Vol. 1 | Chapter Five: Successor to the Throne (iii)

That day, in the open space before the south gate of the capital, a grand book burning ceremony was held…

CONTINUE READING

Notes under the cut:

Historically, book-burnings on the scale* described in this section were not always religiously motivated (or even always deliberate). Certainly almost always political though. Bodin’s attitude here seems to draw direct inspiration from an alleged incident during the Islamic conquest of Persia — his argument is basically paraphrasing a quote typically attributed to Umar I. (The quote is most likely fabricated; it was also used to explain the final Library of Alexandria incident.)

(Alexander the Great’s burning of Persepolis may be another inspiration. Though in East Asian culture the Qin Shi Huang legend is definitely the incident that immediately comes to mind.)

* Err, relatively speaking, that is. Twelve million is a VERY exaggerated number; even the Library of Alexandria supposedly housed 500,000 scrolls max. The earliest recorded incident numbered the loss at 40,000 (already a pretty horrifying number if you ask me), and some historians believe those were mostly accounting records rather than scholarly texts.

As for Narses’s discussion of the fictional etymology of “Ialdabaoth” — “ignorance” here is referring to the Christian fall of humanity, i.e. the innocence lost after Eve ate from the tree of knowledge. I did actually consider translating it as innocence instead, but I feel the nuance is a little different in Japanese. (In most contexts the direct translation of the term used, 無知 [muchi], would in fact be “ignorance,” but I feel like the default connotation is more neutral than “ignorance” is in English. Narses of course doesn’t view it in a good light, so I guess it works out.)

That said, the actual etymology of this name (Yaldabaoth, Yaltabaoth, Ialdabaoth, Jaldabaoth…) in our universe — where as I’ve mentioned the name refers to a Gnostic deity conflated with a number of other figures — is disputed. The most common derivation seems to be “son of chaos,” but there are also some lines of thought that it’s just a magical epithet (like abracadabra) without any particular meaning. Since Ialdabaoth is typically described as a lion-faced serpent (the “ignorant”/imperfect child of Sophia, or “wisdom” in other words), I’ve also seen a bit of discussion associating the figure with the serpent of Eden who tempts Eve, but I’m not sure how much water that holds. That seems like the most likely inspiration for Narses’s explanation though.

Finally, although bigamy isn’t recognized, as we will see, concubines do exist… That’s not a spoiler, btw, just sayin’.

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