Lensman: A Glimmer of Empathy

Triplanetary 9 – Chapter 3: The Fall of Rome

Welcome to the read! This particular section is very short and I only have a couple of things to say about it, so this is even more of a mini-entry than last time. It might be worth refreshing your memory with the last time we visited Arisia, because this revisits the problems with that section of the last chapter, specifically the apparent Arisian lack of empathy for the people they’re using to win the war.

2. — Arisia

In the brief interval between the fall of Atlantis and the rise of Rome to the summit of her power, Eukonidor of Arisia had aged scarcely at all. He was still a youth. He was, and would be for many centuries to come, a Watchman. Although his mind was powerful enough to understand the Elders’ visualization of the course of Civilization—in fact, he had already made significant progress in his own visualization of the Cosmic All—he was not sufficiently mature to contemplate unmoved the events which, according to all Arisian visualizations, were bound to occur.

Remember the phrase ‘not sufficiently mature’ for just a minute.

“Your feeling is but natural, Eukonidor.” Drounli, the Moulder principally concerned with the planet Tellus, meshed his mind smoothly with that of the young Watchman. “We do not enjoy it ourselves, as you know. It is, however, necessary. In no other way can the ultimate triumph of Civilization be assured.”

“But can nothing be done to alleviate…?” Eukonidor paused.

The word ‘alleviate’ here is important, because it is powerfully associated with relieving suffering. There are other ways to use it, but it’s rare because other words usually fit better. Although the sentence is left maddeningly unfinished (like a previous possible expression of Eukonidor’s empathy), it strongly suggests that Eukonidor actually is expressing a concern for the humans as people who will endure hardship and death, and not as raw material for weapons.

But then we return to ‘not sufficiently mature.’

Let’s consider the two possible cases. If Eukonidor’s concern is for human suffering, then the narrator considers it ‘immature’ to be moved by the suffering of many people over many centuries. If Eukonidor’s concern is for the war effort, then the narrator considers it ‘immature’ to be moved by a setback in the war effort. So either Eukonidor is not showing empathy, or he’s being judged as childish for showing empathy. Neither speaks well to the Arisian context.

Also, even if Eukonidor is showing empathy here (and was before), because it’s the same character both times, it’s easy to associate it with the character and not a broader segment of the society. Like Artomenes’ paranoia, handing all responsibility for expressing a sentiment to one person only develops that character, not the setting.

Drounli waited. “Have you any suggestions to offer?”

“None,” the younger Arisian confessed. “But I thought… you, or the Elders, so much older and stronger… could….”

“We can not. Rome will fall. It must be allowed to fall.”

“It will be Nero, then? And we can do nothing?”

“Nero. We can do little enough. Our forms of flesh—Petronius, Acte, and the others—will do whatever they can; but their powers will be exactly the same as those of other human beings of their time.

Gaius Petronius Arbiter was a famously hedonistic Roman who was a close friend, and also critic, of Nero’s. Claudia Acte was Nero’s mistress for three years, and a source of strife between Nero and his family. It seems strange that the Arisians would operate so physically close to the Eddorian, but given Nero’s despotism, influencing the Emperor would be the most efficient way to accomplish anything.

They must be and will be constrained, since any show of unusual powers, either mental or physical, would be detected instantly and would be far too revealing. On the other hand, Nero—that is, Gharlane of Eddore—will be operating much more freely.”

“Very much so. Practically unhampered, except in purely physical matters. But, if nothing can be done to stop it…. If Nero must be allowed to sow his seeds of ruin….”

And upon that cheerless note the conference ended.

Next up: Earth, and gladiators!

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