Epitheta ornantia

A recurring feature of the various poetic traditions is the use of noun-epithet phrases in which the epithet adds nothing essential to the sense or especially relevant to the context, but expresses a permanent or ideal characteristic of

25 Farop-hengestas . . . sco-mearas, Elene 226/8; wcg-hengest, 236; sco-mearh, Andreas 267; sco-hengest, 488; brim-hengest, 513, Rune Poem 47, 66; vdgmarar, Reginsmdl 16. 7; gidlfrmarar, Waking of Angantyr 26. 2 (Edd. min. 19); Skdldsk. 51; expressions collected in CPB ii. 458. Cf. Schmitt (1967), 282.

the thing. A number are shared by different branches of the tradition and may represent a common inheritance. Several of them will come into view in other contexts, for example 'immortal gods' in Chapter 3, 'broad earth' and 'dark earth' in Chapter 4, 'swift horses', 'prizewinning horses', 'well-wheeled chariot' in Chapter 12. Here are some others.26

A messenger is 'swift': RV 3. 9. 8, 4. 7. 4 äsum dütäm; Od. 16. 468 ayyeXos wkvs, Il. 24. 292 raxvv ayyeXov, etc. äsU- and wkvs are etymologically identical.

A woman is 'well-clothed': RV 1. 124. 7, 4. 3. 2, al. jäyää (married woman) . . . süväsäh; Il. 1. 429 ev^wvoto yvvatKos, Od. 6. 49 Navatrnav evnenXov, elx. The prefixes su- and eV- are cognate. We can also compare the Homeric XevKwXevos 'white-armed' (applied to Hera, Helen, Andromache, and others; also Od. 6. 239 a^inoXot XevKwXevot, 19. 60 S^wtal XevKwXevoi) with Hävamäl 161. 5 hvitarmri konu, 'a white-armed woman'. Here there is no etymological correspondence, but the compound adjective is formed in the same way (bahuvrlhi).

Clothes are 'bright, shining'. RV 1. 134. 4, 9. 97. 2 bhadra västra 'shining garments' matches Od. 6. 74 eodyra ^aetv^v in sense, and there is a double etymological relationship, with the root *bha in both adjectives and *wes in both nouns. It becomes a triple one in RV 3. 39. 2 bhadra västräni ärjuna 'shining bright garments' ~ Il. 3. 419 ¿avwt apy^rt ^aetvwt, as ¿avov also contains *wes, while ärjuna- and apy^s are both from the root *h2rg.

So is apyos 'swift', a Homeric epithet of dogs and the name of Odysseus' dog. The antiquity of the association is shown by the Vedic personal name Rjisvan (= *Äpyt-Kvwv). This does not show that the noun-epithet phrase was a poetic formula outside Greek, but certainly apyos is an archaism in Greek. ärjuna- as a colour word is applied to a dog in RV 7. 55. 2.27

Wolves are embellished with a colour epithet, generally 'grey', though in RV 1. 105.18 we have aruno vrkah 'a ruddy wolf'. In Homer it is noXtoio XvKoto, noXtoi re Xvkoi; in the Exeter Gnomes (151) wulf se grxga; in the Edda, Ulf grä(a)n (Helgakvida Hundingsbana B 1. 5); Fenrir in the Eiriksmäl (26, CPB i. 261) is ulfr inn hgsvi. A warrior in Y Gododdin 740 has the nickname glasvleid (Greywolf). 'Grey wolf/wolves' is also a formula in Russian heroic poetry.28

The Vedic phrase svädor ... mädhvah 'of the sweet mead' has its etymological counterpart in the Homeric ¡iedv r/Sv, though the Greeks had

26 Cf. the material collected in Schmitt (1967), 221-60; Durante (1976), 91-8.

28 Igor3, 25, 42, 189; Chadwick (1932), 41, line 168; 45, line 9. Cf. Gering-Sijmons (1927-31), ii. 106; Wüst (1969), 28 f., 46-8.

abandoned mead for the Mediterranean intoxicant, wine, and ¡iidv had undergone a corresponding change of meaning.

The sea is 'broad', as in the Homeric evpia novrov, etc.; in Old English, Andreas 283 ofer wldne mere; in Serbo-Croat, SCHS ii, no. 17, line 347 u more siroko, 'to the broad sea'. The comparisons may seem banal, but it is typical of traditional ornamental epithets that they express the most obvious properties of the thing described. A more detailed Greek-English parallel may be observed between Il. 18. 140 (et al.) daXaaans evpia KoXnov, 21. 125 aXos evpia KoXnov, and Elene 728 sees sedne fedm, 'the sea's wide embrace'.

The Homeric formula 'black ships' is paralleled in Russian byliny, and 'sea-going ship(s)' (novTonopos) in Serbo-Croat epic.29 Hesiod and Ibycus use the phrase vyes noXvyo/^oi, 'many-dowelled ships', and this may be compared with expressions used in Old English verse: naca negelbord 'ship of nailed planks' (Exeter Riddles 59. 5, cf. Genesis 1418); negled-cnearrum 'nailed ships' (Battle of Brunanburh 53).

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