Dorian and Ólafr: peacocky men

By far one of the best characters in Dragon Age: Inquisition is this man.

From the Dragon Age wiki page

His name is Dorian Pavus, he’s a smart, funny, and altogether fabulous character. A major part of the way his personality is written is his flirtatious self-confidence; he struts his stuff and will happily tell you that he’s well aware of how handsome he is.

At some point while re- or re-re-playing the game, I wondered why they chose that last name. He’s from The Tevinter Imperium, which is obviously modelled on the Roman Empire. This is something you see not least in the names, which rely heavily on -us endings to show the connection. At first, I thought his name was Parvus, ‘small’, a name that seemed a bit weird for such a big personality. When I realised my mistake and looked it up, I found that he had a wonderfully fitting name: pavus is a Latin word for ‘peacock’. It’s a nice little wink at the way Dorian behaves. It also made me as an Old Norse scholar happy, because Dorian is not the first fictional Peacock to work it.

In the wonderful Laxdæla saga, a boy called Ólafr is the son of the rich Icelandic chieftain Höskuldr and Melkorka, a slave he bought while abroad. Since Ólafr is going to grow up to be a hero as well as a father of heroes, Melkorka of course turns out to be not just any slave, but the daughter of an Irish king, kidnapped at the age of fifteen. Ólafr himself is fabulous. As the saga describes him early on, “It was soon seen that Olaf, as he grew up, was far superior to other men, both on account of his beauty and courtesy.” This beauty in time earns him a nickname:

Olaf grew up with Thord, and became a great man and strong. He was so handsome that his equal was not to be found, and when he was twelve years old he rode to the Thing meeting, and men in other country-sides looked upon it as a great errand to go, and to wonder at the splendid way he was made. In keeping here-with was the manner of Olaf’s war-gear and raiment, and therefore he was easily distinguished from all other men. Thord got on much better after Olaf came to live with him. Hoskuld gave Olaf a nickname, and called him Peacock, and the name stuck to him.

So there he is, Olaf Peacock, or as he’s called in Old Norse, Ólafr Pái (I use the Norse spelling, the 1899 translation quoted doesn’t). It’s interesting to note that contrary to the common idea of Viking Age men being almost comically butch and rugged, Ólafr is not necessarily given this nickname as an insult. He’s handsome and well dressed, and this theme follows him throughout the saga, where his colourful clothes and gold-inlaid weapons are often described. Ólafr also becomes the father of the tragic hero Kjartan, who is said to be the most beautiful man ever born on Iceland.*

That the words pái and pavus look very similar is of course no coincidence. Peacocks aren’t exactly common in Iceland, so the Old Norse word is a loan from Latin. As an aside, the fact that pái starts with a p tells anyone who knows their historical linguistics that the word has to be a loan word, as Proto-Indo-European initial becomes very early in the Germanic languages (which is why Latin has pater while English has father, for example). This is called Grimm’s Law and this is probably not the right place to go further into that.

So Dorian Pavus and Ólafr Pái have this in common, that someone – a game writer, a father, a saga author – decided that “peacock” would be a good way of describing them. They’re proud men, they care about their looks and their outfits, they know how to carry themselves. They’re great additions to any good story, and while they may stand out for all the right reasons, I don’t think they’re as weird as some would like to think.


* A couple of asides/recommendations: a) read Laxdæla saga, b) if you’re interested in Old Norse nicknames, there’s an entire dissertation about them by Paul Peterson. The name Pái is treated on page 202. And if you like both of these things, Saga Thing is the podcast for you.


Inquisitors’ minds want to know

In the early hours of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Cassandra brandishes a big, heavy book, which heralds the rebirth of the Inquisition (apologies to the non-gamers: quick recaps of events in games never make much sense if you haven’t played them). For a split second, you see a page in this book, and it’s full of runes!

I decided to do an exquisitely* nerdy thing: I wanted to find out what it said. Being better at runology than technology, I was proud that I at least managed to get a screen cap from the video:

Inquisition runes book 2

Some things are clear even before starting to transliterate the text. The runes are from the Anglo-Saxon futhorc; some runes, like the aand g, are unique to this system. There are also a couple of hints that this is a transliteration from a modern language rather than an original text or a translation, the main tell being the use of doubled runes. You can see a couple of X-shaped runes next to each other towards the end of the third full row. Those are two g runes. In runic writing, there is no representation of vowel or consonant length, and next to no norm that tells the writer to write something he or she doesn’t hear – no silent h here. What this means is that doubled runes only occur in premodern runic writing when they’re in two different words, and not even always then. The word in Cassandra’s book containing two g‘s in fact transliterates as suggestions. Another good sign that you’re dealing with modern language is the absence of certain runes, namely the ones that don’t directly correspond to a letter in the Latin alphabet – ng or æ, for example.

So, behold the magic of transliteration from low resolution images of things never meant to be transliterated!


In the end, I got enough coherent text out of this to have something to Google. The words windows and font recurred, and I got the phrase the windows version youre running (which includes yet another pair of doubled runes, and a missed opportunity for using the ng rune). That search yielded nothing, but another one (about font options in the control panel) lead me to this, the readme file for the font.

This truetype-font was created in 1995 by Morten Bek.

It is supposed to resemble the writings on the maps from The Hobbit, by J.R.R.Tolkien.

If you have any comments, corrections, suggestions or questions, e-mail me at:

Note that this is _not_ the Cirth (Certhar) but the letters used on the cover of The Hobbit.

To install in a windows environment, copy the file futhark.ttf to \windows\system or \windows\fonts, depending on the Windows version you’re running. Choose Install New Font under the Font options in your Control Panel (or confront your windows-manual if this is totally incromprehendible).

Please keep this file with the font, whenever you copy it and spread it to your friends.

More fonts are under way….

Upon double checking I could see that it is in fact the text found in Cassandra’s book. It appears that the game developers used a free online font from 1995 for their half second of runes, and did as the author asks: “Please keep this file with the font, whenever you copy it and spread it to your friends.” I did try to email the address given, but it bounced, as twenty year old email addresses will.

There really is no reason for BioWare to put anything more interesting in there when it comes to the contents of the text. It’s a split second view, and only people with strange ideas of fun will ever try to read it. Instead, it’s the form that matters here. The runes on the worn vellum are a shorthand for something ancient; a tradition that goes back so far that you, as the player and as the role you’re playing, don’t understand all of it. This scene ends the prologue to a very long game, and the use of runes helps to quickly place you in something larger and older than you. Of course, there are also practical considerations. By using a writing system few people can read immediately, the developers don’t need to come up with clever text in the book. And by using the Anglo-Saxon futhorc, they don’t need to come up with a writing system of their own. So that’s how they ended up with a Danish designer’s version of Tolkien’s version of Anglo-Saxon runes.

* An inquisition seeks within, something exquisite is sought out. Etymology!