I apologize that it’s been a couple weeks. I had some minor eye surgery, and I haven’t been up to doing the reading.
Tonight we continue the Small Gods bookclub, as Mike S recaps the fifth section of the book. Mike S recapped the first section here, James K recapped the second section here and Mike the third here and fourth here.. The complete list of sections can be found here. If you’re reading a different edition, post a comment giving its first and last pages, and I’ll add it to the spreadsheet. If you must comment on anything past what we’ve read so far (the first four sections), please rot13 it to avoid spoilers. If you’d like to volunteer to recap future sections, please say so.
That’s all the boilerplate stuff. Let’s get started.
From “Next day the ship rounded a headland” to “And your God is a rock — and we know about rock.”
The Omnians are still at sea, but the city of Ephebe has come into sight. It’s all marble, very white. Brutha tries to make small talk but it with Sergeant Simony, but for some reason Simony just glares at him. They land and are surrounded by Ephebia soldiers. While Brutha is still taken in by Omnian propaganda about their glorious victory, Om can see that they’ve come to negotiate a surrender. He’s also aware, unlike Brutha, that Ephebians aren’t two-legged demons and that their gods are as real as he is himself. One of them is the goddess of (in a very Discworldian phrase) “negotiable affection.” Brutha is scandalized. Vorbis merely stares straight ahead and refuses to acknowledge any of it.
They see the Ephebian version of Archimedes running down the street wet and naked, having just leapt from the bath inspired by a new idea for moving the world, Unfortunately, the shop he enters doesn’t stock sufficiently long levers. Ephebe (being Ancient Greece, more or less) is known for its philosophers, drawn to it by a climate which allows running about naked with no risk of pneumonia. Om is pleasantly cynical about them, while Vorbis considers them damned infidels. Om also mentions that while most of what philosophers come up with is nonsense, some of it more practical, like mirrors to burn enemy ships, submarines, and catapults. It’s why Ephebe is militarily invincible.
The Omnians are blindfolded and led through the labyrinth that leads into the palace. They’re all disoriented at the end, except of course for Brutha. Aristocrates, the Ephebian official they’re presented to, makes it very clear that their status is defeated enemy. Vorbis is not happy. Part of Brutha agrees with Vorbis, but there’s another part that’s starting to think independently, and it finds Ephebe fascinating. Om sees this part as Brutha starting on the path from believer to prophet.
The Ephebians have left the Omnains fruit and meat, but it’s a fast day, so Brutha won’t have any. Om tells him to cut the melon. Brutha refuses, until it dawns on him that he’s disobeying his god. It’s good melon. After they finish it, Om tells him to find a philosopher. Not hard in Epehebe, particularly if you’re Brutha, who can retrace his steps through the labyrinth without thinking twice.
They come across a pub where a group of philosophers are having a drunken brawl, hurling philosophy at each other (as well as the occasional al brick.) It’s all very Monty Python. Brutha, at Om’s urging, asks them about gods. They’re too advanced to believe in gods, except of course for the ones that send threatening signs the moment they express their disbelief. They disdain the god of avalanches (it must be safe with the snow hundreds of miles away), but when Brutha, whose hidden depths are rapidly rising to the surface, asks why it’s so cold, they accept his existence as well.
Om wants a drink, which again scandalized Brutha. The barkeep, who’s quite familiar with tortoises, mostly in the context of paradoxes of motion, suggests some bread and milk for him. Brutha asks the barkeep what he knows about gods, which turns out to be mostly that denying their existence leads to a bolt of lightning accompanied by “Oh yes we do”. It turns out that hiring philosophers is expensive, but the barkeep knows of one, Didactylos, who works dirt cheap. He hangs around the palace, so back they go. Along they way, Om complains once more about how gruesome the Quisition is. Though Brutha reflexively defends them, he’s beginning to have doubts.
Come morning, Vorbis is very angry, to the point of taking it out on loyal, harmless Brutha. Vorbis has been called to an audience with the Tyrant of Ephebe, and brings Brutha as his personal recording device. The Tyrant is soft-spoken, but quite blunt. Vorbis is a torturer, and has no business complaining about being disrespected, because were the shoe on the other foot, the Tyrant’s guts would be hanging outside his belly. And there’s no point discussing the peace treaty, because Vorbis’s only input will be his signature.
Om, meanwhile, has slipped away and is looking for the palace library…
Tune in next week for section 6 – from “Om stumped along a cobbled alley” to “The fundamental truth was that the handful of Ephebian guards in the palace had no chance at all.”