Conclusion

Comparative Indo-European mythology remains and is bound to remain a poor relation of comparative Indo-European philology. It is easy to see why. People change their gods and their mythologies more readily and quickly than they change their declensions and conjugations, and more capriciously. Rules can be formulated to predict how a given Indo-European phoneme will turn out in Old High German or Pale Dry Tocharian, but the mutations of divinities or of mythical motifs are subject to no rules. The validity of a comparison, therefore, cannot be tested in the same way, by reference to a standard, but has to be judged on its intrinsic appeal. The total harvest will certainly be modest in comparison with the quantity of linguistic material available for the reconstruction of Indo-European speech.

As the various Indo-European tribal groups spread into new lands and contacts between them weakened, they became exposed to other cultural influences of many kinds. The Hittites came into the cultural orbit of the Hattic, Hurrian, and Mesopotamian civilizations, and their society, religion, and mythology were transformed as a result. The Greeks absorbed much from previous Aegean culture and from contacts with the peoples of the Near East. If we take the principal gods of the Homeric Olympus—Zeus and Hera, Leto, Apollo and Artemis, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, Aphrodite—we find that only one of them, Zeus, has a clear Indo-European ancestry. The rest either developed on Greek soil or were taken over from other peoples with whom the Greeks came in contact. Zeus himself has

58 Cf. Durante (1976), 15. On the origin of the spoke-wheeled chariot see Robert Drews, The Coming of the Greeks (Princeton 1988), 107-57; D. Anthony and N. Vinogradov, Archaeology 48(2) (1995), 36-41; EIEC 627 f.; E. W. Barber, The Mummies ofUrumchi (London 1999), 203 f.; E. E. Kuzmine, JIES 29 (2001), 12-17.

evolved some way from his Indo-European beginnings. Similar considerations apply to the traditions of the other peoples that fall within our purview.

However, the case of Zeus and his many cognates in the other traditions (Chapter 4) proves that some elements of Indo-European theological heritage were preserved in widely separated regions. One factor that favoured their survival was the persistence of poetic traditions of a conservative nature. We shall see in the next two chapters how shared features of poetic theory, diction, and imagery and of stylistic and metrical technique attest the continuity of these traditions from a common origin. It is reasonable to hope for the preservation in them of at least some mythological themes of equal antiquity.

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