The Wingless Wonder (ainulindale) wrote in dragon_age,
The Wingless Wonder

The Ariqun's Guide to Understanding Qunari (Basra Edition)

I know the feeling.  You've been wanting to write something that deals with the Qunari.  You don't know where to begin.  Either it's because you killed the Arishok and made him permanently off-limits, or you've found that the wiki is inconveniently vague on all the wrong subjects.  That is, it's vague until you get to the very bottom where in "Trivia" it states: "The structure of Qunari society is identical to that of the ideal community outlined in Plato's Republic..." which so graciously links you to that wiki entry.  It still doesn't tell you enough.  What's a fanfic writer supposed to do?  You actually want to try to get this right to keep the purists off your back, but there's no denying that plot bunny sitting there in the back of your brain...leering at you...daring you against all odds to have the Arishok pin your Hawke up against the wall and give it to him/her like a man.  Or, at the very least, you want to set things in Par Vollen or Seheron and need to know what you're up against.

Plato's Republic is over 400 pages long in translation.  More than 400 pages of ancient philosophy that can be tricky to make sense of out of context--especially if you haven't read anything else by Plato.  If it hasn't already become evident on the comms, I'm a huge Qunari lover.  My head-canon is that Hawke reverts to the Qun and sails off to Par Vollen, and I'm running rampant with that idea in fanfiction.  I'm also a Classical History major where my focus was in mythology, especially Platonic myth, so when I found out the above factoid, I was all over this subject in a Peloponnesian minute.

The Qunari People: A General Synopsis

The first distinction to make is that "Qunari" is not at all synonymous with "horn-headed oxmen from the tropics."  If you're talking horns, you're talking Kossith--the race that was the first to adopt the Qun--and not the entire Qunari demographic.  Humans can be Qunari, as can elves and dwarves, mages, warriors, and rogues.  Absolutely ANYONE in Thedas has the potential to be Qunari should they adopt the creed.  Just like following any religion.  Saying that someone is Jewish or Christian doesn't actually tell you what race they are or what country they come from.

Plato sets up his ideal society with the Myth of the Children of Earth.  Effectively, he implies that, in order for this society to initially function, a necessary fiction must be told them (and they must believe it) that they all come from the same place: the earth.  They were born of the same mother and are, therefore, all brothers and sisters regardless of race, color, or bubble-gum flavor.  However, they are not all born equal.  Some are born for greatness and others not.  Some are born to be warriors and others husbandmen.  This he converts into what metal flows in their blood: gold for the leaders, silver for the auxiliaries, and bronze/iron for the craftsmen. 

Silver, gold, bronze...whaaaaat?
From what I've been able to observe through the Qunari present in the DA games released thus far is that Plato's concept of the metals in the blood is translated by the color of a Kossith's skin.  The Arishok has silver skin.  Sten's, I've noticed, varies from silver to a slight gold depending on the lighting.  Armaas from Awakening is definitely bronze.  Also along with the Arishok, every single Kossith warrior present in DA2 was silver--even the Tal-Vashoth.  Forget the devs cheating and just copy/pasting for a second.  This works perfectly into the grand scheme.  Those of silver in Republic were the auxiliaries, the warriors and guardians, and this design for the Kossith plays into that perfectly.  The Arishok, despite being a "leader" (one of the Triumvirate), does not need to have the golden skin otherwise expected.  I imagine, however, that it wouldn't be unheard of.  Armaas is a merchant, of the craftsmen class, and he's got the bronze skin to prove it.  I remember this confused me a bit when I first played Awakening, my brain in that, "What, are they just trying to make him NOT look like a Drow?" rut, but after reading Republic, it makes a lot more sense.

Gold skin would not be a rarity.  And it would not even necessarily mean that one born of such would eventually be in the Triumvirate.  There are other forms of leadership in Qunari society, the most prominent being the priesthood and the Tamassrans.  Priests are either male or female, and their purpose is fairly straightforward.  The Tamassrans, on the other hand, are only ever female and can have several purposes beneath that basket role.  The Tamassrans are teachers and administrators, they are the Chantry and local government of Qunari society, and they are just as responsible for the training of the Ben-Hassrath as the military would be.  Should any Qunari go astray and even hint at going Tal-Vashoth, they are sent to the Ben-Hassrath for re-education.  Read into that however you will.  I'm sure some are more lenient than others, just like Templars.

How Do They Heal if They Hate Magic?

They have physicians, naturally.  Plato makes no distinction that women are excluded from certain things (other than the military), but he always re-emphasizes that some people are naturally better at some things than others.  Women, particularly, are the best at being caretakers.  Going on this, I reached the conclusion that physicians must also be Tamassrans, but not necessarily exclusively.  As Qunari distrust magic so much, I sincerely doubt that any saarebas would be used as a healer.  It would be my expectation, then, that Qunari have a deep understanding of herbalism and potion-making as well as other related pursuits to compensate for this.  They also do not waste resources of any kind (from plants to people), so it would not be unheard of for lyrium to be used in any of their medicines.  I'm sure it makes for excellent adrenaline shots.


The Tamassrans have complete control over this aspect of Qunari life.  From the moment a child is born until he or she reaches the age of puberty (12-14 for kossith from what I've been able to gather), they are raised communally and constantly observed for what their purpose in society would be.  This is not always a fool-proof process, and it sometimes comes to pass that an assigned role may not be the best one.  Should a Qunari not fit where the Tamassrans first assign them, another purpose will be deduced and assigned.  However, the Qunari have been doing this for so long that, according to the wiki, it has become almost like dog breeding.  I joked once that I could imagine Tamassrans sitting around a table figuring out Punnett Squares.  I stick by this.

General education would have heavy emphasis on philosophy and martial skill.  Boys and girls are taught both, for even though women do not fight at the front as karasten, they must still be able to defend themselves and other Qunari if needed.  Plato has a huge passion for philosopher-kings, where every king is a philosopher and every philosopher is a king.  Every Qunari can recite the Qun by rote.  That is never in question.  They must also be able to understand the interpretations of the Qun as it has been passed to them by the Tamassrans and priesthood.  The Qun is not only their belief structure but their very laws as well, similar to how the Quran and Hadith are to Muslim society.  The very act of UNDERSTANDING is extremely important.  You can hear but not listen.  You can believe yet not understand.  Qunari must listen; they must believe; they must see; but, above all, they must understand, for if they don't understand their purpose, they cannot excel at it.  If they cannot excel at their purpose, they are as nothing, and it is those Qunari who most frequently defect and become Tal-Vashoth.

Occupation and Wealth

Plato's ideal society shuns wealth as a corrupting force that must be avoided at all costs.  Poverty as well.  For, if a potter did not make enough money, would his craft not suffer as he was discontent and malnourished?  If he made too much money, would his craft not suffer because he no longer needed to commit to it to remain comfortable?  This does not change that his purpose is to be a potter.  Ravaged with malcontent or slovenly with laziness, the society as a whole would lose one craftsman deemed necessary and everyone would suffer for it.  Therefore, no one should earn more or less than what they need to get by.  In fact, the first conversation with the Arishok illustrates how the Qunari view money/currency/wealth surprisingly clearly.

Also, pay attention to how the Arishok is dressed.  He has bigger horns, sure, but he's really not any more grand than any of his fellows.  He has the same pauldrons of his warriors and the blue leather skirt/chaps of saarebas.  The ear cuffs are a nice touch, but still nothing that screams Rich as Midas.

It is even referenced in Plato that the ideal society lives very simply, all of them residing in houses appropriate for "soldiers".  From this, I can only gather that he was emphasizing a distinctly Spartan existence.  Homes were simple.  Men, women, and children lived communally.  So far as the Qunari are concerned, however, I would guess these children to be of an apprenticable age and no longer under the direct sway of the Tamassrans.  No one claimed anything as "their own".  Ownership of a single thing beyond the tool most necessary to serve their purpose was forbidden.  It is in due part that said tool was equated to their soul, be it a warrior's sword, or a miner's pick-axe, or anyone's symbol of rank.  It also plays directly into that topic that frustrates so, so many of us....

Marriage and Childbirth

"Qunari have no 'family units': they do not marry, choose partners, or even know to whom they are related. A Qunari's 'family' consists of his or her coworkers."

I have not yet played Mark of the Assassin.  However, I have already heard that some of Tallis' dialogue challenges this statement.  She mentions Qunari families, and thanks to a chat I had with arysani, I will illustrate how this is not impossible in a moment.

"Qunari generally do not associate mating with love. They feel love. They have friends. They form emotional bonds with one another. However, they simply do not sleep with each other to express it."

Mary Kirby appears to be the one mostly in charge of designing Qunari for the DA series with Gaider, and there's one thread that pretty much the entire wiki entry came from.  I do like how Gaider mentions that there's the "ideal way" things are done and the "actual way" things are done, implying that the Qunari do a great deal of lying to outsiders (and potentially themselves) about how wonderful things are in their society.  Plato's Republic, particularly, OPENS the argument with a slew of necessary fictions that the entire existence of this society rides on and the understanding that THIS MUST BE SO or everything fails.

Anyway.  We have the information that Qunari do not marry and do not have families, yet they feel love.  They just don't have sex to prove it.  Soooo....  What does this mean for Qunari romances exactly?  How are children born if romantically-tied sex is forbidden?  That is, apparently, the burning question.  We can't only look at Republic for the answer.  And Gaider and Kirby don't tell us, either.  We have to go to another of Plato's works to find out exactly how HE defines love so that we can apply it to the Republic so that we can then apply it to the Qunari.  No, I'm not kidding.  This is where we toddle off to the Symposium.

The entire purpose of Plato's Symposium is to define love.  But not just the general idea--IDEAL love.  The dialogue bounces back and forth between the carnal and the pure, the love between a man and a woman and the love between a man and a boy.  And so forth.  The argument that carries over is the difference between Golden Aphrodite and Vulgar Aphrodite.  The former is the source of ideal love, the pure love that has come to be known as Platonic love.  The latter is the source of the carnal, the physical, the lustful emotions more commonly tied to erotic love.  For all intents and purposes, the two will be divided into their original Greek terms being: agape for the pure, Platonic love, and eros, for the erotic.

After readng the DAwiki over and over and over ad nauseam, I got the impression that the creators understood the just didn't get translated over to the wiki from the forums.  Either that, or they had only read Plato in translation where--it ALWAYS happens--no matter the Greek word used, it gets translated as "love".  Just that one simple word because English doesn't have twenty different words for "love" like Greek does.  The emotion the Qunari are forbidden, being the one quoted as "tyranny of the heart" (thank you, Felicia Day, for pulling that directly from Plato) is actually LUST.  They are forbidden from being wanton, from being liscentious, from chosing one partner and laying claim to them in a physical sense (marriage as we understand it).  They are NOT forbidden from feeling what agape means.  From Wikipedia:

Agape means "love" (unconditional love) in modern day Greek, such as in the term s'agapo (Σ'αγαπώ), which means "I love you". In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of "true love" rather than the attraction suggested by "eros". Agape is used in the biblical passage known as the "love chapter", 1 Corinthians 13, and is described there and throughout the New Testament as sacrificial love. Agape is also used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one's children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. Agape was specifically designed and created to express the love of God. Before agape love there was no other word to express such great love.

That.  Right there.  That is your ticket to writing Qunari pairings all you want.  Just remember that the romance would be one of an extremely emotional nature rather than a physical one.  Unless you're writing Tal-Vashoth.  Then, you can just sod it and go to town.

So, if you're not really allowed to fall in love and get married or associate sex with love...where do the babies come from?  From carefully calculated festivals according to Plato.  He probably determines that they turn into drunken orgies (what better way to not know who you knocked up or knocked you up?), but, for some reason, I have a really difficult time thinking the Qunari would quite do that.  Shoving the Symposium completely out of my brain for this one, I reread only what Republic had to say on the matter.  That the people of like spirit would be encouraged to spend as much time together as possible, that the State would watch and then, as such time warranted, arrange for a festival where all those of desirable traits would be brought together in one place and all those of undesireable traits brought together in another.  Those children born from the desireables would be kept and raised, and those of the undesireables would be "taken to a secret place"...and probably thrown off a cliff.  Again, think Sparta.  Nothing is actually mentioned about orgies or anything of that sort--merely that men and women are shared in a general sense--so people ducking off to get it on in private is probably not a far cry from the truth.  However, such matings are only valid if sanctioned by the State.  Being the Tamassrans in this case.  And I doubt they look too fondly on repeat behavior.

As soon as any babies are born, they are snatched away and raised all in one brood, so that it is impossible for the parents (no matter how high-ranking they might be) to recognize their own flesh and blood.  All children from this generation call those old enough to be their parents "mother" or "father", and the parents call all those children young enough "son" or "daughter".  Everyone else is "brother" or "sister".  The Tamassrans have records of EVERYTHING.  If there were some secret gossip column written by these ladies, I'm sure it was juicy as all get-out.

The thing I was getting at earlier, being that there *could* be family units in the Qunari is totally relative to how close to a CITY CENTER they are.  Primarily Par Vollen where the Triumvirate resides.  In Par Vollen, it can be deduced that the citizens would be expected to follow the Qun to the letter.  Out in the remoter colonies or rural areas, it's doubtful the resident Tamassrans would push for more than following the Qun in spirit should NECESSITY dictate.  A farmer could have a wife and his own children under one roof out of necessity.  The farm must operate.  It must produce, or they will all die.  There is little money, little wealth.  They make due with what they have.  However, the larger the settlement, the more likely they would be to be strict.  Compare: the Templars in Lothering with Knight-Commander Meredith in the city of Kirkwall.

Follow the Qun

And, really, that's all the most vital bits that I was able to sort out.  Everything else can be deduced through common sense or by looking at any society.  The most important thing to remember about Qunari society is that, like Plato's Republic, it is a pure system of Communism before Karl Marx ever got his hands on it.  And like such a system, Plato even argues with himself that it would eventually devolve as all societies devolve, from this ideal into a system of democracy then into oligarchy, etc.  This, I'm sure, is where the Qunari begin to really lie to outsiders, to keep this utopian worldview pure.  It's why they so dismiss the Tal-Vashoth as not being Qunari at all, as being nothing.  However, it should not be deduced that to live in such a controlling society would be unhappy, that Tal-Vashoth are dropping off right and left.  It is a society that has no room for aspiration, true, unless one wishes to eventually be worthy of becoming part of the Triumvirate.  But it has room to CHOOSE WITHIN ROLES as the Arishok mentioned.  This is more of a choice than even Hawke got out of it.  Bred for a certain purpose, the Qunari can either excel at that purpose or not.  By excelling, they can move up within that role, from apprentice to grandmaster, from simple soldier to Arishok.  And by doing what they are inherently good at, there is no reason that a Qunari should feel discontent within their assigned role.  They would, in fact, thrive.  And that's not a necessary fiction, either.  That's just as true in the real world as it was in Plato's ideal one.  Food for thought. ;)

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