June 10, 2010

Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist Decoded: Riverland

Filed under: Gene Wolfe, Greece, Soldier of the Mist — ubikcan @ 9:42 am

Part II of a series begun here.

Here are some explanations of the places, people and events as we find them in the opening chapters of the book. Where Wolfe has provided explanation in the Glossary this is indicated in red. Text from the novel is indicated in blue.


Riverland–Kemet, the most ancient of all nations.

Egypt. Latro’s healer in chapter 1 comes from Egypt and his writing “seemed very strange to me. He is of Riverland.”

“Kemet” is the name of Egypt in ancient Egyptian.



AEGYPTUS ( ΑἴγυπτοςEth. Αἰγύπτιος, Aegyptius). Egypt, properly so called, is that portion of the valley of the Nile which lies between lat. 24° 3′ and lat. 31° 37′ N., or between the islands of Philae and Elephantine, and the Mediterranean Sea. In the language of the earliest inhabitants it was entitled CHEMI, or the Black Earth; by the Hebrews it was called MIZIAIM; by the Arabians MESR (comp. ΜέστρηJ. AJ 1.1); by the Greeks  Αἴγυπτος; and by the Copts ELKEBIT, or inundated land. The boundaries of Egypt have in all ages been nearly the same,–to the S., Aethiopia; to the E., the Arabian Gulf, the Stony Arabia, Idumaea, and the southwestern frontier of Palestine; to the N., the Mediterranean Sea; and to the W., the Libyan desert. Homer (Hom. Od. 4.477) calls the Nile itself Αἵγνπτος; nor is the appellation misapplied. For the Valley of Egypt is emphatically the “Gift of the Nile,” without whose fertilising waters the tract from Syene to Cercasorum would only be a deep furrow in the sandy and gravelly desert running parallel with the Red Sea.

That the Egyptians were darker in hue than either the Greeks or even the neighbouring Asiatics, is shown by the terms in which Greek, Latin, and Hebrew writers mention them. To their progenitor the Hebrews gave the name of Ham, or ad ust (Genes. 10.6): Herodotus, speaking of the Colchians, says that they were an Egyptian colony because they were black in complexion (μελάγχροες), and curly-haired (οὐλότριχες, 2.104).


Riverland is Egypt, and it shows how much the Persians and Xerxes (“the Great King”) drew on other nations not only for troops, but as here, for medicine and presumably other skills. Herodotus describes the Egyptians as being very learned so it is no surprise to find a doctor from there. Later in Chapter one Latro meets a black man, who is from elsewhere in Africa.

Herodotus discusses Egypt extensively in his Histories and traveled there in person. You should also check Pliny (eg., Book 7.192) and the geographer Strabo.

Age of Egypt is commonly dated as c.3200 BCE for the beginning of its historical records. At the time of the novel it wasin the Late Dynastic Period (Dynasties 21-31), which ended in 332 BCE with the occupation by Alexander the Great. For the age of Egypt, see Hdt. 2.2-3. See also the story about Solon and Atlantis in Plato, Timaeus (21d ff.)

As the DGRG reports, Genesis assigns Egypt to Noah’s son Ham (Gen. 10.6). “Ad ust” means blackened or sunburned. There is an old tradition that Ham, who was cursed for seeing his father’s nakedness, passes on the curse to Africans, and hence that made it OK to enslave them. The Bible also says that Canaan (Ham’s son) would be a slave to Shem (the Semites) (Gen. 9.25).

Latro will travel to Egypt in book 3.


  1. Please add the Gene Wolfe and Soldier of the Mist tags to this post. I’d like to be able to link friends to https://ubikcan.wordpress.com/category/soldier-of-the-mist/ to read your fantastic, insightful “Soldier of the Mist Decoded” posts, but, if I do that, this one post in the series is missing. Thanks!

    Comment by Ed — March 17, 2011 @ 11:43 am

  2. Thanks. Done. I hope to come back to this series in the future (maybe in the summer). However, that is far from certain.

    Comment by ubikcan — March 21, 2011 @ 11:38 am

  3. Great! Thanks! If you have no objections, I’ll add a link from the WolfeWiki to this series of posts too.

    Comment by Ed — March 21, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

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