Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 2, Part 3

The necropolis has never seemed a city of death to me; I know its purple roses (which other people think so hideous) shelter hundreds of small animals and birds. The executions I have seen performed and have performed myself so often are no more than a trade, a butchery of human beings who are for the most part less innocent and less valuable than cattle. When I think of my own death, or of the death of someone who has been kind to me, or even of the death of the sun, the image that comes to my mind is that of the nenuphar, with its glossy, pale leaves and azure flower. Under flower and leaves are black roots as fine and strong as hair, reaching down into the dark waters.
Purple roses symbolize mystery and enchantment; since some people find them hideous, they could be very dark purple (black), signifying death. The color purple is also associated with royalty, which could very well describe someone in Severian's culture who rates a mausoleum in the most exclusive part of a very large cemetery. The nenuphar is a word for the white waterlily or white lotus. Of course, here it's "azure" so it may mean the blue lotus. Wolfe seems to like flowers that have too much symbolism to pin down, since the lotus is one of the most prominent symbols in the Indian religions, and the blue lotus was very important in a number of African civilizations of the ancient world. "It was considered extremely significant in Egyptian mythology, since it was said to rise and fall with the sun. Consequently, due to its colourings, it was identified, in some beliefs, as having been the original container, in a similar manner to an egg, of Atum, and in similar beliefs Ra, both solar deities." Since that's definite sun symbolism, and the Indian religions have appeared before now, he's probably giving both traditions a nod here. As if the rose and the lotus didn't have enough meanings separately, here Severian seems to imply that they are the same flower. Maybe he's just free associating. In the Indian religions, the "dark waters" are the muddy waters of attachment and desire. Gene Wolfe might think so, too, since his "miraculous light" is the source of all life, and it never reaches too far into the water. So, the water might also symbolize death, whose depths we know little about. One thing confusing about the Indian symbolism, and maybe about Wolfe's, is that the nenuphar does indeed have roots in the muddy, material world, and without them it would die. So the blossom part of the plant, which stands for spiritual perfection, has its roots in attachment, desire, and death. So the roots, one source of life for the blossom, are something to be overcome? How then would the blossom exist? Seems strange to me. I'm going to leave the cattle comment until tomorrow.

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