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We See by Jad's Light Alone: Guy Gavriel Kay and the New Sanctuary Mosaicist

by Andrew Patton

GGK's noteAuthor's Note:

I must admit that I am both flattered and chastened to see my little essay reappear, after so many years, in this special issue of Sarantine Letters devoted to re-examining Guy Gavriel Kay's "Sarantine Mosaic". It is no exaggeration to say that nothing in Sarantine studies has been the same since Kay's work first was published. After it appeared, to a popular success which surprised everyone, the Sarantine period was suddenly of issue to the public and to the media, after having been left in darkness for so many years. Many of us, and I was no exception, were almost giddy with unexpected celebrity. Some were envious of Kay's fame. Several grumbled that it was undeserved, that better histories of the period had been written, that Kay had become a mere popularizer, etc. We were busy biting the hand that fed us, even as we revelled in the light it brought to our own endeavours.

With the passage of time, though, it became clear to many that the popularity of Kay's history was, let us say, "convenient" for The Regime, which did not fail to do everything in its power to assist in elevating that book into something like the New Official History of the Sarantine Period. It became more apparent each day, as those in power attempted to control ever larger areas of public life, that an attempt was being made to establish parallels between The Regime and the glories of the Sarantine Period. At a merely personal level, this could not help but add to the envy we felt. At a political level, Kay's chronicle was turned from a work of history into a instrument of the present.

Once The Regime so suddenly fell, it was as though we were breathing a different atmosphere. It became possible to express publicly the criticisms that had been steadily growing about, on the one hand the scholarship, and on the other the popularity and the public role, of Kay's "Mosaic". I imagined that my little essay, which follows below, would begin a period of reassessment of his chronicle, of its proper place in our contemporary culture. I am sorry to say that instead, it was the work that opened the floodgates to a tide of resentment that had been festering.

"The light of day shows every man to be fool." It never had occurred to me that this commonplace would have applied to my own endeavours. Like so many, I mistook the chaos that followed The Regime's collapse as the fitful beginnings of a less benighted period. Although I could plainly see how Kay's scholarship-whatever my problems with it-had been used by those who truly relished wielding power, I did not imagine for a moment that my own work as well could be put to a brutal use I would never have countenanced. The fruit of what I had thought to be a simple criticism of a too ambitious and too popular Sarantine historian was not only the bitterness between us-which only now, two decades later, has been bleached away in Jad's brilliant light-but also, in a matter of weeks, Kay's imprisonment. I can only hang my head and say that I was a fool. We were pawns, both of us, and had we truly learned our lessons from the period we purported to study, we might have avoided being so sorely used.

What will not be visible in my essay, wallowing as it does in self-righteousness, is what I most admired on first reading "The Sarantine Mosaic". Caius Crispus the mosaicist is made Kay's protagonist, and since he is the prism through which the tale is refracted, we as readers of course identify with him. As he enters the great city at the order of Valerius we expect him to rise through the ranks of the court, to disentangle the labyrinthine Sarantine intrigues, to stun the world with his art. Yet none of this occurs. Crispus is shown to be completely out of his league, a night-creature blinking dazed in the light of day, a pawn in a game whose dimensions he cannot imagine. If I had been guided by what I admired in the book rather than by what I dismissed I could now claim some portion of a genuine intelligence.

All this is now subject to what a certain scholar of Rhodias has called "the impertinence of hindsight." So be it. I have allowed the essay to be reprinted below without changes. If it places my own thought in an unflattering light, then that perhaps is just. In the end, Kay and I are both simply historians: our creed must be that the mosaic of persons and events which we call "history" should be given to Jad's light for all to see. "All must be Illumined", as we say.

. . . .

Scholars and amateurs of Sarantine culture and history were well used to toiling in shadow until the last few years-when the surprising popularity of Guy Gavriel Kay's "Sarantine Mosaic" suddenly made our formerly quaint field an object of fascination to so many. Indeed, things have changed so much that one commentator was recently moved to complain that Sarantium is now "merely the fad that supplanted scholarship." Personally, I welcome the attention paid to a field of study which is, as I have argued elsewhere (see my "…Hermeneutic…" in The Journal of the Batiaran Society), crucial to any attempt to understand the world in which we live today: a world in which a darker tide of Ludan superstition still collides with the lucidity of Jadian thought. It might seem churlish then to criticize Kay's rendering of Sarantine culture, yet there is so much of the inaccurate to his chronicle that in the final analysis, one must say that his is the work of a novelist, not a historian.

For a specialist in Sarantine mosaics such as myself, it was a more than momentary pleasure to see a mosaicist, Caius Crispus (or "Crispin" as he is also called), accorded a central role in Kay's narrative of the period. As a teacher myself, I am well aware of the advantages to choosing one figure and displaying the history of period from that perspective. But the fact still remains that Crispus was a minor figure outside the domain of his art, and, Kay's conjectures not withstanding, may not in fact have been the artist who made the well-known journey to Sarantium. There is little dispute, for example, over the authenticity of the Baiana Manuscript, which details several hundred orders sent by Valerius II to Batiara by the Imperial Post, including the order summoning Martinian to Sarantium to work on the New Sanctuary of Jad. Kay's own earlier paper admits that "the confusion around whether Martinian himself, or Crispus, or even an assistant from Martinian's workshop, made the journey to Sarantium may never be resolved, given the conflicting eye-witness accounts of both the mosaicist and his work in the Imperial City." (Kay, Sarantine Letters) In fact, the only mosaic we can confidently assign to Crispus is that in the small shrine at Platonia outside Baiana, which has a graffito underneath which reads "Martinian with his workmen Crispus and Pardos", suggesting either that the mosaic was made at a time when Crispus was still a mere assistant, or that he remained so all his life.

It is in the nature of popular histories that they must have forceful narratives in order to succeed in finding a public. And unless the public can be rhetorically bound to a history, then our history may as well not have existed at all. So I don't dispute Kay's right-and even the necessity-to resolve certain historical ambiguities for a popular audience. But I am at a loss to understand why he would place at the centre of his narrative a figure whom his own researches have shown might not even have journeyed to Sarantium at all. For a Jaddite scholar, there is an undeniable beauty to the idea of writing a history centred on the figure of a mosaicist. And this shines all the more brilliantly as it reflects off Kay's long-standing interest in Early Jaddite rites-and especially their deployment of what he has called "vision-in-darkness" as an analogy to Jaddite priests dispelling pagan superstition. (Kay, Journal of the Batiaran Society.) Nonetheless, Kay has gone so far in, for example, deciding the issue of Martinian or Crispin at Sarantium, that it might have been more honest simply to have written a historical fiction, in which it was made clear from the start that the author was utilizing actual historical figures in order to speculate about what might have been. My greatest fear is that, as a result of its being so widely taken up by the public-which he obviously could not have foreseen-his narrative will be taken as historical fact. If it does, then for the public at least, his narrative will have darkened history, rather than illumined it.

But I believe that I can shine some light on why Kay would have so arbitrarily resolved the question of the identity of the New Sanctuary Mosaicist, as he has come to be known among scholars. I have already pointed out that deciding the issue allows the construction of a more compelling narrative than we might have had, given the ambiguities and incompleteness of the records left us. But a careful reading of Kay's narrative is illuminating. In his first volume, much is made of the fact that the makers of the mosaics in the ancient chapel in Sauradia were unknown even in Martinian's period, even to Kay's "Crispin". Kay refers to "the world's sorrow...distilled by nameless artisans." He writes too of "the unknown mosaicists of long ago...reporting on this dome to their brethren", and later that "one shame is that we don't know their name, to honour them".

We can see then a deep concern with the

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Bright Weavings: The Worlds of Guy Gavriel Kay