Concepts Of Poetry

If we cannot identify a universal Indo-European term for 'poetry', we can find a number of words or roots that must have been used in connection with it, over at least parts of the Indo-European world, from early times. There is one that has Anatolian attestation and should therefore go back to PIE. The Hittite verb ishamai- 'sing' is held to be cognate with Vedic saman- 'song' (< *sh2omen-), and also with Greek v^vos 'song' and o'i^n 'poetic theme'. The details are debated,18 and for v^vos there are alternative etymologies to be mentioned later. But if the combination is valid, we have here remnants of the oldest discoverable word relating to singing.

The root *wekw 'speak, utter forth' produces in Greek, besides the commonplace verb elnetv, the noun enos, which is used in the singular of an epic verse and in the plural of hexameter poetry or a complete poem. It

16 Gerard Murphy, Early Irish Lyrics (Oxford 1956), 90.

18 N. Oettinger in Serta Indogermanica (Innsbruck 1982), 236 n. 18; F. Bader, BSL 85 (1990), 34-8; Gamkrelidze-Ivanov (1995), 733 f.; D. Q. Adams in EIEC520a.

corresponds exactly in form to the Indic vacas-, which in the Rigveda can mean 'word, speech' but mostly refers to the pronouncements that make up the song, or to the song as a whole. The feminine vac- (corresponding to Latin uox) is used similarly, and there is another word from the same root meaning 'hymn', uktham.19 In Avestan a strophe of the Gathos was called a vacatasti-, literally a 'fashioning of the utterance'. Tocharian A waktasurne 'eulogy' and Old High German giwahan, giwahanen 'mention, tell of, giwaht 'fame, remembrance', give further hints of the use of this root in connection with formal or poetic utterance. Most remarkable is the Irish term anocht for a type of metrical fault; it means literally 'not (to be) uttered', the counterpart of Vedic anukta-, and it must be a very ancient survival, as the *wekw root was defunct in Celtic.20

English 'say' goes back to the Indo-European root *sekw. This appears to have been appropriate to declarations or recitals made before an audience, as derivatives in various languages are used in connection with public discourses or narratives in prose or verse: Greek iv(v)-enw, used in the imperative in Homer in asking the Muse to relate a particular matter; Latin in-sequo; Old Irish sc-el 'story', in-sce 'discourse', ro-sc(ad), a form of alliterative composition; Middle Welsh chw-edl 'recitation'; Lithuanian pa-saka 'story, legend'.21

Of several words for singing, one that is common to east and west is *gehi: Vedic ga 'sing', g&tha 'song' (Avestan gad a); Lithuanian giedoti 'sing', giesme 'song of praise'; Slavonic gudu 'sing with a stringed instrument'; Old English gieddian 'sing', giedd, gidd 'song, poem, saying, riddle, tale'. The root *sengwh which provides the common Germanic word (Gothic siggwan, German singen, English sing, song, etc.) must once have had a wider distribution, as, besides Church Slavonic sqtb, it lies behind the Greek poetic word < *songwha. In the Homeric language this is used only of prophetic utterances issuing from a god, but the Doric lyric tradition preserved its older sense of musical sound from voices or instruments. The root *kan prevailed only in Italic and Celtic, where it is associated with charms and spells as well as poetry: Latin cano, carmen < * can-men; Old Irish canaid 'sings', cetal 'song', Welsh cathl, < *kan-tlon. But it has left traces in Greek Kav-axr 'clangour' and in the Germanic word for 'cock', Gothic hana, modern German Hahn.22

19 I normally cite Vedic and Avestan nouns in the stem form, but in the case of neuter o-stems I give the ending -am/-am as an economical way of indicating the gender.

20 Watkins (1995), 87 n. 0, 119. On the derivatives of *wekw cf. Gamkrelidze-Ivanov (1995), 733 f.

21 Ernout-Meillet (1959), s.v. insequo; Meid (1978), 22 n. 36.

22 Cf. the obscure gloss in Hesychius, -qiKavos- o aXeKTpvwv. On these words cf. IEW 525 f.; Watkins (1963), 214 = (1994), 369; EIEC 519b.

Another word-set shared by Italic, Celtic, and Germanic is that represented by Latin laudo 'praise, mention (honourably)'; Old Irish luaidim 'I celebrate, mention', loid 'song'; Gothic liupon 'sing, praise', Old Norse liod, Old High German leod, liod, Middle High German liet 'stanza' (in the plural 'song'), modern Lied, Old English leop. The semantic development from 'praise, commemoration' to 'song of praise or commemoration' and 'song' generally is easily understood. It is already apparent in Cato's notice that Roman banqueters used to sing clarorum uirorum laudes atque uirtutes.23

One of several Old Norse words for the art of poetry is bragr. Some favour relating this to the root of Vedic brah-man- 'priest', brah-man- 'prayer', and to Gaulish brictom, brixtia, 'magic', Irish bricht 'incantation, spell, charm; octosyllabic metre'.24 If they are right, a very ancient lexical item would be implied. But the Brahman's connection with poetry is contingent, and other scholars uphold the alternative etymology that equates him with the Roman flamen. We shall return to this elsewhere.

Within Graeco-Aryan we can trace the etymological connection of Greek deiSw 'sing' with Vedic vad- 'speak, tell of, sing of' (specifically with the reduplicated present vavadlti), and that of Armenian erg 'song' with Vedic arka- 'song of praise; singer', Sogdian *ni-yray- 'sing (of)', and Ossetic argaw 'tale'.25

0 0

Post a comment