I’ve Been Thinking About Death A Lot Lately

28 Apr


During the brief time I have occupied the throne, many issues have been of more immediate concern than monomachy. Whether it is good or evil (as I am inclined to think), it is surely ineradicable in a society such as our, which must for its own survival hold the military virtues higher than any others, and in which so few of the armed retainers of the state can be spared to police the populace.

Yet is it evil?

Those ages that have outlawed it (and many hundreds have, by my reading) have replaced it largely with murder – and with just such murder, by and large, as momomarchy seems designed to prevent: murders resulting from quarrels among families, friends, and acquaintances. In these cases two die instead of one, for the law tracks down the slayer (a person not by disposition a criminal but by chance) and slays him, as though his death would restore his victim’s life. Thus if, say, a thousand legal combats between individuals resulted in a thousand such deaths (which is very unlikely, since most such combats do not terminate in death) but prevented five hundred murders, the state would be no worse.

Further, the survivor of such a combat is likely to be the individual most suited to defending the state, and also the most suited to engendering healthy children; while there is no survivor of most murders, and the murderer (were he to survive) is likely to be only vicious, and not strong, quick, or intelligent.

And yet how readily this practice lends itself to intrigue.


In silence to praetorians (four fluttering sparrows, as it seemed) caught our destriers and led them away. How like us those animals were, walking patiently they knew not where, their massive heads following thing strips of leather. Nine-tenths of life, so it seems to me, consists of these surrenders.

– Both attributed to Severian The Torturer, The Book Of The New Sun


America is a nation of liars, and for that reason science fiction has a special claim to be our national literature, as the art form best adapted to telling the lies we like to hear and to pretend we believe.

-Thomas Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of



2 Responses to “I’ve Been Thinking About Death A Lot Lately”

  1. Dryden April 28, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Is monomachy the same as momomarchy?

    • liamjordan April 28, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

      Gene Wolfe uses a lot of archaic english terms (usually with germanic or latin origin) to represent the mutation of language- the idea is that he’s translated this far future text and had to find his own ways to represent some of the new/old terms within.

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