Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 202

Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete by author Gene Wolfe centers on the adventures of Latro through Ancient Greece. The protagonist is an unlikely hero because he suffers from retrograde and anterograde amnesia. Perhaps one of the reasons why Wolfe decided to create a forgetful protagonist was to emphasize the vulnerabilities of humans.

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Our identities, personalities and internal narrative of our life's history are dependent on our ability to remember. In fact, babies learn through memorization, which in turn lead to the development of speech and writing, and knowledge in general.

Latro writes the events he has experienced, along with the various gods and demigods he has encountered, onto a scroll every day. This is Wolfe's ode to the art of writing. The written word allows us to document important events in our lives, whether we have amnesia or not.

Likewise, Latro's ability to communicate with the gods shows how he was given a gift despite being cursed with amnesia. His amnesia combined with his special powers illustrates that our personalities are formed by our experiences. Since he cannot remember his past or create new memories, Latro is the embodiment of the Buddhist teaching of being in the present moment.

The Plot

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 974

In Soldier of the Mist, a wounded soldier acquires a curious disability: When he sleeps, he forgets everything. The book is the diary he keeps to remind himself of his past. He also has an unusual ability, which appears to be connected to his disability: He sees ghosts and gods. He seeks his past, name, and native land. He calls himself Latro, which means “mercenary,” and fought for Darius the Great of Persia. He was wounded in the battle of Marathon, in which Darius was defeated by Athens and Sparta.

Latro is taken to a temple of Apollo, where Apollo visits him. Apollo cannot cure Latro but tells him that he must go to a shrine of the Earth Mother. She took his memory in punishment for some offense, which Latro has forgotten, and he must beg forgiveness. Only when Latro has been forgiven can he be cured.

Latro discovers that if he touches a god, people can then see the god. He is captured, along with four others, by slaves of Sparta. Captured with him are a slave girl, Io; a black mercenary whose name Latro learns much later is Seven Lions; a young Greek woman; and Pindaros, a wealthy Greek man. When the slaves discover Latro’s remarkable relationship to the spirit world, one of them asks Latro to help them seek aid from Gaea in a planned uprising. Latro believes that it would be unsafe to refuse. The prisoners, however, are later taken by Athenians led by the merchant Hypereides. Latro is bought by the madam of an Athenian whorehouse to serve as a bouncer.

Eventually, Latro visits a shrine of the Great Mother. There he meets her daughter, the Triple Goddess, and is granted one of the three things he desires: memory, friends, or home. He chooses friends, because, he says, they will tell him of his home.

The Spartans find Latro and take him to their city, where he meets Prince Pausanias, uncle of one of Sparta’s kings. The prince is interested in one of Latro’s companions, Eurykles, a spy for the Great King, because Pausanias hopes to gain power by making a deal with Darius. The spy, however, is also a servant of the Triple Goddess. It turns out that the Earth Mother and her daughter, the Triple Goddess (Moon Goddess, Huntress, and Dark Mother), are fighting, and both hope to use the hero Latro as a pawn. Pausanias also is interested in Latro. Because Latro and the gods can see one another, Pausanias hopes he can use Latro to secure an introduction and subsequent favors. Pausanias sends Latro with one hundred Spartans, led by Pasicrates, to the Athenian siege of Sestos. Latro fights with Pasicrates and cuts off his hand, then enters the city. There, Latro learns his true name, Lucius, and the promise of the Triple Goddess is ironically fulfilled: Latro meets one of his countrymen as the latter lies dying.

Soldier of Arete begins a few days later. Latro, Seven Lions, and Io are reunited with Hypereides. Hypereides decides to capture Oeobazus, the builder of Darius’ fabulous bridge of boats, in order to show off the man and his giant rope cables in Athens. On the way, the Triple Goddess appears as the Huntress, once again enlisting Latro in her struggle with the Earth Mother. Because Latro forgets, she also commands Hegesistratus, a seer now traveling with Hypereides’ party, to help Latro.

En route through Apsinthia, in Thrace, they are attacked by Apsinthians but are aided by a party of Amazons, who join them because they are going in the same direction. Later, other Apsinthians capture Latro and his companions and plan to kill them. Meanwhile, the travelers learn that their quarry is in a nearby temple. Latro and his companions hole up in a cave. Latro sneaks out to steal Oeobazus from the temple, but he meets the Earth Mother. She tells him to steal the Horses of the Sun, which the Amazons have come to take for Ares, who is helping the Mother in her struggle with the Triple Goddess. The Earth Mother tells Latro that this theft will enable him to acquire Oeobazus.

Latro steals the horses, and he and his companions attempt to trade some of the horses for Oeobazus, but the king does not keep faith. In battles that follow, several of Latro’s companions are killed. Eventually they escape from Thrace and return to Greece. There, the Athenians tell Latro that he can regain his freedom by going to Sparta, where Prince Pausanias will formally free him, having previously claimed him as a slave.

After attending the theater, Latro and Seven Lions go drinking. Latro staggers out of the wineshop and into Hades, from which he rescues Sisyphus. He is himself rescued by Seven Lions. They travel to Sparta, encountering many adventures along the way. In Sparta, a big ceremony is planned in which Latro and many others will be made honorary citizens of Sparta. At the feast, however, many of those who were to be honored are slain, apparently at the behest of the Huntress, who is one of the principal goddesses of Sparta.

Here there is a gap in the narrative, which takes up again at Delphi, shortly before the Games. Latro, who for reasons unknown to himself has been very depressed, discovers that his problem is caused by Pasicrates’ ghostly hand around his heart. Later, in a dream, Latro meets Pasicrates and others, who convince Pasicrates to remove his hand from Latro’s heart. When he awakes, Latro feels much better and goes on to do well in the Games. He also meets some Phoenician acquaintances; they are prisoners on their ship in the harbor. He contrives to get weapons to them and help free them. In return, they promise to take him home.

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