Sunday, March 1, 2015

Gene Wolfe's NIGHTSIDE THE LONG SUN--First impressions

Gene Wolfe
Nightside the Long Sun

I've finally managed to get to the book and am now in Chapter 4.  These are some random impressions based on the early chapters.

This reminds me of Wolfe's earlier series,  The Book of the New Sun.  It's the language that conveys this impression.  It is archaic and very formal, with many foreign and obscure English words.
I find myself heading for the dictionary or search function on the browser.  Just now I discovered, after a number of tries (the usual response was "no such word" while the others directed me to Gene Wolfe's novels), the following definition for manteion.  And, it appears to be Greek.

Manteion:  "An oracle; either a person or a shrine but usually a title denoting a prophet and reader of the omens of sacrifice. "

The story is illustrative of the role of the augur: "he does not predict what course of action should be taken, but through his augury he finds signs on whether or not a course already decided upon meets with divine sanction and should proceed." 

Patera Silk is an auger;  in the story he is  one who  reads the will of the gods by studying the entrails of sacrificed animals. It appears as though the term in the far future has become confused with another term--haruspex--for augers observe and interpret the flight of birds while a haruspex is the one who interprets from the entrails of sacrificed animals.  Both augur and haruspex go back to the days of the Roman Empire.

As in his earlier series, Wolfe loves to show us how history and myth and legend become confused and intertwined over long periods of time.

The Christian Sign of the Cross has now become the addition sign that Patera Silk makes. 

patera probably comes from the latin "pater" which means father.

Our Father--pater noster

Pater Silk, so far, appears to be a variation of the Holy Fool, an innocent who understands little of the world about him, but is blessed with almost divine wisdom in understanding the hearts of others.
That he is first seen as playing with children is indicative of the type of person he is.  He is a strange mix of a Christian minister or priest and teacher and a Roman official who reads the will of the gods in bird flight and the entrails of sacrificial animals--two very contradictory actions.

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