jo_graham (jo_graham) wrote,


A reader asks, "could you perhaps provide more detail on the definitions of 'pallax' and 'zenana'(page 279)?"

Wraith! I'm always happy to talk about the Wraith!

One of the challenges Melissa and I had to begin with was how to express so many things about Wraith culture that are purely visual in the show -- in other words, things we see but that none of the characters ever talk about. For example, there is a clear distinction in dress, ornamentation and manner between the Wraith "commanders" and the scientists. This is obviously reflective of some sort of difference in status, much as there's a distinction in dress between the military contingent in Atlantis and the civilians. We're never told what this is or what it means, but it's there.

Another example is the preening and posturing we see of commanders for the attention of a queen. The best look at this is in the episode The Queen, when Teyla is masquerading as a Wraith Queen, and we see her receiving homage.

So one of the interesting things to play with was how it all works. To begin with, given the enormous imbalance in the sexes with many more males than females, it makes sense that queens choose. They can take their pick of males, and males must compete for their favor. A great queen might have literally hundreds of potential suitors at any given time.

And so our inspiration became the Elizabethan Court, with all the gorgeously attired sea dogs and soldiers, poets and playwrights and scientists, dancing around England's Gloriana, the sole and elaborate beauty who stood at the head of all. A queen's court is like that, with courtiers of all stripes competing for her favor, outdoing each other in elaborate and beautiful dress, in wit and cunning and skills of every sort.

Sometimes she chooses, and favors one or another as a lover. He's then known as a pallax, which is an ancient Greek word for a male favorite. He's one of the queen's lovers, and subsequently advances in status in the zenana.

A zenana is a harem, but we chose to use the word zenana because it conveyed more of the original meaning. In the west we tend to associate "harem" with orgies, rather than its actual meaning as the part of the house where the women live, the inner dwelling quarters of wives, favorites and their entourages. The zenana is that -- the inner chambers on a hive ship where the queen's favorites, and her would-be favorites, actually live.

Sometimes, at rare intervals, a queen may choose to prefer one of her pallaxes above the others and makes him Consort. He's not king. The Wraith have no word for that. But he is her acknowledged mate, her permanent partner (unless she chooses to get rid of him), preferred over the others even if she has other lovers.

And she probably does. Certainly given the genetic chokepoints of having few queens, the only way to ensure genetic diversity would be for each of a queen's children to have a different father, or at very least for each of her daughters to have a different father.

In Homecoming, Guide says that he was Consort and Father both -- every honor his queen could give him, to be both her right hand and the father of her daughter. That's what he's lost.
Tags: homecoming
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