Thracian Culture in “Sleep Escapes Us” – Beyond Mythology

January 7, 2012 at 4:20 am (writing)

When I decide to write Sleep Escapes Us as an alternate history of Thrace, I wanted to seed the tale with details that reflected the actual culture of ancient Thrace – other than the mythos of that location – to give it a truly Thracian flavour. During my research, I managed to dredge up a series of interesting tidbits that I felt I could thread into my story to make it seem more realistic, despite the magic and the zombies.

One great source for this was Tosho Spiridonov, Roumyana Georgieva and Maria Rejo’s “Ethnology of the Thracians”. It discussed their dwellings and lifestyle, and provided me with such details as predominant foods (the lentil and cabbage mash that Zelmis was fed at the Temple of Zalmoxis,) fabric and fashions (the tunics, leggings and zeira, the multi-coloured cloak commonly worn by the Thracian people, as well as their types of adornment,) and the use of tattoos (which I applied with the tally marks.)

In addition to common lifestyle, I also found information on religious rituals, including descriptions of animal sacrifices and the ritual pits where they occurred, performed in hewn rock niches. These details allowed me to present Zalmoxis’s Temple with the type of character it should have as a proper exhibit of the worship of death. There was also mention of the funerary feast Zelmis was hunting to provide for at the beginning of the book, part of the Thracian burial rituals. In fact, Roumyana Georgieva outlines the funeral rites in great detail:

“Burial rites occupy an extremely important if not foremost position in the Thracian system of customs, due to the fact that the dead ranked higher than the living in ancient Thrace. All rituals performed between the occurrence of death and the closing of the grave (the closing of the eyes and jaws of the deceased, bathing, preparation of the body which was left for three days to lie at stake, mourning, animal sacrifices and burial feast) were aimed mainly at facilitating the deceased individual to make his transition to the world beyond. The faith in his supernatural power, together, with the apprehension or hope that he is capable of influencing the fate of the living, were among the reasons for the exceptional care devoted to the dead in Thrace.”

Since funeral rites were an important part of the culture, it made sense for them to also play a strong role in the book, particularly since the story surrounded the mythology of the Thracian god of death.

Another cultural factor with a strong impact on the story was the fact the Thracians had no written language of their own. That was the reasoning behind Alina seeking out Kerza in the first place, and the repercussions of the situation had significant influence in the story. It also meant I had liberty to play around with some of the cultural aspects within the tale since historically, they are vague. Most of what is known about the Thracians comes from their “archaeological remains, and from the Greek writers who were their contemporaries” (per Moni from the A Spell in Time group, in “Background to Bulgarian Myth and Folklore.” -initially incorrectly attributed to Professor Hutton, Patron of the group, an attribution which has been revised, thanks to more complete information provided by Moni.) They are sketchy at best, allowing for extrapolation.

Overall, I think I was able to incorporate enough of what was known about the Thracian culture to give Sleep Escapes Us a distinct Thracian flavour. It was definitely one of the more interesting cultures I’ve ever researched.

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4 Comments

  1. Moni said,

    Correction: Ronald Hutton did not write “Background to Bulgarian Myth & Folklore.” The article and web page you refer to belong to A Spell In Time, a British Bulgarian storytelling company, and Professor Hutton is our patron, as clearly stated at the top of the page.

    http://www.spellintime.fsnet.co.uk/Folklore_Section_Background.htm

    • chantellyb said,

      Thank you for the correction, Moni. I misunderstood the information presented on your page. Can you clarify who exactly did write the article? Professor Hutton’s is the only name provided, which is why I erroneously attributed the article to him.

      • Moni said,

        Hi Chantal,
        I write all the articles on A Spell In Time’s website. Credit and copyright go to A Spell In Time as per at the bottom of the webpage.
        Best wishes

  2. Chantal Boudreau said,

    Hi Moni,

    I will make the correction as soon as possible. You may want to make sure you attribute the piece to your name on the website. While copyright may be indicated as belonging to a publisher or organization, it is still standard practice to list the actual author, which is why the confusion occurred with Prof. Hutton. Copyright belongs to the organization, but the organization as a whole did not write the article. Proper attribution should be directed at the author and not the organization holding copyright, although acknowledgement of copyright is theirs. My publishers hold copyright to my books, but they did not write my novels and therefore attribution for quotes are to me, not the publishers. I do apologize for the misinterpretation.

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