Saturday, 27 October 2012


Who was the first spy, secret agent or intelligence officer? Moses sent Caleb and others to check the lie of the Promised Land. Odysseus, disguised, entered the besieged Troy where he saw the casus belli, Helen. Thus, our oldest Mosaic and Homeric traditions describe spying expeditions.

Military intelligence gathering was a feature of the ancient world. In Roma Mater (London, 1989) by Poul and Karen Anderson, the Irish King Niall sends "'...a trusty man...on many a mission...' - ' wander as a harmless pedlar, watching, listening, sometimes getting a soul drunk or furious till his tongue ran free.' " (p. 189) Later, Niall's adversary, the King of Ys, has a handfast man, a reformed brigand, who performs the same service for him.

Intelligence is gathered by witchcraft. Forsquilis of the Nine goes as an owl and sees a man, " '...him that I is he!' " (p. 91) Later, Gratillonius remembers seeing an owl. Later again, Forsquilis asks him if he remembers seeing an owl. She shows him her equipment - a chamber lit only by a lamp in a cat's skull, scrolls, codices, a Tyrean figurine, inscribed bones, dried herbs, old flints - and he asks her to spy on events elsewhere in the Roman Empire.

Anderson fans know that Dominic Flandry is an Intelligence Officer of the Terran Empire but intelligence gathering continues in a later series. In Volume IV of the Harvest Of Stars tetralogy, Solar artificial intelligence sends robot probes to spy on the extrasolar colonies. A download of the leading character Anson Guthrie responds by flying to the Solar System to gather intelligence there. Guthrie is a remote successor of Odysseus in more ways than one.

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