Tuesday, 30 October 2012


Calvinus is an interesting character in Poul and Karen Anderson's Gallicenae (London, 1988).

(i) The resemblance of his name to that of John Calvin is coincidental but appropriate.

(ii) The list of "Dramatis Personae" indicates that he is historical and was "An agent of Maximus' secret police. (p. 424) The text says that "...he was high in the Imperial secret service. His agents were everywhere, in every walk of life, with instructions to keep alert for anything the least suspicious and follow it up until they had sufficient clues to warrant full investigation." (p. 76) Thus, he is an opposite number of the Scotian spy of whom we read in Volume One, except that Calvinus has the full force of the state at his disposal.

(iii) What counts as suspicious? Gratillonius has secured the interests of Rome in Armorica - kept the peace, repelled invaders etc - but Maximus, Gratillonius' former Duke of Britain but now a Co-Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, is more concerned about whether his prefect has secured those interests by trafficking with Satan. Furthermore, torture is used in the interrogation. Anything is justified in opposing Satan.

Gratillonius' former colleague tells him:

" 'This town's full of jabber about the First Cause, the Sons of God and the sons of Darkness, spiritual Man, mystical numbers, and I don't know what else, except I was there when a man got knifed in a tavern ruckus that started over whether or not the age of prophecy is over.' " (p. 73)

Those sound like interesting issues to discuss, as Gratillonius did in the Star Tower at Ys, but not questions to be answered by deploying the forces of the state, a secret service and a torture chamber. If that is what was happening, then the Empire was indeed in serious decline. Did it decline because its resources were diverted into nonsense or because it had reached the limits of its ability to extract wealth from slave labour? If the latter, then the retreat into theological dogmatism was an ideological reflection of an irreconcilable contradiction in the economic base of society.

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