0

Behind this group eight sturdy fellows bear the royal litter, rough with yellow sapphires, in which no king has ridden for centuries, a ceremonial relic of the Very-Long-Ago. By the litter walk eight guards armed with "foray guns," also relics of a more barbaric past but not empty ones, being loaded with pellets of soft iron. Death walks behind the king. Behind death come the students of the Artisan Schools, the Colleges, the Trades, and the King's Hearths, long lines of children and young people in white and red and gold and green; and finally a number of soft-running, slow, dark cars end the parade.

-from The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

What does "king's hearths" mean here?

6
  • 3
    This is a guess since I haven't read the novel. Perhaps "hearth" in the sense of a blacksmith's forge (now obsolete) - since it mentions trades and artisans, or perhaps the King's household - i.e. his retinue/staff. I can't be entirely sure but it's clearly figurative, and not literal fireplaces.
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 30, 2022 at 11:24
  • 3
    It's Ursula, not 'Orsola'. Oct 30, 2022 at 12:00
  • 1
    Herodotus (484 BC – c. 425 BC) said that the most solemn Skythian oaths are sworn by the 'king's hearths'. The Skythians (or Scythians) were warlike Siberian nomads. Oct 30, 2022 at 12:03
  • 2
    I have not read that novel for a long time and do not remember it at all well. But in fantasy and science fiction, sometimes phrases that sound sensible but have no obvious meaning are used merely to suggest a different reality , and sometimes such phrases have a meaning that is developed gradually and implicitly within the story. What can be deduced from just this quote is that the King’s Hearths are institutions that require trained personnel and are supported by specialized schools. Oct 30, 2022 at 12:18
  • 3
    A royal hearth (an actual fireplace in a royal residence) was a semi-sacred or formally sacrosanct place in antiquity. Ms Le Guin, like many fantasy writers, borrowed lots of ideas from ancient history. Oct 30, 2022 at 12:51

2 Answers 2

1

As Ursula Le Guin was an American author, the first definitions to consider would be those from US English.

Collins notes that, in American English, 'hearth' can mean family life; home. As your text is speaking about a funeral procession, it clearly cannot refer to the literal homes. It evidently refers to the family that makes up those homes. The extended family of royalty are referred to collectively as the royal house.

2
0

The sentence says that 'Behind death come the students of the Artisan Schools, the Colleges, the Trades, and the King's Hearths, long lines of children and young people'. The last mentioned type of student is those of the 'King's Hearths' which is very probably some kind of imagined royal educational institution.

A royal hearth (an actual fireplace in a royal residence) was a semi-sacred or formally sacrosanct place in Ancient Greek culture. Ms Le Guin, like many fantasy writers, borrowed lots of ideas from ancient history.

All of these features – [practical, social, and religious] – became intertwined with politics in the context of the Mycenaean palatial hearths. In the center of the main room of the Mycenaean megaron (great hall) stood the monumental circular hearth, above which was an open space to connect the fire with the heavens and nearby which was a throne that connected the king (wanax) to the fire. As a consequence of these spatial arrangements, the political authority was linked to all aspects of communal life. In two important essays, James Wright demonstrates how closely involved the Mycenaean kings, as political heads and as the guardians of the hearth as a cultic institution, were in all of the activities of the community. Indeed, arguing against a view that divorces the political from the religious aspects of the hearth, Wright characterizes Mycenaean religion as a “hearth-wanax ideology.”19

20 Harrell and Fox, 2008, p. 35. 12Katherine Harrell and Rachel Fox go further by showing how the politics of the hearth had consequences beyond domestic affairs. Shared meals around the fire were instrumental in cultivating political and military alliances between the king and his guests, whether they be subordinates within his realm or foreign entities. Pointing to the power dynamics inherent in entertaining a guest with a meal – “the palace explicitly made use of the unequal nature of large-scale feasting to exact specific remuneration from their guests in the form of service” – Harrell and Fox emphasize that the hearth allowed Mycenaean rulers to create ties of dependency.20 This is a situation that mirrors the asymmetrical encounter between a host and a suppliant, the subject of the rest of this essay. Having surveyed the historical evolution of the hearth’s multivocality until it became a place that served practical, socio-communal, religious, and political purposes, one can better appreciate its role as a place of refuge. How was it, therefore, that the Greeks came to see the hearth functioning in this latter mode? [...]

The Hearth as a Place of Refuge in Ancient Greece (Nicholas Cross)

2
  • So you think there was a parade of stone fireplaces behind the King's cortege?
    – Astralbee
    Oct 31, 2022 at 8:15
  • @Astralbee - er, I wrote 'The last mentioned type of student is those of the 'King's Hearths' which is very probably some kind of imagined royal educational institution.' Oct 31, 2022 at 8:16

You must log in to answer this question.