(urth) what is an autarch? (was: Re: Autarchs)

Jane Delawney jane_delawney at sky.com
Sun Sep 26 18:56:11 PDT 2010

On 26/09/10 22:36, Jeff Wilson wrote:
> On 9/26/2010 2:24 PM, Andrew Mason wrote:
>> It's not clear to me that Autarchs eat the brains only of Autarchs:
>> the stated aim of the practice is to make the whole Commonwealth
>> present within one person. Though of course this raises the question
>> who might have maintaining a chain of brain-eaters before Ymar's time.
Is there any evidence that anyone did? I don't see it. There's that 
'perhaps' in Severian's musing (really, he has no idea at all how far 
back the 'inherited' memories go; he has no direct access to Ymar for 
instance - as Conciliator, Sev doesn't even recognise the guy at first, 
when he's supposed to have ingested Ymar's memories alongside those of 
all the other Autarchs) and while someone, somewhen, has to have 
introduced the tradition along with its essential mediator, the alzabo, 
it's not at all clear when this happened.

Sev tells us several times over that it's only the most recent memories 
which are at all clear. While he is aware at some level of the multitude 
of individuals that dwell within an Autarch, he has direct and detailed 
access to the memories of no more than two or three of them - and in his 
case, the most prominent alternate is Thecla; no Autarch, but rather 
something of an innocent bystander.

> In that case, what distinguishes autarchs from those rulers who are not?
I submit that save in the case of Ymar, who was the first, the 
distinction is precisely in the ingestion of the memories of the 
predecessor. Ymar, it is quite clear, did not perform the alzabo ritual 
upon his predecessor Typhon. There's no question about this; it simply 
didn't happen. How do we know for sure? Well - when Sev finds Typhon's 
dessicated and then resurrected body, it has two heads, and they are 
both intact. Nobody has taken an oyster-knife to Typhon's skull; nor to 
Piaton's for that matter.

I think also that this distinction is probably the motivation behind 
Vodalus's resurrectionist cult. By ingesting the memories of what is 
probably quite a random selection of individuals ('Not another tribade 
...!'), he is attempting to turn himself into a kind of faux Autarch. 
That's his ambition after all. His lover Thea refers at one point to an 
imagined future time 'when Vodalus is Autarch' (she imagines herself as 
his Autarchia); and Vodalus himself is desperate to recover the 
Autarch's crashed flyer when he's informed by his spy (the Old Autarch 
himself of course) that the Autarch is with him in the wreckage. This 
would be an ideal brain-eating opportunity; but Vodalus blows it.

In his message, the Old Autarch is referring to Severian, whom he knows 
to be his destined successor; not to himself. (Perhaps he thinks that 
Sev will be physically strong enough to resist, or that Vodalus simply 
won't consider that the person that his temporary ally Agia is pursuing 
could be Autarch in waiting). Vodalus has no idea that his spy is really 
the Autarch himself. So when his agents (of whom he fondly believes Agia 
to be one) recover the occupants of the craft and he sees only his spy 
(obviously gravely injured) and Agia's quarry, he simply wonders where 
the Autarch may have gone, and thus lets an opportunity to seize the 
throne slip through his hands.

It's all in the neural chemistry. Perhaps Vodalus thinks that if he 
ingests a sufficient number of memories, some of which may come from 
individuals who have held positions in the House Absolute, he will 
eventually get to know enough of the Words to be able to claim the 
throne (on behalf of the exultant class, even).

So: while there's very little information on /why/ this tradition 
started, I think it's clear enough how it operates (that UOTNS phrase, 
'Epitome of Urth', turns out to be entirely appropriate) and also that 
Ymar started it.

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