(urth) The littlest apprentices

Nathan Spears spearofsolomon at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 31 08:30:55 PST 2006

I wrote as much, albeit much abbreviated.  I should have put together the final piece - Severian himself is stating that he breastfed, and obviously he is a torturer.  So the only meaning of the phrase "know no breast" can be "no longer breastfeed," if the phrase is to apply to him.  At this point there is no longer any debate to be had.  One imagines a sort of torturer nursery or torturer-adoption program in which wet nurses care for children until they are self-sufficient enough to be taken by the guild.

Nathan Spears wrote:
> I was also going to suggest that perhaps the "stand under the bar"
rules applies literally to children that > the torturers "take."  That
is, perhaps they don't accept a child into the ranks until they can
stand on their feet, but at that point they wouldn't be breastfeeding

----- Original Message ----
From: Roy C. Lackey <rclackey at stic.net>
To: urth <urth at urth.net>
Sent: Monday, October 30, 2006 11:06:20 PM
Subject: (urth) The littlest apprentices

Dan'l wrote:
>Though the statement is unqualified, I think there is an _implicit_
>qualification that cuts through this dilemma like Alexander's sword
>through a certain knot.
>The children the torturers take know no breasts ... _after_ they are
>taken. The torturers, obviously, have no control over what happens
>_before_ the child is taken.

Precisely! I wish I had seen your post before I wrote this.

I think I've finally figured this out. I should have done it sooner. I had
all the information needed to do it in the Baby Severian post or the more
recent ones touching on the subject of torturer recruitment; I just didn't
put it together right. Neither Wolfe nor Severian made a mistake. There is
no contradiction about breast feeding. "Take" means exactly what we've
always known it to mean. The key is the quote about the iron bar.

"Since that time our numbers have been repaired solely from the children of
those who fall into our hands. In our Matachin Tower, a certain bar of iron
thrusts from a bulkhead at the height of a man's groin. Male children small
enough to stand upright beneath it are nurtured as our own; and when a woman
big with child is sent to us we open her and if the babe draws breath engage
a wet-nurse if it be a boy. The females are rendered to the witches."
(SHADOW, chapter 2)

Women who were pregnant when they arrived, at whatever stage of pregnancy,
were left alone to bear their child naturally -- provided their torture was
not imminent. If it was, then too bad for the fetus. The torturers didn't
perform C-sections just for the hell of it. If a woman was "big with child",
they performed a C-section in an attempt to save the fetus. If the fetus was
far enough advanced to survive outside the womb, i.e., able to draw breath,
a wet-nurse was engaged if it was male. Either way, both sorts of babies who
first drew breath inside the Matachin Tower were breast-fed, whether by
their mother or a wet-nurse, both sorts ended up in the guild, and therefore
neither sort can be "the children the torturers take [who] know no breasts".

Since we know that the male babies who had wet-nurses were "nurtured" as the
torturers' "own", it follows that when they were old enough to be weaned,
the torturers took over complete responsibility for their upbringing. The
same logic applies to the children born in a cell. When a baby born there
was old enough to be weaned, the torturers appropriated it and raised it as
their own. Though it is not addressed in the text, I assume that any female
babies born naturally in a cell were also handed over to the witches. Women
were not allowed to keep their babies indefinitely, any more than they were
allowed visitors, and for the same reasons. But they were useful as milk
factories, sparing the guild the cost of a wet-nurse.

That brings us back to Severian's vague memory of breast feeding in a cell.
As I said before, he knew the woman *must* be his mother *because* she was
in a cell, *and* he knew "the children the torturers take know no breasts".
I also said before that some of the women had at least one young child
(probably only one) with them when they were first handed over to the
torturers. Those are the children the torturers "take", and that's where the
iron bar comes in.

The height test would be meaningless if applied only to newly-weaned babies.
Typically, such a child wouldn't be much more than a year old, if that. By
that age a child would also be able to stand upright on its own. *All*
children at that age would easily be able to stand upright under the bar, so
what would be the point of testing them? None. But obviously some potential
exists for a child to be too tall to fit under the bar. [No, this has
nothing to do with exultant height. As Gurloes said, some guild members have
been of exulted blood, and Severian himself and Roche and Drotte were all
relatively tall.] Where do the children come from who are too tall, too
*old* to fit beneath the bar? They are the children who were born to
"clients" before they were arrested. The torturers "take" them away from
their mothers, literally, after mother and child are handed over to them.

What is the real purpose of the height test, or, more specifically, why is
it necessary at all? How old would a boy have to be to be too old to pass
it? 3-years old? 4? I believe that the test is a rough measure of the
probable ability of a young child to remember his past. Before a certain
age, a child remembers little or nothing of it. (I am probably not the first
to bring this up here: I keep having a deja vu feeling.)

If the child is able pass the height test, it will have been weaned and will
"know no breasts" and will be "nurtured" by the torturers. Severian didn't
say that the children the torturers take had *never* known a breast; every
baby in the Commonwealth was breast-fed.

I don't know what happens to those too tall to pass the test, those who
might be old enough to remember their mother.


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