Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Literature, Philosophy and Mythology

In Poul Anderson's The Golden Slave (New York, 1980), Flavius and other Roman prisoners plan a counter-mutiny on a ship captured by escaped slaves. Eodan, the slave leader, is roused from sleep to be told that several of his crew have already been killed. If the narrative had remained with his point of view, we would have had to learn of these events when he did but, by adopting another character's point of view for Chapter XIII, Anderson keeps us abreast of occurring events.

Flavius was Eodan's slave, then Eodan was Flavius'. Phryne, the educated Greek slave, calls this situation "...Euripedean..." (p. 35). Later, when Flavius has been Eodan's prisoner, he, an educated Roman, calls their relationship an " '...Iliad'." (p. 184)

Flavius knows not only literature but also philosophy and expresses the latter poetically:

" 'There are no free and unfree; we are all whirled on our way like dead leaves, from an unlikely beginning to a ludicrous end. I do not speak to you now; the sounds that come from my mouth are made by chance, flickering within the bounds of causation and natural law. Truly, we are all slaves. The sole difference lies between the noble and the ignoble.' " (p. 175)

Meanwhile, Anderson again prefigures the future role in Northern mythology of Eodan's first mate, the red-bearded, hammer-wielding Tjorr:

"...he sprawled against the weapon chest. His mouth was open and he made a private thunder in his nose." (p. 180)

Literary, philosophical and mythological allusions add depth to an exciting action-adventure narrative.

In Chapter XIII, the narrative point of view had shifted from Eodan to Phryne. Chapter XIV goes  further, considerably broadening the perspective. The viewpoint character is now a sea captain, Arpad of Trapezus, carrying an ambassador from Pontus to Egypt. The King of Pontus, Mithradates, had been "...forced to flee the usurping schemes of mother and brother, living for years a hunter in the mountains, until he returned to wrest back his heritage." (p. 188) This kind of story is described as a heroic legend in the Time Patrol series.

On the fourth page of his viewpoint chapter, Arpad, on his return journey, rescues Eodan, Tjorr and Phryne from their foundering vessel so that now we read a description of these three characters as seen by Arpad.

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