Friday, 21 July 2017

The Stories Carl Tells

Carl Farness travels to 300-372 to study songs and stories but, from 300, he himself tells stories in return for those that he hears. Over those several decades, how can the stories that Carl tells not affect those that he has gone to sudy? A pyschosocial calculation has told him that an illiterate society with a mental world where marvels are commonplace has a selective collective memory.

He talks about the Romans, merely adding details to what the Goths have already heard from other travellers, and all such details are shortly garbled down to a common noise level.

Cuchulainn is just another foredoomed hero.

The Han Empire is just another remote fabulous realm.

Carl says that his immediate audience passed on what they had heard:

"' others, who merged everything into their existing sagas.'" (Time Patrol, "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth," 1980, p. 388.)

But that does sound like a problem, doesn't it?

Carl talks about:

the new god
the Persians
hot lands with black-skinned people and large animals
the Eastern realm where amber-hued people with slanting eyes have built a long wall against wild northern tribes
the World Sea
the wise and wealthy Mayas
Samson the Strong
Deirdre the fair and unhappy
Crockett the hunter...

That is a considerable amount of exotic input.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I'm not sure it was correct of Carl to talk about the "Han Empire" because the Han Dynasty had fallen in AD 222 and China entered an era of war lords and short lived dynasties which did not end till the Sui Dynasty reunited China in the 580's.

Diocletian? I admit to actually liking him! I recall how Russell Kirk described that Emperor in his story "The Last God's Dream" thus: "He was a just man, imaginative, more merciful than most, a grand general and a great administrator." It was Diocletian who finally succeeded in ending the third century time of chaos which nearly destroyed the Empire and gave it another lease of life. Including laying the foundations of what would become the thousand years long Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.

I discussed Diocletian with Poul Anderson and he mostly agreed with me in having a favorable view of him. And, yes, I know that Emperor made blunders, such as the Prices Edict and the persecution of the Christians (but neither was done from malice).

The mention of Samson the Strong makes me wonder if some of the Goths already knew of that hero. Goths who became Christians would soon start reading or listening to parts of the Old Testament.


David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
David Drake's *Birds of Prey* is about a Roman secret agent ordered to work with what turns out to be a time traveler. Near the end of the story, to save the life of the agent's protégé Gaius, the traveler has to make some adjustments to the young fellow's brain. While she's at it, she modifies his thought processes so he'll in time become "GAIUS AURELIUS VALERIUS DIOCLETIANUS."

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

I too have read Drake's BIRDS OF PREY and I remember that young soldier named Gaius! Even then, without being "altered," Gaius was plainly a man of parts and real ability. BIRDS OF PREY is yet another book I should reread.


Anonymous said...

Kaor, Sean!

As you say, Diocletian's wrongful actions were likely not made from malice, and one can hardly blame him for living more than a thousand years before Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, or even the Salamanca Scholastics. Nonetheless, he not only tried to fix prices, but to require every man to follow the occupation of his father, and to bind the peasants to the soil and their landlords. His plan to divide the Empire into Eastern and Western halves, each with an Augustus who would resign after twenty years, and a Caesar as his understudy might have been a great improvement over the bloody chaos of the third century, but it didn't work out. Instead, Rome got more rounds of civil war, and then an end to Diocletian's planned system.

So I don't feel inclined to be fond of Diocletian; on the other hand, given the conditions of the time, how many of us could have done better?

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Nicholas!

I'm delighted to get some "opposing" comments! Yes, I agree that Diocletian's attempts to impose economic stability on the Empire by means of fixing prices was a flop, to say the least. I've heard of the Salamanca Scholastics, but not read much about their works. They had some shrew insights about economics which foreshadowed the pioneering work of Adam Smith and his successors?

I think if Diocletian had limited the idea of having sons follow the professions of their fathers for about 20 years only that would have limited the damage. His idea, again, was to bring economic stability to the battered Empire by making sure all professions would have enough practitioners.

Yes, is true that Diocletian's attempt at bringing some order and stability to the Imperial succession by the means you outlined did not work.

And, as you said, how many of US would or could have done better in his place? At least Diocletian TRIED to think out of the box and come up with solutions ot the problems he had to wrestle with. And I don't think his efforts were ENTIRELY unsuccessful. His administrative reorganization of the Empire was, IMO, basically sound. And Diocletian did lay the foundations for the Eastern Roman Empire lasting so LONG.

Regards! Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Romans had a very limited number of "praenomen", the actual personal names. Only about 30-40 were in widespread use, and most men would be named from a total of about 18.

S.M. Stirling said...

Of course, you have to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of children did indeed follow their parents' professions -- long before Diocletian and long after him, because there was no alternative to the vast majority being tillers of the soil leavened with handicrafts.

Social mobility in Roman society was real, but like the overwhelming majority of ancient societies, rather limited.

Nor was it much approved of in the abstract - "novus homo" wasn't a complement. A good deal of it happened simply because a certain number of ancient families died out in each generation.

S.M. Stirling said...

Diocletian's basic problem was that the Roman Empire (and its Byzantine successor-state) never developed much sense of dynastic legitimacy. It was a monarchy without a monarchic ideology, and hence always vulnerable to a coup d'etat backed by raw military power.

The Romans recognized this problem but never solved it. Diocletian's attempts to mimic the symbolic attributes of Sassanid Great Kings was an attempt to surround the throne with a "mystic aura", but it didn't work well. The education of the Roman elite tended to a quasi-rationalist skepticism and it was grounded in the Republican and Hellenistic periods, when monarchy was a low-status arrangement.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

That is true, what you said about how the great majority of children followed their parents professions for most of history. If what I'm recollecting is correct, the anarchy of the third century "Crisis of the Empire" did cause much land, for example, to be abandoned. I think Dioletian's idea was that binding farmers, for example, to the land would prevent land from being abandoned.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Yes, the lack of a satisfactory monarchic ideology on which to base the legitimacy of the Principate which had succeeded the Republic was a grave weakness. I do think the Eastern Romans/Byzantines managed to at least somewhat mitigate the problem, because their state did last for over a thousand years.

And, yes, Diocletian's adoption or adapting of Sassanid Persian court ceremonies was an attempt to strengthen the stability of the throne by inculcating a near religious reverence for it. I discussed symbolic rites and ceremonies in my "Andersonian Themes And Tropes" article.