Monday 13 June 2016

City of God #1: Inchoate History

While I've been waiting for the draft of Cosmic Memory to be polished off, I've started working and planning for Chariot's companion game, still provisionally titled City of God. 

It'll be of a comparable size and shape to Chariot (which you need to go and buy right now). When I kickstart it though, I'm going to have as one stretch goal the Chariot Tarot Deck and I had this crazy idea that a very few funders (like two or three tops) at the very highest tier might be able to get a hand-bound and hand-coloured illuminated edition with like actual gold type on the spine and everything.

City of God is written with the same ideas as the original Chariot, but instead of the entirely imaginary Fall of Atlantis, it's written during an imaginal (no that's not a typo) Fall of Rome. Why that period of Rome, well, there's three main reasons.

The first is that it means a lot to me. I specialised in its study at university, got an MPhil in the literature of the period, and the things I learned from studying it gave me a healthy grounding in the history and narratives of belief. It shaped me, and it shaped how I approach my faith.

Second, the idea of the fall of the dream of Empire is what the Chariot project is about. The changes of ideas, the birth of new ways, and the dawning of a catastrophe. That's where I am.

And the third, well. Look, the Early Empire and Late Republic are full of famous historical figures. People who own the period, hard: if Julius Caesar, Cicero, Pompey and Crassus are shaking the world, what space for you to do the same? On the other hand, the apocalyptic nature of the Late Empire is full of gaps, of spaces, of lacunae. Biographies dissolve into myth. Fictional emperors share space with real ones in the histories. Legendary heroes arose. Everything fell apart, and people changed the world and ended up just becoming stories. History became an inchoate phenomenon. 

Whence comes the first extract from City of God. 

Inchoate History
History isn't a steady progression. It cycles, travels back and forth, peace and war, progress and catastrophe, remembering, forgetting. Here, an age is documented, dated, taught; a hundred miles away, behind the mountains, over a channel of sea a whole nation falls into haze.

These gaps, these lacunae become fertile ground for the mythic. Where history lapses, legend begins.

Around the middle of the second century CE, the first great migrations began. Pushed Westwards by far-off horse nomads, Germanic peoples with nowhere else to go entered the North of the Roman Empire,  looking for food, shelter, homes. The Romans, reluctant to give space, fought.

And for over three hundred years, successive tribes of migrant peoples came, and some asked for help, and some assimilated. Most fought. Germans and Franks, Goths and Alamans, Vandals and Huns. For those three hundred years, Rome was at war against the barbarians.

And as the migrations began, so did the great plagues. Marcus Aurelius's co-regent Lucius Verus died in the first contagion, this in 169CE. If you were able to pick a point for the beginning of the collapse of Rome and with it the collapse of Europe's historical narrative, the death of this ill-fated Caesar is as good as any. 

Over a century or more, the plague became a slow apocalypse that took the majority of Europe's population. The skills necessary to maintain an infrastructure that wouldn't be matched again until the time of Victoria died out. Entire settlements fell to uninhabited ruin. Sewers collapsed. Once-broad roads vanished beneath reaching forest and hungry desert. 

You can see it in the way that journeys that would have been a matter of course for a Roman army in the time of Caesar became perilous, desperate things. You can see it in the way that the capitol of the Roman Empire ceased to be Rome and became only the place where the Emperor was staying. You can see it in the accounts of the great wars: in the Battle of Actium in 36BCE over a quarter of a million men from all over the Empire came to fight in the final battle that ended the Republic; when the Goths slaughtered the full force of the Roman army – and the Emperor Valens with it – at Adrianople in 378CE, barely 40,000 combatants took the field. 

The structure of Roman society barely survived. And in the gaps left by the collapse of history, there, there the stories sprang up. 

Maximinus the Thracian, soldier-emperor, risen from the ranks, eight feet tall. Apollonius of Tyana, miracle worker, resurrected from the dead. The City of the Anthropophagi. The centaurs and satyrs who accompanied Antony in the desert. Magnus Maximus, driven by a dream to start a civil war. Arthur. The hidden adventures of Christ and the Apostles.

Statues vomit blood. Lions trace the name of God in the desert sands with a gentle claw. Beasts of myth who argue divinity with hermits. Shadowy fears manifest as devils.

Saints and apostles. Pagan mystagogues. Visions. Dreams. Prophecies. 

Things come to an end. Things find their beginnings. And in the fractured ruin of history the Age of Miracles finds its root.