Thursday, 27 February 2014

Castra Vetera

Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York), pp. 469-477.

"...testudines..." (p. 471), as used here, is the plural of  "testudo," meaning a movable shelter to protect soldiers engaged in a siege.

"...amphorae..." (p. 473) are a very old kind of container.

"...the praetorian gate..." (p. 474) is the main entrance to a camp - a "praetor" was one kind of Roman official.

The "...pomoerium..." (p. 476) was the sacred boundary of Rome.

As I have remarked before, Poul Anderson novels often start with an introductory or scene-setting chapter that I tend to skip on rereading. "Star Of The Sea," section 1, is one of those. Its viewpoint character is the Roman legate Munius Lupercus who will be captured and offered to Odin later in this short novel although section 1 is the only chapter narrated from his point of view.

Lupercus, the commander conversing with his orderly and staff officer, is comparable to Gratillonius in Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys Tetralogy. Both are Roman army officers on active duty. Section 1 is historical fiction. Although "Star Of The Sea" is science fiction because it involves time travel, this section describes only the Romans in Castra Vetera and their barbarian besiegers.

Lupercus, knowing that something has inflamed the Germans again, sees:

the shrunken Rhine, easily crossed by hostiles, where supply ships run aground and may then be captured;
blond barbarians with emblems, weapons and hair knotted, braided or dyed;
Batavi, Canninefates, Tungri, Frisii, Bructeri and mounted Tencteri;
smoke from the kettles and spits of keening women;
ants, beetles and crows eating corpses and entrails;
broken weapons and ruined testudines;
a two-story wheeled siege tower.

A crane arm captures prisoners, including one who swears by Woen, Donar and Tiw, identified by Lupercus with Mercury, Hercules and Mars. I am not sure about all of these identifications:

Wednesday, in English, is Mercredi, in French, because both Woden and Mercury lead the dead;
Thursday is Jeudi because both Thor and Jupiter wield the thunderbolt;
Tuesday is Mardi because both Tiw and Mars are gods of war.

Thus, the identification of Donar/Thor with Hercules is a surprise.

The prisoner tells Lupercus what, or rather who, has inflamed the Germans. The sibyl Veleda has called on every tribe to rise because the goddess has told her that Rome is doomed.

"The Batavian squared his shoulders. 'Do what you like to me, Roman. You're a dead man, you with your whole stinking Empire.'" (p. 477)

Lupercus is a dead man, as I said. But a threat to the Empire must be thwarted if history is to stay on track.

Section 2 begins:

"In the closing decades of the twentieth century..." (ibid.)

Surely the late twentieth century is way too late to address a threat to the Roman Empire? No, because what happens at the beginning of section 2 is that Manson Everard arrives by timecycle in the Time Patrol Amsterdam office. Everard will have much to do with Veleda.

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