June 15, 2010

Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist: Hill/Thebes

Filed under: Gene Wolfe, Greece, Soldier of the Mist — ubikcan @ 6:00 am

Part V 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.


Hill–The dominant city of Cowland. It is walled, and has seven gates.

Cowland–The area northwest of the Long Coast. It is dominated by Hill.

At Hill. We have camped, and I have forgotten much of what happened yesterday since I saw the Swift God…Hill is very beautiful. The people are frightened, however, and angry with the Great King because he is not here with more of his soldiers. They fought for him, thinking he would surely best the armies of Thought and Rope–this though the people are sons of Hellen just as they themselves are. They say the people of Thought hate their very name and will sweep their streets with fire, even as the Great King swept the streets of Thought….

There are many inns here, but the black man and I have no money, so we sleep outside the walls with the other soldiers of the Great King.


THEBAE (Θῆβαι, orig. Θήβη, Dor. ΘήβαEth. Θηβαῖος, fem. Θηβαΐς, Thebanus, fern. Thebais), the chief city in Boeotia, was situated in the southern plain of the country, which is divided from the northern by the ridge of Onchestus. Both these plains are surrounded by mountains, and contained for a long time two separate confederacies, of which Orchomenus in the north and Thebes in the south were the two leading cities.

…According to the generally received tradition, Thebes was founded by Cadmus, the leader of a Phoenician colony, who called the city CADMEIA (Καδμεία), a name which was afterwards confined to the citadel. In the Odyssey, Amphion and Zethus, the two sons of Antiope by Zeus, are represented as the first founders of Thebes and the first [2.1146] builders of its walls. (Od. 11.262.)

…The five Sparti, who were the only survivors of the warriors sprung from the dragon’s teeth, were the reputed ancestors of the noblest families in Thebes, which bore the name of Sparti down to the latest times. It is probable that the name of their families gave origin to the fable of the sowing of the dragon’s teeth. It appears certain that the original inhabitants of Thebes were called Cadmeii (ΚαδμεῖοιIl. 4.3883915.80710.288Od. 11.276) or Cadmeiones (ΚαδμείωνεςIl. 4.3855.80423.680), and that the southern plain of Boeotia was originally called the Cadmeian land (Καδμηΐς γῆThuc. 1.12).

…The first well-known event in Grecian history is the dispute, already mentioned, between Thebes and Plataea. The Plataeans, discontented with the supremacy of Thebes, withdrew from the Boeotian confederation, and surrendered their city to the Athenians. This led to a war between the Thebans and Athenians, in which the Thebans were defeated and compelled to cede to the Plataeans the territory S. of the Asopus, which was made the boundary between the two states. (Hdt. 6.108Thuc. 3.68.) The interference of Athens upon this occasion was bitterly resented by Thebes, and was the commencement of the long enmity between the two states, which exercised an important influence upon the course of Grecian history.

…At the battle of Plataea, however, the Thebans showed no such reluctance, but fought resolutely against the Athenians, who were posted opposite to them. (Hdt. 9.67.) Eleven days after the battle the victorious Greeks appeared before Thebes, and compelled the inhabitants to surrender their medising leaders [Persian sympathizers], who were immediately put to death, without any trial or other investigation. (Hdt. 9.87,88.)

…Thebes stood on one of the hills of Mount Teumessus.


Thebes was known as ἑπτάπυλος heptapylos “seven-gated” so-called by Homer in the Odyssey (eg., 11.263).

Notable people from Thebes include the seer Teiresias, the musician Amphion, Herakles, and Oedipus. Pindar lived there. Was famously twice laid siege to as recounted in the epic poems the “Thebai” and “Epigoni.” The classic “Seven Against Thebes” tells how the seven chiefs each attacked one of the gates, but were defeated at great cost. Their sons (epigoni, descendants) returned a few years later and succeeded. See Aeschylus.

Why “Hill”? I must say I don’t have a neat etymological reason for this, but perhaps the reason is more to do with it being the shining city on the hill, in appearance at least to Latro.


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