Friday, August 5, 2011

The Symbol of Tiamat

Okay, I've made you all wait for this long enough. Behold, the symbol of Tiamat and the meaning behind it.


Before I explain why I decided on this symbol, let me make a few things clear. I am NOT a Sumerologist, nor do I claim to be an expert on that (or any) ancient culture. Likewise, I know next to nothing about Cuneiform. I don't know how to read it, I never took a college level course on it, nor do I know anyone who has. I do have a book about Cuneiform, but I've never read it. It just sits on my bookshelf and makes me look smarter. The bulk of my knowledge on the subject, as well as the source of the symbol above, comes from the Internet. And, like many things on the Internet, may be correct or wildly inaccurate. None of this really matters: what does is that the symbol looks cool.

Also, I'm not a graphic artist. It took me like three hours to make that damn thing. Yeah...I'm not kidding. I'm terrible at this stuff. But I tried explaining to my more artistic friends what I wanted but they couldn't seem to translate my imaginings to paper. I blame myself, really. But it's okay now, because I have created the symbol. With Fotoflexer.

This symbol is designed from the ancient cuneiform symbol for Tiamat, though only partially. Tiamat is expressed in three characters: That's the biggest picture of that I could find anywhere. Again, it may be completely inaccurate, so I don't want any Cuneiform experts or Sumerologists (all nine of them) sending me hate mail about how I don't know anything about anything. I KNOW. I'm a fantasy writer. I'm literally making this stuff up as I go. 

From the human Cuneiform word for Tiamat, my symbol is the first half of the third symbol and the second half of the first. What does it actually mean? Probably nothing. But it looks cool. And it makes sense that the dragons would write this way.  The idea is that the dragons used a complicated form of language that humans later mimicked to create Cuneiform. As such, any dragon writing found laying about would generally be assumed by archeologists to be Cuneiform, rather than the still-living ancient language of dragons. The wedge-shaped pieces of the symbols are indicative of the way dragons would write: by dragging their claws over things. The wide portion of the edge is called the top, the length is the stem and the tip is called the point. The cross symbol on the right has indentations at the top because the dragon drew this portion of the word with two reversed claw swipe: top down and then left to right. Dragon claws tend to angle in, like eagle talons. The crescent portion is drawn with a series of forward-angled claw motions, so the wedges are filled at their top. Dragons are highly reverent of this symbol, and will generally consider it an insult if a human attempts to draw it and screws it up.

This symbol is used in the book. One dragon uses it, as well as a few others, as a signal to another dragon. The symbol is very important to dragons. The dragons don't exactly worship Tiamat, but they do see her as the progenitor of their race. They also believe that all dragons stand in judgement of her, before and after their deaths. When fortune favors a dragon, they believe that Tiamat has smiled upon them. When it doesn't, they believe she has turned her eyes from them in shame. Dragons are well aware that humans have incorporated their progenitor into their ancient faith. Most of them find this amusing, at best. Knowledge of Tiamat's existence is believed to have passed to human from a prehistoric time in which dragons enslaved humans and, in some cases, forced them to worship them as gods. These are referred to by dragons as the Old Ways. When dragons abandoned the Old Ways and decided to live among humans, many of their influences remained in human culture, including Tiamat. However, it is telling that early humans considered Tiamat a demonic goddess, which is likely due to the adversarial relationship their ancestors had with power-hungry dragons during their domination of the Earth. Tiamat is not "evil" though she isn't terribly concerned with the affairs of humans and, like most dragons, may seem callous by negligence.

A little something about the dragon language --

Dragon language is complicated and impossible to understand by most other beings. Dragon vocal chords are exceptional organs, capable of producing multiple sounds simultaneously, many of which are imperceptible to the ears of lesser races. To creatures, two dragons conversing sound more like two wild animals roaring, hissing and snarling. However, dragons are also capable of talking in human languages while in dragon form, despite not having humanoid mouths. In these instances, the dragon’s powerful vocal chords replicate the intricacies of human speech. The only difficulty present is the depth by which these vocalizations occur inside the dragon’s mouth and throat. This results in a cavernous reverberation when a dragon speaks a human language in its natural form. Otherwise, they are capable of mimicking almost any voice or sound they’ve heard, but prefer to affect a copy of whatever voice they use while in human form. Conversely, while a dragon in human form is capable of understanding draconic speech, it is not capable of speaking it.

Dragon writing is a combination of pictographic and symbolic letters, highly complicated with different shapes representing specific sound clusters. Likewise, dragon writing is not linear. Dragons construct sentences out of a complicated array of symbols that change meaning depending on their orientation to and relative size against other symbols in the same cluster. The actual size of the whole arrangement doesn't matter, so long as the symbols are of the same proportion to one another. So, a sentiment expressed in dragon would mean the same thing whether it was drawn on a 5 ft. x 5 ft. square of stone, or etched into the side of a mountain. All that matters is that the correct symbols are in the right place, and to the appropriate scale. Longer thoughts and expressions are similarly sized and spaced, making Dragon language stupidly complicated to understand...unless you're a dragon. Humans can replicate this, but are far less precise and more likely to screw it up. Computers have made this somewhat easier for humans, as they have powerful processors capable of managing the exacting attention to detail required to successfully communicate in Dragon. However, humans very rarely have anything of interest to say to dragons so it's a moot point.
As for dragon speech, I will address that in a future blog.