Dominic Seneschal’ – Dominic after St Dominic 1170-1221. Dominic himself was not an inquisitor as such. A seneschal was a steward of a great house or castle in medieval times.
• ‘The outfit is all black’ – Dominic Seneschal’s elegant clothing is not very Dominican (as an order they favoured overt poverty and self-denial) but black is a colour associated with the order and the term ‘blackfriars’ in English usually relates to Dominicans.
• Edo Period Japan – 1603-1868
• ‘standards of a Goth’ – Goths is a generic term for the groups of Germanic people who moved further into Western Europe during the time of the (Western) Roman Empire. This population movement led to conflict with Rome but also cultural shifts with Gothic tribes becoming more Romanised.
• The Patriarch? – i.e. Voltaire again.
• ‘George Washington’ – General and American Revolutionary. The American revolution against Britain is intimately mixed in with the Enlightenment. The war against Britain was naturally supported by France on the basis of it being bad for Britain but was also a conduit for an exchange of radical ideas between France’s enlightenment thinkers and America’s revolutionaries.
• Rousseau – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in Geneva and a major figure of the Enlightenment. He viewed morality as arising from humanities natural state and hence somewhat critical of civilisation. To some extent in both his thinking and writing (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie,_or_the_New_Heloise) he presaged the Romanticism that followed The Enlightenment.
• ‘De Sade’ – Marquis de Sade 1740-1814, the radical writer who mixed theology, politics and philosophy with explicit discussions of sex and sexual practices. Often portrayed as symbolic of the decadence of the final decades of the French aristocracy, DeSade was a political radical.
• ‘Hobbes’ – Calvin’s talking stuffed toy tiger of course! You’ve got this far into the book and had not realised that Bridger is Calvin from Sam Watterson’s famous comic strip? No? OK, OK. Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679 (sigh) another one of those British precursors to the French Enlightenment. A polymath but most famous for his book Leviathan that helped shape modern ideas of the state and the notion of the social contract. A royalist who examined monarchy sceptically, a theist routinely accused of atheism. Not a tiger. Didn’t help build mutant snow people. But while we are here John Calvin 1509-1564 French/Swiss Protestant theologian. Calvin’s strict fatalism and his persecution of heresy overshadow some of his more progressive (for their time) views on democracy and rights. He did not ever build a transmogrifier.
• ‘March the twenty-fourth was the feast of the Norse god Heimdall’ – I can find no reference to this and it seems a very, very odd thing for Mycroft to say. For example March 24 was the day the Edo period in Japan began, which would be a more significant date for Mycroft. Also, Mycroft usually makes references to classical mythology, Catholicism and very rarely the Bible, just like his heroes would have done. An interest in Norse/Germanic mythology is something more related to the 19th century. So why Heimdall? He was the god who kept and guarded the bifrost – the bridge that joined middle earth to the Asgard. His home, on the heavenly end of the bridge, was Himinbjorg – heaven’s castle. Mycroft has already compared Cielo de Parajos to Dante’s purgatory which was also a physical connection between heaven and earth with a paradise at the top. When Mycroft made the purgatory comparison it was in relation to the city being a mountain with tiers in the Southern Hemisphere – so it literally has many of the features of Dante’s vision. However, the Saneer-Weeksbooth Bash’ controls the must system of flying vehicles that allows rapid movement around the globe. That system is what allows the great-people of the world to travel the Earth – it is the bifrost and Thisbe, Cato, Ockham et al are Heimdall. The breaking of bifrost is an event in Ragnarok – the apocalyptic end of the gods. Am I reading too much into one throw away line?
• ‘John Calvin’ – see my comment on Page 94
• ‘Dominic monks’ – the in text explanation of what I noted for Page 89
Page 98 – end of chapter 7
Page 99 Chapter the Eight: A place of Honour
• ‘vulgar’ an English word co-opted from the Latin word for the common people to refer originally to the common language spoken. Mycroft is essentially playing on words here by having the word carry its multiple meanings.
• ‘Papadelias’ – a Greek surname. [Later, this is revealed to be the police officer who investigated Mycroft’s notorious crime]
• ‘Via Sacra’ etc. – The main street of Ancient Rome and other landmarks of Rome, presumably recreated in Romanova.
• ‘Pantheon’ Literally ‘All Gods’. There are two Pantheon’s relevant here. the first was (technically ‘is’ as it is still there and worth a visit) in Ancient Rome. A cylindrical building with a domed roof that was a technical marvel when built. The Pantheon was dedicated to all gods but was essentially a way of ensuring that any gods that weren’t celebrated elsewhere had a spot somewhere.The centre of the dome has a round skylight. The other Pantheon was named after the first and is in Paris. The building was built with the intention of replacing the ruined church of Saint Genevieve in the 18th century. However, work proceeded slowly and events caught up with it. By the time it was finished the French revolution was revolving. On the death of the (moderate) revolutionary noble Comte de Mirabeau, it was decided by the National Assembly to repurpose the church as a mausoleum for great Frenchmen (and at the time ‘men’). Voltaire is, naturally, buried there as was Rousseau. More contemporary figures buried there include Marie Curie. For Umberto Eco fans…In his novel ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’, the climax of the novel is at the Musée des Arts et Métiers – another late eighteenth-century museum to rationality. However, Leon Foucault’s original demonstration of the rotation of the earth by use of a long pendulum was conducted in The Pantheon and a copy of the pendulum still swings there.
• ‘Apollo Mojave’ – apparently a Utopian of Mycroft’s time. The Mohave are a Native American tribe from the Mojave desert.
• ‘Thomas Carlyle’ – I wrote ‘bingo’ here.
• ‘Sofia Kovacs’ – common enough names but ‘Sofia’ has multiple relevant connotations. The city of Sofia in Bulgaria nearly became Constantine’s Eastern capital rather than Byzantium aka Istanbul. ‘Sophia’ is also identified with wisdom (as in ‘philosophy’ the love of wisdom) and specifically the wisdom of god aka the Logos of the start of St John’s gospel. Back in Istanbul aka Constantinople is the Hagia Sophia the extraordinary domed church, then mosque, then museum (since 1935) that is arguably the lasting apex of Roman architecture. Notably, it was dedicated not to Saint Sofia (i.e. any one of the specific Saints of that name) but to the divine principle. So it too is/was a kind of monotheistic pantheon and now is a secular cathedral. Reputedly, it’s dome is what inspired the domes of mosques in the Islamic world.
• ‘When in the course of human events…’ The speech quotes and repurposes the American Declaration of Independence, a document drenched in Enlightenment thinking.
• ‘Jefferson’s pen’ Thomas Jefferson who was the main author of the Declaration of Independence. You probably know lots about him.
Page 106-111 end of chapter eight
Page 112 Chapter the Ninth: Every Soul that Ever Died
• ‘Every Soul that Ever Died’ All Souls, a Christian holy day, in Catholic tradition the day souls in purgatory are prayed for and the day that follows All Saints which is the day after Halloween (all hallows eve).
• ‘karma’ – a notion of ethical consequence at a spiritual level common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Jainism.
• ‘reincarnation’ – In modern times most closely associated with Hinduism but similar concepts can be found in many cultures. In Ancient Greece, metempsychosis was associated with the mystery cult of Orpheus and also with Pythagoras. The concept also appears in Plato’s Republic. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night the clown fest messes with Malvolio’s head by quizzing him about Pythagoras’s opinion on the transmigration of the soul.
• ‘Epicureans’ Epicurus was a Greek philosopher notable for his atomism (a perspective of metaphysics of things being made up of smaller more basic things) which was a countervailing view to Plato’s. More famously he was known for basic his ethical philosophy on treating pleasure as the greatest good. However, his view of ‘pleasure’ was not what you might expect i.e. closer to a notion of the absence of pain and/or a condition of tranquillity and hence the Epicureans were not particularly hedonistic or especially interested in food of pleasures of the flesh. However, critics of his principles equated them with a more general hedonism and the name stuck in part due to Cicero criticising Roman Epicureans. Dante portrayed Epicureans as paradigmatic heretics in his Inferno. Interest in the Epicureans revived in later centuries, particularly as interest in atomism views of physics and empiricism increased.
• ‘neo-platonism’ A form of Platonism that would become very influential on Christianity and Islam.
• ’Neo-Epicureans say…’ A future philosophy but one that has elements of Jeremy Bentham’s (1748 – 1832) utilitarianism. Bentham (who famously had himself stuffed after death) saw himself as an Epicurean in the philosophical sense.
Page 122-125 end of chapter 9
Page 126 Chapter the Tenth: The Sun Awaits his Rival
• Louis XIV – Born 1643 and King of France from 1654 to 1715 and known as ‘the Sun King’. Builder of Versailles and an absolute monarch obsessed with having himself depicted as fabulous in art.
• ‘Cupid and Psyche’ a story from the novel The Golden Ass by latin writer Apuleius. The main story is about a man who turns himself into a donkey and Cupid and Psyche is a story within a story. In that story Psyche is a woman who angers Venus by being too beautiful. Venus sends Cupid to work some mischief on her but Cupid accidentally scratches himself with his own arrow and falls in love with Psyche. Shenanigans of various kinds follow some of which (e.g. a trip to the underworld) parallel elements of mystery cult rituals. The story was rediscovered in the Renaissance and became a popular topic in art – in particular Cupid fleeing Psyche’s bed (presumably post-coitally)
Page 135 Chapter the Eleventh Enter Sniper
• ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ – as discussed earlier.
Page 136-144 end of chapter 11
Page 145 Chapter the Twelfth: Neither Earth nor Atom but…
• ’Neither earth nor Atom, but…’ & ‘…perhaps the stars’ The pair of chapter titles read like a quote but I don’t know what from, but it is how Mycroft ends this chapter.
• ‘fasces’ a Roman symbol of authority in the form of a bundle of sticks bound together (sometimes with an axe or axe head). The symbol indicated strength through unity and like many Roman symbols wasco-optedd by later Europeans in heraldry. However, its most notable modern use was as a symbol of the Italian far right ‘fascist’ whose name was adopted from their symbolic fasces. Here the reference is directly to Cornel Mason’s right to order an execution like a Roman magistrate but the connection with the Twentieth Century self-styled Roman emperor is also there.
• ‘Empress Livia’ The wife of Augustus and the matriarch of the Roman emperor. Mother, grand-mother, great-grand-mother and great-great-grand-mother of Roman emperors (Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula and Nero)
• ‘Legend says that Emperor Constantine…willed the Roman Empire to the Christian Church’ Well, it is both substantial more and substantial less than a ‘legend’. The Donation of Constantine was a document forged in the 8th century claiming to be a decree from Constantine handing the empire over to the Church. To the credit of the 15th century Catholics, scholarship showed the document was a forgery due to inconsistencies in the language.
• ‘It can split the atom!’ The Epicureans were atomists, though of course the notion of splitting an atom in their sense of the term would be a paradox.
Page 154 Chapter the Thirteenth:…Perhaps the Stars
• ‘Her name is Aldrin Bester, a fine Utopian name lifted from their canon, as in olden days Europe took its names from lists of saints’ Aldrin is obviously Buzz Aldrin and Alfred Bester was the notable science fiction writer who won the inaugural Hugo Award for the Demolish Man. According to Mycroft the Utopians take names from their ‘canon’. Notably, we’ve been seeing references to other foundational figures in SF. The Frankenstein references is one but another is…Voltaire! Voltaire’s story ‘Micromegas’ (small-large) is a philosophical essay about how we perceive ourselves that tells us visitors from other planets in the solar system coming to Earth but being so vastly out of scale in size, not understanding that we live on it. Meanwhile Alfred Bester’s ‘Stars My Destination’ fits with the theme of space travel in this chapter.
• ‘Voltaire Seldon’ um, well as I was saying, Voltaire was a SF writer as well. Seldon, of course is Hari Seldon of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and that open with an Empire on the verge of collapse but blissfully unaware and scholars collaborating on an Encylopedia – why just like our pal Diderot!
• ‘Lictors’ Ceremonial Roman officers of the court who would carry the fasces.
Page 158-162 end of Chapter 13
Page 163 Chapter the Fourteenth The Interlude…
• ‘porphyrogene’ Born into purple – of royal (imperial) blood.
• Charlemagne – King of the Franks and first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
• ‘the Amador Treason’ – don’t know what this is.
• ‘Tai-Kun’ – an ancient Japanese title for a ruler who is not themselves royal. The English term ‘tycoon’ is derived from it.
Page 174 End of Chapter 14
End of the second day.