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From: "Alice Turner" <al@interport.net>
Subject: (urth) Map of Severian's journey on foot
Date: Thu, 10 Apr 1997 11:41:34 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

OK, here's my contribution to Urth-mapping. Mantis was quite right when he
said I hadn't even begun writing it up formally, but there may be an
advantage in presenting it to you guys informally, so that you can savage
it with your sharp teeth, and I can then perhaps correct some weaknesses.
Those of you who purchased mantis's addenda to Lexicon Urthus have already
encountered a version of this map (though it's not correct).

The map is, in the main, psychological and associative (and it may be more
an indication of  my psychology than Wolfe's intention). At any rate, it
requires two large geological assumptions. The first is that the continent
of Africa has pushed north to the point that the Mediterranean, mostly dry,
has dwindled to a river, Gyoll, flowing southeast from an origin somewhere
in the Alps. If you squint at a current map of the area, you can make out
Gyoll flowing down through the Red Sea and its tributary, Acis, descending
from the Black Sea through the Bosporus and the Dardenelles to join it. The
second assumption is that the entire area has migrated around the world to
where South America is now. 

Now lay a ruler northwest across that map from the Red Sea to Switzerland,
and you'll have a rough path of Severian's journey from the Matachin Tower
to the camp of the Pelerines. He starts at Alexandria (associations are the
Library and St. Catherine, with the towers of the Citadel somewhat echoing
the ancient Pharos). The next major stop is Crete, where the House Absolute
echoes the labyrinths of Knossus, and the vaguely Louis XVI aspect of the
antechamber echoes the frequent comparison of the women on Cretan vase
painting to the court ladies of Versailles. Next is the Stone Town, Athens
(I remind you that the Cumaean—who may be an inhumu—and Merryn are also
travelers, so it's certainly not Cumae), and here imagine that the Stone
Town is at the exact latitude and longitude that Machu Pichu (or
wherever—choose your own Latin-American stone town) occupied at the time of

After this, Severian deviates from the ruler, and travels up Acis in a
northeasterly direction to Thrax, the old Thrace—Istanbul, from the golden
domes on the palace and the vaulted underground cistern. He then travels
overland to the west, and things take on a distinctly Slavic aspect:
Casdoe's little cottage and the alzabo itself seem almost to come from some
Slavic folktale. I placed Mount Typhon originally at Etna on Sicily, but,
following Graves, I could be argued into placing it at Mount Haemus, in
Thrace. This, however, would spoil my assumption that the sorcerer's
village is in Albania (see below). 

Still traveling overland, Severian arrives at Lake Diuturna, which covers
Rome. That may seem curious to you, but in fact mantis and I together
researched the real Lake Diuturna quite thoroughly, and came to the
conclusion that Urth's Diuturna almost surely (in this schema) covers Rome.
(Note too, that the undine, Juturna, has the same name, indicating,
perhaps, that she was once the nymph of the lake before she grew so large.)
Finally, Severian ends up at the Pelerine camp, in Orythia, Switzerland,
where their Red Cross flag mirror the white cross on red of the Swiss flag,
as well as symbolizing neutrality and medicine. It is true that Master Ash
comes from a more northern tradition (Scandinavian), but he too is a
traveler from elsewhere.

Weaknesses: One of you pointed out that Holy Katharine and the Library,
etc. refer only to a small district of Nessus, and that is true. When I
first began to think about this mental map, I thought that Nessus was a
kind of amalgamation of all the ancient and fabled cities of the eastern
Mediterranean, and in a sense it is. But you have to start somewhere, and
this is where I started. Hey, it works for me.

I hesitated a long time over Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium. The
distinctly provincial nature of Thrax seemed a long way from that ancient
court of emperors, and the topography of the City of Crooked Knives seemed
so different from that of the Golden Horn. But everything has changed
everywhere. The geography fits, and I finally decided to blame it on

Albania: Putting the sorcerers' village in Albania is based on something I
read somewhere that gave a very colorful account of how isolated and
barbarous and witchy the Slavic Albanian tribes were. I thought it might
have been in the 1914 Russian Baedeker, but it isn't. Lord Byron's letters
(1809) are certainly colorful about Albania, but that wasn't it either, nor
the Britannica. I will continue to look—if anyone has a clue, perhaps from
19th-century travel writing or from a Roman writer, I'd be grateful. The
old name is Illyricum, if that helps. (And of course I know how foolish it
is to assume that Wolfe has read something I can't even place and had the
same reaction to it.) 


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