How to tell if you're Skourene
This is a culture test for ancient Skouras, one of the civilizations of Almea. Because of the great variation within this area, which was never unified under one government, I've focussed on residents of the cities of the Šinour delta-- the oldest and largest Skourene cities, Iṭili, Engidori, and Imuṭeli. (Even this city-oriented culture was only about 15% urbanized; but trying to include the hinterlanders would make the test less interesting.)
The test holds for the late classical era-- about Z.E. 550 to 850. By contrast, the Verdurian culture test is present-day-- Z.E. 3480.
If you're Skourene...
- You think the gods are important-- everyone should have one. But you can't imagine telling someone outside your bsepa (your extended family) who to worship. In some foreign countries the rulers tell you who your gods are. Crazy!
- You're reverent to all gods-- who needs supernatural enemies?-- but you reserve your sacrifices and requests for the two gods of your bsepa, one male and one female.
- You can ask the gods for things because that's their job: they're helpers and guardians. Things can become gods-- some gods even used to be human beings-- and they can cease to be gods. The world, including its gods and people, was originally created by Ksaragetor (who is responsible for all good things) and Gamagetor (who was not so good at his job and created all the messed-up things); but no one worships them or knows much about them.
- You can read-- how would you do business without it? You enjoy reading stories, the convoluted history of the Skourene states, sermons, poems, satires, philosophy, treatises about your trade, and much else.
- Games are simply training for war: running, swimming, archery, rowing, wrestling, spear-throwing, swordfighting. If you're male, you like to participate in these and watch exhibitions by masters-- or even better, fights with captured prisoners. If you're female, you grew up playing at these things too, and can pursue the first three as an adult, if you care to.
Would you eat that? I'll have a slice
- We're here to work; if you get tired of doing one thing, do another; if your feet hurt, do the accounting; if you're sick of the city, take to the sea. This isn't to say you can't enjoy yourself with food and drink and amusements, but don't tell me you want to do that all day long.
- You like to eat a big meal in the evening, at home with your family; but you usually buy your lunch in the market, or take some business associates to an eatery (tnasali).
- There's very little that you wouldn't eat. If you travel to faraway places and see exotic animals, your mouth waters.
- You don't like to live far from the water, and you take a morning bath every day if possible-- if you're poor, right in the ocean or the river; if you're better off, in the heated city baths.
Do I get paid for taking this test?
- If you need a letter or package sent to someone in the city, there are messengers who will take it-- you just flag one down in the street. Barefoot, shaggy fellows, but reliable. There are services between cities, considerably more well-heeled.
- You have no objection to walking, but who has the time to walk all the way across town? There's carriages for that; or you take a skiff along the waterfront. To get to other cities, of course, you take a ship.
- You're proud to be part of a free people, which is ruled by its own bsepas, meeting in a Senate, and not by "kings", as the foreigners are.
- People can have lighter or darker skin, or hair that ranges from black to brown to straw color. It doesn't mean anything. You don't entirely trust someone from out of town, though.
- You think that most problems can be solved if they're thought about long enough-- and if you can be the first to think of it, there's probably money in it.
- Disputes that can't be solved any other way can be taken to the courts-- a scary prospect, as the judges are empowered to probe into every aspect of your life. The better way is to talk to the higher-ups in the bsepa, and they'll work it out for you. You'll owe them a favor; but that's better than the courts getting their hands on you.
People and other people
- Humans aren't the only people on Almea. There's the Ṭailuadnir, who live in the sea; you don't want one as an enemy, and you're not sure if you want one as your friend, either. Not that they'll harm you, no.
- Then there's the atingetoro-- little, fierce, friendly guys from the mountains, who come round to sell gems and minerals and metals they've dug up, and beautiful things they've made out of them. You've learned the hard way not to play drinking games with them.
- Then there's the geŋŋiaḷgirigi-- mischievous little devils who are an excellent reason not to go into the forest, where they live. Farms near the forest will leave out food for them, to appease them. There are other monsters up in the mountains or the steppe.
- You're not the sort of hick who only knows one language. You know your own city's language and that of a few other Skourene cities. Possibly Axunašin, Jeori, Mei, or Tžuro as well.
One of them said Almea is round, if you can believe it
- Each of the bsepas has a tax levied on it, which goes to pay for defense, the courts, roads, public entertainments, and the dole. You grumble over it, but you pay your share.
- You learned to read and write and calculate at home, and you learned morality and worship from the bsepa's priest. Some of the philosophers offer lectures; it's often worth paying a few coins to hear what they have to say. Sometimes you learn something; sometimes you just laugh at the crazy old greybeard's ravings.
- Years are reckoned by the groparam, the triennial Trucial Councils between the three delta cities. The three Senates meet together, and there's competitions and feasts and performances. Complicating the chronology, they're not held if the cities are at war with each other.
- You grow your own vegetables in a plot by your house, and perhaps raise chickens as well. Everything else you buy at the market.
- There used to be a proverb that 'Skourenes don't fight Skourenes'... would that it were still true. Some city will get too big for its breeches and need taking down.
- Your own city has come out on the wrong side of a war or two, and perhaps lost a good deal of its colonial empire. Skouras has never been conquered by foreigners, however, and it's hard to see that it ever could be.
Why you'd better get along with your mother-in-law
- Marriage, like any business of importance, is arranged between the bsepas. It takes time to get used to being married, but you end up loving the person almost as much as your own relatives.
- In the old days, a man joined his wife's bsepa. These days a firstborn son may bring his wife into his own bsepa instead-- at least, if his is richer.
- A man can only have one wife; but some men-- lucky bastards-- can support a mistress or two. In colonies, where the supply of women is low, a woman is sometimes married to two men.
- It's not really right for men to sleep with other men, outside of special circumstances like a long campaign or a trading expedition. But it's an impure world, and what happens behind closed doors is the least of our worries.
- You call a person by his name. Foreigners make this complicated by having multiple names and making you guess which one to use.
- Nudity is best indulged at home-- except when bathing, of course. Some women like to dress in the shameless Axunemi fashion, showing their breasts.
- There are houses (rubnakalir) that will rent a room to a stranger. It's better to stay with a friend or relative, though; through the bsepa you'll have some anywhere in your city's empire and sometimes elsewhere in Skouras.
- Whatever sort of business you have, gifts and meals will help it along. But it's going a little too far when people expect to have their vices satiated, or get rich at official posts.
Give me that old five-tone music
- The only money you entirely trust is gold, but it's more for saving than for buying things. For that, you use silver coins, or promissory notes from a bank.
- The simplest way to run a business is within your own family or bsepa--there's a tradition for it, trustworthy workers, and financial help. But you can have a family firm with nonfamily employees, or work for a large concern that has lost any family character (though in many ways it acts like a bsepa).
- If there's no wine available, you'll consent to swig down some of the westerners' foul rye beer.
- Music is decaphonic and polyrhythmic, based mostly on drums, horns, wooden flutes, and sitars. But there's an undeniable charm to country music, with its pentatonic scale, simple rhythms, and reliance on reed pipes and bagpipes.
- If you're sick, there are people who will do disagreeable things to you and charge you for it and leave you just as sick. Better to go to a hermitage for rest, steam and cold water baths, and massage.
- As a citizen, you have the right and obligation to serve in the army, when your city is attacked or when arrogant outside cities need to be punished. Only a crazy person actually likes it, but it's got to be done.
Barbarians and where to find them
- You may trade, you may farm or fish, you may make things-- it's all business. If you're not in charge, you think you should be.
- Proper streets are paved, and the major roads into the hinterland too.
- The people upriver-- from Miligenḍi and Papliopagimi and such places-- are not much better than rustics or barbarians; they only feel comfortable with despotic governments and too much religion.
- The colonists-- a term which you apply to anyone who lives south of the delta, even if their cities were founded half a milennium ago -- are rough around the edges and a little too excitable and full of themselves. The Guṭḷeliki are the worst--proud and vulgar.
- The Axunemi and Jeori are warlike, priest-ridden, and oppressed by their "kings" and "lords"-- a fat, idle class who are treated like gods.
- The only safe, civilized places in the world are Skourene cities. There are some places in them you wouldn't advise a stranger to go alone, of course. Rural areas are unsafe and depressing. Forests, mountains, and deserts are nasty, dangerous places. If you can't smell the sea, it's no place for you.
“Can I take this road to the city?” “Reckon not. They already got one”
- The ideal girl is a little pale, a little thin, a little naive, and a little fiery. She soon loses the first three qualities but makes up for it in the last.
- The best jokes are told about the guşourianda-- the people of the hinterland. Most are dimwits, but there are also stories of clever guşourianda teaching a lesson to a foolish city slicker.
- Everyone knows that Skouras is the richest land under the sun. Why are things so expensive, then?
- The most important thing to know about someone is what bsepa they belong to.
- If you run a firm, you choose who will run it after you; it doesn't have to be one of your children, but if it's not you'll adopt them. They'll get the bulk of your personal wealth as well. Land belongs to the families and so it doesn't change hands when someone dies.
Mess with me and I'll call Grand-Uncle
- The biggest holiday of the year is the celebration of the harvest (Raḍḍoug); the most important is the blessing of the spring planting (Raḍḍinoum). At those times, and no others, you feel great solidarity with your rural brethren and your farmer ancestors.
- You can name most of the bsepas in the delta cities and their relation to your own, and you're pretty well informed about the other major cities, too.
- If you run into trouble you would turn first to your bsepa. If they can't help or you have no family, you have to rely on the dole. The city will give you food and a place to sleep, but you have to wear special clothes and do menial work, like street-cleaning. You hope you never have to use it, or if you do, that it won't be long.
- There are some professions, such as medicine, magic, architecture, and the martial arts, that you can only learn by apprenticing yourself to a master. Others, like writing or the law, are just talents which some people can do and others can't.
Space and time
- It's very rude to make an appointment and not keep it. On the other hand, you don't expect to see someone all by yourself-- you join the people hanging around with him, and the amount of attention you get is finely calibrated to your relative importance.
- If you're talking to someone, you're uncomfortable if you're not close enough to make a point by grabbing their arm or tapping their chest.
- You don't haggle for cheap things, but if it's expensive, you make a production out of it.
- You can show up at a friend or relative's place uninvited. If they're really busy, though, you'll only get a glass of wine and some honey cakes, not a meal.
- It's extremely impolite to refuse someone outright; also to boast about your own abilities or wealth. On the other hand, there's no need to hide your feelings just because of someone's rank.
© 2005 by Mark Rosenfelder