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From: Nigel Price <NigelPrice1@compuserve.com>
Subject: (urth) Urth: Terminus Est
Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 06:56:12 

Half wishing now that I'd opted for the subscription option whereby I would
get each message as it came out, rather than waiting for each evening's
digest of the day's correspondence, I find myself too impatient to wait to
find out whether the author of the "Lexicon Urthus" really is a regular
contributor to the list, and plunge ahead to ask one of the many questions
about that splendid work that has been bothering me ever since I bought it.

It concern's Severian's sword, Terminus Est.  The "Lexicon Urthus" article
begins as follows:

        Terminus Est - the carnificial sword that Master Palaemon
        gives to Severian.  Its name is translated by Severian as
        "This Is the Line of Division," but it could also be read
        "This Is the End" (either a message to the condemned
        or a name denoting the final work of the weaponsmith),
        or perhaps most intriguingly, "This Is Terminus, God
        of Boundaries."

The article then continues with an interesting discussion of swords made
from meteoric iron and points of similarity between Severian's sword and
King Arthur's Excalibur.

But surely the obvious point about Severian's sword is that it is named in
a direct quotation of Christ's words from the cross, "It is finished!",
which I'm pretty sure is translated in the Vulgate (Wolfe, I believe, is a
Catholic) as "Terminus Est."  (I couldn't find my Latin Vulgate when I was
looking just now, but if anyone has one to hand, perhaps they could check
for me.)

Anyway, that would seem to the most obvious if not the only possible
translation of "Terminus Est" - "It is finished."

Now, I'd always taken this to be part of Wolfe's oblique presentation of
Severian as a Messianic figure.  This element of his persona seems to
become most explicit in the account of his encounter with Typhon, where the
narrative suddenly, and to me, at any rate, surprisingly, falls into the
pattern of Christ's temptation by the Devil in the wilderness.

(As an aside, I should say that this moving in and out of an overtly
symbolic or allegorical mode is one of Wolfe's most characteristic and
intriguing literary techniques.  One moment, all is naturalistic, the next
moment you're in the middle of a parable.  The transition each way is
usually so deft that it takes me completely by surprise, and often takes my
breath away.  For instance: is "Free Live Free" an allegory of grace?  It
seems to be at some points - in the opening and closing sections, for
instance - but elsewhere it drifts into a rambling if amusingly Runyanesque
account of urban low life.  Then again, bang in the middle of the story,
just when you think you've worked out what sort of narrative mode you're
in, Wolfe introduces the story of the power failure in the mental hospital,
and suddenly you're in a quasi-Platonic parable, like a modern day version
of the Parable of the Cave in "The Republic".  How do you tell which are
the patients and which are the doctors when all the lights go out?  But I

It may seem strange to give Christ's words on the cross as the name of a
sword, but there is in fact plenty of sword imagery associated with Christ
in the New Testament.  Matthew 10:34 has Jesus announcing...

           "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the
          earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

I once read an interview with Wolfe where he said that he used "Pilgrim's
Progress" as one of the literary models for TBotNS, (Severian travelling
from the Guild of Torturers to the Autarch's palace just as Bunyan's
Christian escaped the City of Destruction and travelled to the Celestial
City?), so Christ's instructions to his disciples in Luke 22:36 may be

          He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it,
          and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your
          cloak and buy one."

Severian, after all, does set out on his "pilgrimage" equipped with both a
sword and a cloak (albeit an extremely black one!).

Since, as you've probably realized, I'm just pasting these references
across from the concordance on my hard disk, you might also like to
consider Terminus Est in the light of Romans 13:4, where Paul's description
of the authority of a civil ruler does bear a certain resemblance to
Severian's judicial role:

          For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do
          wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for
          nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring
          punishment on the wrongdoer.

Then again, you've got Ephesians 6:17, in the famous "Whole Armour of God"
passage, where the believer is encouraged to take "the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God."  Hebrews 4:12 is interesting too, because again
the sword is interpreted as having a judicial role:

          For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than
          any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul
          and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and
          attitudes of the heart.

Nothing about mercury in the blade, but never mind...

Revelation symbolises Christ's words as a two-edged sword coming from his
mouth (cf Rev 1.16, 2.12, 2.16, 19.15 and 19.21), and interestingly for us
(well, I don't know, moderately interestingly for us, I suppose...) in view
of Severian's ultimate role as bringer of the New Sun, describes Christ's
face as shining like the sun (eg Rev 1.16).

So...  "Terminus Est" as an adjunct of Severian the pilgrim, as both tool
and symbol of his role as judicial authority, and as an attribute that
confirms his Christ-like significance.

What do people think?

Nigel Price
Minety, Wiltshire

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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