Reading and writing

From: Peter Larsen <>
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2000 13:46:08 -0500

Jeff Richard says:

>I disagree with Peter and John. I don't think that Esrolia is where the
>Heortlings borrowed their literary expertise, however, I don't think that
>the Esrolians are particularly illiterate.

        Well, it's important to remember that pretty much everyone in Glorantha is basically illiterate. The primary communication is done through symbols -- Orlanth has various attributes so when a Heortling looks at a Dragon Pass carving of his god he knows which aspect is being honored. The runes (Godlearnerish or not) serve a similar purpose. They are identifiers, not really an alphabet. I suspect that the above Heortling moving to Ralios would have a fair chance of recognizing the symbols of Orlanth there (although there would be differences, especially in depictions of the aspects).

        Anyway, for the average Heortling, this is as far as their reading ability goes (and, as the rich symbolism of the Medieval European Christian saints shows, it can be very rich indeed). This includes chiefs, champions, lawspeakers, priests, and merchants, although, as classes, they are more likely to be literate.
The rise of urbanized life in Dragon Pass has concentrated and developed literacy in the cities, but it is rare outside the urban centers.

        I don't think Lhankor Mhy is particularly the god of letters. He is a god of sacred runes, yes, but I think his secrets are more memory skills than writing. I have become "unfond" of the Gray Sage image of the Mhy worshippers -- stuffy pedantry seems so unlike the Orlanthi. To some degree, we're stuck with them, but I think they are a product of the Holy Country (perhaps Western ideas of scholarship introduced by the Pharaoh), not a native Heortling development. The "native" Mhy tradition (I think) revolves around inspiration and memory, not writing (the Gray Sages seem to have abandoned the first and substituted writing for the second). Now that doesn't invalidate your comments on Lhankor Mhy (although I have a different emphasis). I agree, the Vingkotlings probably did have a sacred writing, but it was symbols like I describe above, with virtually no application to daily communication. You make this point later, but I think the sacred writing was of even less daily use than you do.

>This system worked fine for the early First Age Orlanthi. Social
>organization was small and still principally clan based. The Orlanthi
>probably borrowed some concepts from their nonhuman allies. However, as
>population grew, trade increased and social organization became more
>stratified and complex, something more became needed. An accounting system
>(presumably from the Mostali) was introduced. The ideographic system gave
>way to a syllabic system of writing (probably based on the sounds of the
>early runes). An entire priesthood, the cult of Lhankhor Mhy, got to
>largely monopolize this writing system (this is probably the introduction of
>the Lhankhor Mhy sages we all know so well).

        I disagree pretty sharply with this. Well, the overview of Orlanthi development is fine, but I doubt that much writing technology came out of nonhumans. In fact, I'd be willing to entertain the idea that the Elder Races as a group are not literate at all (I've given my Mostali views earlier). I imagine that human development since the Dawn has gone as fast as it has because of superior human social invention, including literacy, accounting, what science there is, creative heroquesting, etc. The Elder Races are mythically stalled for the most part. First Age Orlanthi, furthermore, didn't have much need for literacy. Those that joined the 1st Council would have adopted Dorastorian writing (based perhaps on Pelorian systems, I'm unsure). They, of course, got whacked by the Orlanthi who didn't buy into the Bright Empire, and I expect that "foreign" ideas like Pelorian (or whatever) writing were shunned.

>However, I suspect that a syllabic or even
>alphabetic script is used in urban Sartar - one presumably based on whatever
>the Malkionized Heortlings of the Hendriki cities use. This script is
>presumably what the HW book calls "Write Heortling".

        Yes, I've thought of this too, except I like to think that Sartar had some written language to work with -- so a Malkioni script is out. I'm leaning toward the script of the EWF. My current theory is that the EWF used a draconic script similar to Kralorian (both descended from the written form of Auld Wurmish, assuming there is such a thing). To get a script that could be used by the Heortlings, the EWF scholars simplified characters to create a syllabary. I imagine that this worked like Japanese -- a sentence would be a mix of characters (kanji) for concepts and syllabic "letters" (kana) for case, tense, etc. Eventually, the syllabic script was accepted as a valid way to write Heortling and retained even after the purge of the EWF, the script having been stripped on its draconic associations by the nearby Orlanthi communities (mostly in what's now the Holy Country). Reading an EWF would be a maddening excercise for a modern Sartarite -- fragments of identifiable sentences where nearly every important noun is an unrecognizable character. I think there's also room for a now-expunged "Dragon Lawspeaker" cult (Dragon Mhy? Lhankor Wyrm? Dragonspeaker?) that matched the Orlanth Dragonfriend (another source of Grey Sage scholasticism).

>In South Peloria, I think that scripts based ultimately on the Dorastan
>script (although with EWF, Dara Happan, and Carmanian influences) is used in
>the cities and amongst traders. I'm sure that there are many local variants
>of this script. In addition, various cultures probably have their own
>indigenous sacred scripts.

        I mostly agree with this, although I think the Dorastan script came from Peloria and not the other way around.
>Finally, I think New Pelorian, as we now know it, might be developed out of
>a Syllilan script with heavy Dara Happan and Carmanian influences. Maybe it
>is even a deliberate attempt to recreate the magic of the Dorastan script.
>From Nysalor to the Red Goddess, how very cyclical.... (Although it is also
>entirely possible that New Pelorian is of Carmanian or Rinliddian origin).

        Maybe, assuming there is an indigenous Syllian script. I favor New Pelorian being a true alphabet if only to make it match Latin better. Of course, there is no reason why a Carmanian St. Cyril couldn't have created a scrip to better introduce Carmanian ideas to parts of Peloria (assuming Carmanians care about such things). On the other hand, for real cyclism, ressurecting the ancient script of the city Sedenya ruled before she was dragged down (sorry GRoY is at home and I'm not) would be a possibility. Still, I like the letters, so I'm saying Carmanian influence.
>As to the Esrolians, I think that they too would have a multiplicity of
>scripts. I think that their sacred script (can we call it "Earthspeech") is
>more complicated than the Orlanthi runic system, although it is ultimately
>derived from it. This sacred script may actually rise to the level of
>useful written language and may be a combination ideographic and syllabic
>script. Literacy may not be very widespread in rural Esrolia. However, in
>Nochet and the other coastal cities, a simpler alphabetic system derived
>from Second Age Jrusteli is probably widely used.

        I don't know enough about the Esrolians to be really sure. I imagine them to be a cross between ancient Egypt and Crete (the latter is obvious, the former is because I think Egypt isn't well represented in Glorantha). Rather than many scripts, I see an evolution of writing from a very primative "earth runic" system to something complicated and hieroglypic as writing surfaces moved from clay and stone to papyrus. I think it would be more likely that Esrolian writing influenced the Orlanthi rather than the other way around (essentially for the reasons above). However, you are right (I think) that whatever systems were in place in the First and Second Ages have been largely supplanted by a Western model in the third. The "earthscript" is probably only ceremonial now, the Western script (or a product of another St. Cyril) being easier to learn and more convenient to use for day to day purposes.

        Again, however, the vast majority of Gloranthans are utterly illiterate. Of the small remainder, most can't read very well by today's standards. I imagine that only the far west, the far east and urbanized Peloria (and not all the urban centers there -- Alkoth can't be a hotbed of literacy) is there a substantial literate population. That's what scribes are for, after all. And lawspeakers. And bards. And why "adventurers" (including the more communally-integrated HW characters) can get free meals by simply telling people about places they've gone and things they've seen. And, why (and this is a problem that I have trouble with, but I'm getting better) myths change so much -- there is not a written record in Glorantha that is widely available. Why is Yelm the enemy? Well dad and mom both said so, so did the priest when he taught us how to pray, and the chief certainly thinks so... That's good enough for me.

Peter Larsen

End of The Glorantha Digest V8 #75

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