Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Life In 209 BC

Turning a page in Poul Anderson's The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), we proceed directly from a conversation in an apartment in Palo Alto in 1987 AD to a conversation in a house in Bactra in 209 BC. To Manse Everard/Meander the Illyrian, the latter is later.

How much did Poul Anderson know about life in the Far East in the third century BC and how much did he intelligently conjecture? We are told that:

"Like most well-to-do Hellenistic houses this far east, that of Hipponicus mingled Classical simplicity with Oriental lavishness." (p. 34)

That sounds plausible and, of course, a Time Patrolman would know. Hipponicus and his guests, including Meander, eat in a dining room where the walls have gilt molding and gaudily hued frescoes of fanciful birds, beasts and plants. There is incense, a bronze candelabra and an open door showing the inner court with roses and a fishpond. Four men wearing white tunics recline on couches to drink watered wine and eat:

soup with soft bread;
lightly seasoned lamb, barley and vegetables;
fresh fruit -

- served by male slaves. This is a business meeting so there are no dancing girls.

Everard can cope:

"A subtle electronics had printed into his brain the map, the history, the chief languages..." (p. 24)

Indeed, as he entered the city:

"To Everard the scene was eerily half-familiar. He had witnessed its like in a score of different lands, in as many different centuries. Each was unique, but a prehistorically ancient kinship vibrated in them all." (ibid.)

That is what it would be like to travel widely through the past.

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