Notes Ignota: Part the Last

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 286 Chapter the Twenty-Fourth: Sometimes Even I am Very Lonely
Page 287
•    ‘Saladin’ There has not been much in the way of references from the Islamic world. This may seem natural given the suppression of religion but that hasn’t stopped multiple Catholic references. Also, I note the Islamic thinkers that a philosophically inclined person with an interest in Catholicism would make reference to aren’t cropping either: Averroes, Avicenna plus others whose writings on Aristotle and other matters became so important to medieval thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, that their actual names became latinised. Actually, I don’t think Mycroft has mentioned Aquinas either, so maybe it is the suppression of theology? Anyway, Saladin, aka Sarah ah-Din Yusuf 1137-1193, the Kurdish Sultan of Egypt and conqueror of Syria, whose battles (Aleppo, Mosul) resonate today. Celebrated in many cultures but in particular Kurdish culture, his wars against the Frankish Crusader Kingdom even led to him becoming a romanticised figure in European culture.
•    ’Tully’ an affectionate name for Cicero.
Page 288
•    rose petals – more flowers
Page 289
Page 290
•    ‘Noble savage’ I was going to say “Rousseau” but Wikipedia tells me ‘Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Jean-Jacques Rousseau never used the phrase noble savage (french bon sauvage). So now I’ve got nothing to say. Well, read the Wikipedia article as it has a whole section on Rousseau not actually saying anything about noble savages. So, yes, it is a nod to Rousseau but not actually sort of. Different tack: John in Brave New World is a kind of Rousseau-ish natural man thrown into a highly managed society. Brave New World by the way is set in 2540, 86 years after Too Like the Lightning.
Page 290-294
Page 295
•    ‘Vidocq’ – as explained in the text. A real person whose exploits read like the fiction he inspired.
•    ‘Holmes’, ‘Moriaty’ – as discussed.
Page 296 End of Chapter 24

Page 297 Chapter the Twenty-Fifth: Madame’s
•    ‘Madame’s’ I haven’t discussed the gender games in the book, as I’m chasing references instead but look at the weight that is carried in that one word. In English, the association of this French word as a polite form of address for a woman (‘my lady’) is also with sex-workers and carries with it baggage about the kind of business a woman might run (and hence be hers and hence the possessive) as well anti-French British stereotypes about the French and sexuality. However, in the context of the Enlightenment, ‘Madame…’ as word association is answered by ‘Pompadour’ the brilliant figure of the French court who was a major patron of the arts and ‘behind-the-scenes’ influencer and advisor. This chapter plays on the multiple references.
•    ‘Paris was the crown and capital of all things’ – The 18th-century being the peak of France’s influence.
•    ‘birthday of the Great Sage Zoroaster’ The founder of Zoroastrianism, the Persian religion which would have an influence on Middle-eastern and Mediterranean religions. Modern Zoroastrians (such as the Parsis). Noruz is the Zoroastrian New Year and falls approximately on the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox (i.e around March 21), Khordad Sal is celebrated 6 days later as the feast of the birth of Zoroaster. New year falling on or near the Spring Equinox is not uncommon, until 1752 Britain and its colonies marked March 25 as the legal start of the year. Iran, although now Islamic (and Zoroastrians a minority religion) still retains March 21 as cultural New Year and a fiscal one. In the UK the fiscal year starts on April 6 as a consequence of the old new year date.
•    ‘Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel’ A feast of the Orthodox Church, which comes the day after the Feast of the Annunciation (discussed in a Catholic context above) to note Gabriel’s role in that event. Gabriel also has a synaxis (i.e. a holy day) on July 13 in the Orthodox calendar and all the angels get a feast on November 8. In context, Mycroft isn’t any religion due to societal attitudes but he does assert that he is Greek but his references tend towards Catholicism probably because of the emphasis on France and Rome in the text. Here is a fun resource if you want to see Orthodox Saints days in 2454.
•    ‘Carlyle stumbling on Bridger four days earlier’ In reviews, Mycroft is often called an ‘unreliable narrator’ and while I think that is not correct (it is Palmer who misleads us about who he is – Mycroft tells us upfront that he is Mycroft Canner, which would be rather like a narrator saying they are ‘Charles Manson’ upfront [hadn’t noticed MC v CM prior to this]) but he says some odd things about time. It is March 26. 26 minus 4 is March 22, yes, yes we are on the FOURTH day but that means the FIRST day is 3 days prior. OK, this is just me isn’t it? Yeah, well I’m right and the rest of you are innumerate [sulks, mumbling about ordinal versus cardinal numbers].
Page 298-299
Page 300
•    ‘a million loopholes’ a complaint that has been made against the Jesuits (but also other scholarly approaches to religion such as rabbinical Judaism) is their capacity to assert a strong dogmatic morality and then rules lawyer it. ‘Jesuitical’ has a secondary meaning of ‘practicing casuistry or equivocation; using subtle or oversubtle reasoning; crafty; sly; intriguing.’ and while we are there ‘casuistry’ itself has a dual meaning of both over-subtle, specious reasoning AND the discipline of applying rules and general reasoning to matters of faith and morality. Thisbe is criticising the Cousin hive here but casuistry would seem to be an element (or professional hazard) of the sensayer’s role.
Page 301
•    ‘Jehovah’  a Latinised version for the Biblical name of God known as the Tetragrammaton (4 letters) YHWH (Note that J.E.D.D. already had a four letter name – which was a hint I didn’t spot). As it stands it is also a very English name for god, popularised by William Tyndale and used in places in the King James Bible. Yahweh is more commonly used now, but in general, the biblical god is more normally referred to as Lord to avoid the taboos on mis-using god’s name.
•    ‘Heloise’ Abbess and writer 1090-1164? and most famous for being one-half of Peter Abelard & Heloise which is too long a story to disentangle here Seen as a kind of real-life tragic romance, in modern times Abelard’s pursuit of Heloise reads more like stalking and harassment. To cut a long story short she ends up becoming a nun and he ends up castrated and a monk. Abelard is a key figure in the development of logic and helped reintroduce Aristotle’s Organon into Medieval thinking.
•    ‘..Candide!” she shouted to a gawking youth above’ – Candide is the titular character of Voltaire’s most famous satire.The work follows the adventures of Candide, a young man under the care of Doctor Pangloss as he leaves a sheltered upbringing to encounter the horrors of the actual world, with Pangloss casting events in terms of Gottfried Liebniz’s philosophical optimism i.e. God must have made the best of all possible worlds and hence what occurs must somehow be for the best (see ). Voltaire uses events such as the catastrophic Lisbon Earthquake to show the absurdity of the view. Leibniz 1646-1716 is yet another polymath, a German thinker who thought about nearly everything when he wasn’t busy inventing differential calculus. The latter being a point of dispute between Leibniz and Issac Newton who also invented differential calculus – it is Leibniz’s notation that is mainly used today. Note Voltaire was a fan of Newton’s.
Page 302
•    ‘Salon Hogarth’ – William Hogarth 1697-1764 satirical painter and social commentator. Notable for his ‘Harlot’s progress’ and “Rake’s progress’ showing an 18th-century perception of moral decay.
Page 303-304
Page 305
•    ‘you are quoting Diderot’ – Diderot as discussed above. Explained in the text.
•    ‘thus is a new dark age’ – A more overt paralleling of DIderot’s efforts with Asimov’s Foundation.
Page 306
•    ‘the Philosopher’ – Voltaire calls Diderot ’the’ philosopher which is a title Mycroft reserves for Aristotle.
•    “Machiavelli, Hobbes, misunderstood Spinoza, or de Sade” – I think we’ve met them all now except Spinoza. Baruch Spinoza 1632-1677 the Dutch, Jewish lens making whose Ethics read like a geometry textbook but for metaphysics and morality. ‘Misunderstood’ here probably refers to his theological views which are much argued over. Whatever his actual views are, his writings inspired deists, agnostics and atheists.
Page 307
•    ‘Him’ – the word is capitalised as is the practice in bibles for words that refer to the biblical god (i.e Lord, God etc) as is ‘God’ although Heloise uses the indefinite article ‘a god’. Maybe Heliose used special emphasis to suggest the words should be capitalised but given this is direct speech, the capitalisation resides with Mycroft’s writing rather than Heloise. Mycroft (or his editor) is capitalising ‘him’ and ‘god’.
•    ‘Aristotle, Cicero and St. Thomas Aquinas’ – again all discussed before but Aquinas was in terms of his absence from the text. Here he is. Aquinas was a Dominican by the way.
Page 308
•    Commonplace book – a habit of early modern Europe of having a book in which to compile and collect things of note. Rather like making a series of notes on some topic.
Page 309-315
Page 316
•    Saint Francis – as explained in the text. Mycroft dons the garb of a Franciscan and here parallels his life as a servicer with that of a member of the Franciscan order. I get to say ‘Bingo’ here. We’ve had the Dominican’s quite overtly with Dominic, the Jesuits with Carlyle and now Mycroft is tagged as a Franciscan. Note that each also departs substantially from the stereotypes (Dominic loves fine things, Carlyle is empathetic rather than aloof, and Mycroft is a mass murderer and byword for violence in his society)
•    Rochester – I think we’ve met all the other people the Salons are named after. Rochester here is probably,_2nd_Earl_of_Rochester – a man symbolic of the Restoration of the English monarchy and as being the opposite of the Puritan attitudes that held sway in England under Cromwell’s commonwealth prior. Died young of a sexually transmitted disease.
Page 317
•    ‘Not really’ Thisbe doesn’t know much about Voltaire and Mycroft clearly hasn’t been explaining to her in the past about his obsession with the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is Mycroft’s spectacles (and that of others) but not society wide.
•    ‘someone built one to God’ – we have already discussed one.
•    ‘The Marquis de Sade’ – the book has been approaching De Sade slowly.
Page 318
Page 319
•    ‘Jehovah Epicurus Donation D’Arouet’ – The last being Voltaire’s actual surname. We’ve covered the first two. Donatien is another de Sade reference. JEDD is named after the biblical god, a greek philosopher (somewhat outside of the Socratic tradition) and two contrasting figures of the Enlightenment (on respectable and one distinctly not, both with an overlap of ideas).

Page 320 Chapter the Twenty-Sixth: Madame D’Arouet
•    There are few notes needed here despite the chapter being crammed full of things. We’ve met all the players from Rousseau’s (sort of) Noble Savage to Sherlock Holmes and the discussion spells things out and explains their connections better than I would.
Page 321-324
Page 335
•    ‘When the Graff trial began…” The strike by the Utopians has a similarity to events in Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’. I doubt the Utopians are Rand devotees, but they know their fiction.
Page 336-338 End of Chapter 26

Page 339 Chapter the Twenty-Seventh: The Interlude…
Page 340-342
Page 343
•    ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ – part of a soliloquy by Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth after he hears that Lady Macbeth is dead:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing

As a title for a science book it seems like a depressing reference even if Cato Weeksbooth is trying to show the poetry inside. Is it a commentary on the book we are reading? The quote also forms the title of a short story by Kurt Vonnegut set in a future world in which people no longer die from old age. As a consequence, the world is overpopulated and short of food.
Page 344-346
Page 347
•    ‘the Typers’ another noun-verb-noun surname, somebody who types.
Page 349-350 End of Chapter 27

Page 350 Chapter the Twenty-Eighth: The Enemy
•    Lots of numbers in this chapter. I’m not saying they have hidden meanings but for reference I’m listing them. The numbers that have upset Mycroft and others in terms of percentages of influence of the hives are 33-67, 67-33, 29-71 from earlier chapters.
•    133-2720-0732 – the location of Madame’s. It is three sets of numbers which locate an object in 3D space, so it has a height element as well (presumably because of flying vehicles). It isn’t our current systems of latitude and longitude.
Page 351
•    27,331 – a number of customers
•    989,408,013 and 110,634,255 – figures on Humanists who want Mycroft dead. (Interesting as we’ve been told people have assumed he was executed).
•    ‘an Amazon, who…chose to grow no breasts’ reputedly the legendary Amazons removed a breast to help with their archery.
Page 352-353
Page 354
•    ‘Alba Longa’ – the ancient capital of Latium near Rome where Aeneas’s son built his capital. Emperor Domitian would later build a palace in a similar location in the Alban hills.The Pope’s residence outside of the Vatican and Rome, Castel Gandolfo, partly includes remains of Domitian’s villa.
Page 355-361 End of Chapter 28

Page 362 Chapter the Twenty-Ninth: Julia, I’ve Found God!
Page 363-376 Again many references but all things we’ve met and are also explained in the text.

Page 377 Chapter the Thirtieth: DEO EREXIT SADE
Page 378-387
Page 388
•    ‘Sarte, Confucious, Augustine’ – a more eclectic set of writers than previously.
Page 389-397 End of chapter 30

Page 398 Chapter the Thirty-first: Dominant Predator
No notes

Page 408 Chapter the Thirty Second: That There are Two
No notes

Page 419 Chapter the Thirty-Third: Last interlude…

The End of Too Like the Lightning.



  1. Andrew M

    Regarding Mycroft as unreliable narrator: He does seem to anticipate that some people won’t know about his crimes: ‘You can leave me, if you wish, you who have followed me this far, but see now why you should hate me’. Though he goes on ‘Or did you know already who I was? Perhaps you chose this history… to taste the mind of Mycroft Canner’. He may be thinking of ‘future’ readers, whom he certainly anticipates, when he thinks people may not know.

    And he is surely unreliable about some other things – most obviously, genders. Unlike some others, I don’t think he misgenders Dominic, but he certainly misgenders Chagatai, and says that he would misgender Carlyle if someone had not stopped him; and there may of course be any number of other cases where it is not so obvious.


  2. Andrew M

    Talking of unreliabilty: I’ve been trying to compile a timeline of past events, and there are some oddnesses. There seems to be a very blatant inconsistency about Cato’s age (he’s now thirty-five, but fourteen years ago he was fifteen); though it’s not Mycroft who’s responsible for this one. There’s also a subtler problem with Mycroft: we know, with precise dates, that he was only sixteen at the time of the murders, but it looks as if eighteen years have to be squashed in somehow (eight from his birth to the deaths of his bash’ in an explosion; two from then to the discussion of ‘what would you do anything for?’, on which occasion Tully Mardi was just born; another eight from Tully’s birth to the murders).

    And by the way, there’s a passage which may be a clue to something interesting, but it’s possible that I’m missing something obvious. Chagatai says that Mycroft has brought ‘a pretty battered young thing they said they rescued from somewhere’ to the Avignon house, Do we know who this is? (My first thought was that it was Bridger, but he is clearly still in Cielo de Pajaros after that.)


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