Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Ruins Of Empire

"He hovered by a broken caryatid (see image), marveling at its exquisite leaping litheness; that girl had borne tons of stone like a flower in her hair."
-Poul Anderson, "The Chapter Ends" IN Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 253-281 AT p. 273.

What girl? I realized that I did not know what a "caryatid" was so I googled it.

Jorun hovers above the ruined Sol City, the former capital of the First Empire which fell fifty thousand years before. Surely nothing of the city should still exist after all that time? Sol City has been:

bombarded;
sacked repeatedly;
weathered;
shaken by earthquakes;
pried by vegetation;
dug through;
quarried -

- yet still has walls, windows, arches, pillars, a caryatid and one tower.

The bombardment was from space so would have been heavy. One archaic word, "Empire," is accompanied by two others: "barbarian" and "slave."

"...sacked again and again by the barbarian hordes who swarmed maggot-like through the bones of the slain Empire..." (ibid.)

"...here the slaves had lived..." (p. 274)

Interstellar barbarians? They also appear in "Flight to Forever" and the Technic History. The latter series explains this apparent oddity. Unscrupulous traders sell nuclear weapons and spaceships to a king on an extrasolar planet in its Iron Age. Barbarianism on an interstellar scale indeed becomes possible. The maggot comparison is apt.

Slaves? Anderson rationalizes this idea in the Technic History but as a legally constrained criminal sentence, not as in the Roman Empire. The First Empire seems to have practiced slavery on the Roman model:

"...here the slaves had lived and worked and sometimes wept..." (ibid.)

Yet another archaic term is "peasant." Is it plausible that, so far in the future, when there is a Galactic civilization and people on Earth have an extended life span, they will have returned to milking cows and baking bread? 

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