June 22, 2003

Monte Python

I mentioned Gene Wolfe in the last post; if you haven’t read his Book of the New Sun you should rush out and buy it immediately. It’s wonderfully written, rich, melancholic. Wolfe plays tricks; his books are indirect, allusive, and rich with borrowings from other languages, with archaisms, with stories, books and fables. Some of these are documented in his own Castle of the Otter (available as part of the larger volume, Castle of Days), others in Andre Michael-Driussi’s Lexicon Urthus. But there’s a reference that I’ve spotted which I don’t think is mentioned elsewhere. At two points in BOTNS, Wolfe’s narrator, Severian, encounters the Cumaean, an oracle whose name (and home) is borrowed from the Cumaean sibyll of classical Rome. In a trance, Severian discerns the Cumaean’s true form, which is not human. Instead, she’s something “sleekly reptilian” which is coiled around a glowing rod. This is almost certainly a sly linguistic pun on Wolfe’s part; the original sibyll was, like the oracle at Delphi, a “pythoness” or female prophet.

Posted by Henry at June 22, 2003 10:57 PM | TrackBack


This hits on something very interesting that I came across as a result of following up the title of Br Patrick’s book “Manikon Eros”. Apparently the word “manikon” is used by Plato in his Phaedrus to denote one of the types of madness (here specifically of prophecy).

Manikon and Python both appear again in this revealing commentary on the Acts of the Apsotles by Robertson: “16:16 {A spirit of divination} (\pneuma puth“na\). So the correct text with accusative (apparition, a spirit, a python), not the genitive (\puth“nos\). Hesychius defines it as \daimonion manikon\ (a spirit of divination). The etymology of the word is unknown. Bengel suggests \puthesthai\ from \punthanomai\, to
inquire. Python was the name given to the serpent that kept guard at Delphi, slain by Apollo, who was called \Puthios Apollo\ and
the prophetess at Delphi was termed Pythia.”

Posted by: Simon at June 23, 2003 05:18 AM

Might I also suggest as an additional resource the RPG supplement GURPS: New Sun

It was written partially by Andre-Driussi, and it does much to illuminate the rich future world that Wolfe depicts, even if you don’t particularly want to play role playing games.

Posted by: Paul Weimer at June 26, 2003 05:20 PM
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