A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 6-7

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New Characters
Emily: the wife of Leibowitz

Brother Horner: master of the abbey’s copyroom

Brother Sarl: a worker in the abbey’s copyroom

Brother Jeris: an apprentice in the abbey’s copyroom

The readers learn that the abbey continues to bustle with rumors about the pilgrim and the discovered shelter, which has been ordered closed by Arkos. They also learn that Emily Leibowitz, the wife of Leibowitz, disappeared at the start of the “Flame Deluge.” This Deluge was caused by world leaders who were confident that if they deployed their nuclear weapons skillfully enough, they could conquer the world. The result was nuclear holocaust and a radioactive world. Gradually, after most of the earth’s people had died, the survivors decided to kill the professional classes, such as scientists, teachers, and politicians, to punish them for helping create the nuclear holocaust and to keep such a holocaust from happening again. The survivors called themselves Simpletons.

Meanwhile, the professionals who survived the Simpletons’ attacks fled to sanctuaries such as those offered by the Church. Isaac Edward Leibowitz hid with the Cistercian order of the Church, then tried to find his wife Emily’s grave, or herself, in the southwest, became convinced there that she was dead, and joined the Cistercians. He later became a priest and successfully petitioned New Rome, which replaced the old Italian Rome, to found a new religious order intended to protect documents from the ravages of the Simpletons. This order, which wore the same burlap rags as the Simpletons, protected the documents by either “booklegging” books to the southwestern desert and burying the books there or by memorizing religious, literary, scientific, and historical books. The order built a monastery near the cache of books in the desert, but Leibowitz was killed by a mob of Simpletons while trying to bookleg some books.

The effort to memorize books failed, and many of the books buried in the desert were destroyed, but after six centuries, the order is still at work preserving, copying, and studying the books that survived. They carry with them a book as part of their outfit. The scene shifts to Francis, who, a year after being denied the chance to take his vows, returns to Arkos for questioning. When he says only that he thinks the pilgrim was just an old man, without being positive that the pilgrim was just an old man, Arkos tells him he will not be able to take his vows this year, either.

Francis remains a novitiate for seven years, studying, doing desert Lenten fasts, and serving as a menial worker at the abbey. However, “a messenger from a seminary in New Rome” arrives at the abbey one day and tells Francis the documents from the box may be authentic. The messenger adds that the documents are in New Rome, and that Leibowitz, who the abbey already considers a saint, may be canonized. The messenger, who is a Dominican, adds that the canonization court may come to the shelter soon to investigate the canonization case. The messenger soon departs, and Arkos brings in Francis yet again. This time, Francis is permitted to take his vows. Two weeks later, he does take the vows, and becomes an apprentice copyist to a monk called Horner. Horner advises Francis that the abbey copyists are allowed to spend some spare time working on their own projects. For example, Brother Sarl tries to restore fragments of Memorabilia texts in his spare time. Francis suggests that he could copy the blueprint he found in the box, and Horner approves of this idea.

So, Francis sets off making his copy...

(This entire section contains 1091 words.)

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of the blueprint, which used white print on a dark background. This confuses Francis, but he duplicates the blueprint nonetheless. One day, Jeris, another apprentice copyist, teases Francis about the meaning of the blueprint.

Francis says the blueprint of a circuit design relates to electronics, which he believes is the study of electrons. Jeris goes on teasing Francis about the blueprint, but Francis keeps studying it as he copies it. Eventually, he comes across a fragment of an encyclopedia that describes how the blueprint he has been copying is actually a copy of the original blueprint itself, made using white print on black paper as part of the copying process. Francis realizes that he can make a more elaborate copy of the blueprint using black print on a plain surface, and he begins sketching out a so-called illuminated copy using this method, using lambskin as the writing surface. When Arkos sees that Francis is making sketches for making his copy, Francis faints.

The story of the Deluge and the following Simplification serve as comments on the fundamental nature of mankind. World leaders caused the Deluge because of their arrogance and belief that they could control world events. This arrogance, which parallels Adam and Eve’s original sin of selfishly seeking knowledge and the arrogance that led to the creation of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament, created catastrophe and nearly destroyed humanity. In the wake of such catastrophe, mankind, rather than seeking better ways to use its knowledge, decided to revert to barbarism. This choice only compounded the disaster the Deluge had created by depriving humanity of the chance to recover from the Deluge. So the abbey, by choosing and carrying out the mission of preserving at least some of mankind’s texts, is preserving culture in the face of mankind’s active desire for ignorance. Its heroism and sacrifices in the effort to preserve knowledge are contrasted with the marauding mobs who used brute, overwhelming force to kill professionals. The mobs are responsible for Francis’s ignorance about electronics and circuit designs.

In making his illuminated copy of the Leibowitz blueprint, Francis uses lambskin because there is no paper available. Instead, as was done in Europe during medieval times, the abbey uses the skins of animals to inscribe its copies of texts in the copyroom. During that time in Europe, illuminated manuscripts were produced that used calligraphy, illustrations, and gold to produce expensive and highly prized copies of manuscripts. Francis is making a similar illuminated copy of the blueprint. However, he did not initially realize that the blueprint was actually a carbon copy of the original blueprint. Before personal computers and Xerox machines were developed, carbon copies were made using dark paper behind an original document, similar to the way checkbooks have both checks and thin slips of paper behind the checks that record the pen marks made on the check itself.


Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 4-5


Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 8-9