Gods and Goddesses

The Indo-Europeans, it is clear, spoke both about 'the gods' collectively and about gods as individuals. They perhaps had their different words for different categories of supernatural being. But the most important term, one that has left representatives in nearly all branches of the Indo-European family, was based on the root *diw/dyu, which denoted the bright sky or the light of day. In MIE it took the form *deiwos, plural *deiwos. From this come Vedic deva-, Avestan dacva-, Old Phrygian devos (Neo-Phrygian dative-locative plural Sews), Oscan deiva-, Messapic deiva, diva 'goddess', Venetic deivos 'gods', Latin deus, proto-Germanic *tawaz,1 Old Irish dia, Old Church Slavonic divu 'demon', Old Prussian deiws/deywis, Lithuanian Dievas, Latvian Dievs. A derivative deiwios seems to be attested in Mycenaean de-wi-jo, de-u-jo-i.2 In Anatolian we find forms derived from *dyeus: Hittite sias, sian- 'god', a declension built on the old accusative *sifin; similarly, with thematic stem, Palaic tiuna- 'divine'.3

The gods, then, or at any rate those designated by this word, were literally 'the celestials'; they belonged in the sky. Although Greek had long abandoned *deiwos in favour of a different word, the concept of the heavenly location survived: the Homeric gods are portrayed as dwelling in heaven, and they are designated in formulaic phrases as 'the heavenly ones (ovpaviwves) or as 'the gods who occupy the broad heaven' (rol ovpavov evpvv exovoiv).

Certain other terms for 'god' current in particular areas can be explained on the basis of Indo-European cognates. A proto-Germanic word *guda- is represented in Gothic gup, Old Norse god, Old High German got, English 'god'. This has the peculiarity of being neuter, perhaps, as Schulze argued,

1 The plural tivar survives in Norse as a poetic word for 'the gods', and the singular tyr occurs in kennings for Odin and Thor. Otherwise in Germanic the singular appears as the name of a different deity: Norse Tyr, West Germanic *Tawaz, whose name was chosen in translating Martis dies 'Tuesday'. See de Vries (1956), ii. 4 f., 11, 25 f.

2 M. S. Ruiperez and E. Risch in A. Heubeck-G. Neumann (edd.), Res Mycenaeae (Akten des VII. Internationalen Mykenologischen Colloquiums, 1983), 411 f.

3 Cf. Melchert (1994), 150, 209. For *dyeus (> Greek Zevs, etc.) see Chapter 4.

because it originated as a plural collective term for 'gods and goddesses'; in Germanic the neuter was used for groups including both males and females.4 The word is evidently a participial formation, *ghu-to-, the underlying verb corresponding to Vedic hu 'pour out, make libation'; the chief priest in the Vedic ritual was called the hotar. The *gudo, then, were 'those worshipped (with libations etc.)'.5

Another Germanic term is more difficult to relate to extra-Germanic roots. The standard word for the pagan deities in Norse literature is ass, plural œsir. It corresponds to Old English os and to the title anseis (= semidei) with which the Goths, according to Jordanes (Getica 78), exalted their victorious kings. A proto-Germanic form *ansuz has usually been reconstructed, and connected on the one hand with Hittite hassu- 'king' and on the other with Vedic asura-, Avestan ahura-, a title applied to divinities. However, recent work has cast doubt on this construction.6

In Iranian and Slavonic we find a different word again: Old Persian baga-, Younger Avestan baya-; Old Church Slavonic bogu, Russian 6or, Polish bog, Czech buh, etc. In Vedic India Bhaga is the name of an individual god, listed together with Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman, and others as one of the Adityas, the sons of Aditi. There is no mystery here: bhaj means 'dispense', and bhaga-is the fortune dispensed by the gods, or the divine dispenser, like Greek 8aipwv.

Finally, Greek deos, a word already attested in the Mycenaean tablets. Compounds such as déa-^aros 'god-spoken', which must have been created even earlier, before the loss of intervocalic [s], show that it goes back to *dhes-os. It has a cognate in Armenian dik' (< *dheses) 'gods', and perhaps in the desa-, disa-, diza- that appears as an element in some Thracian personal names.7 The same root can be traced in certain Italic words with a religious connotation: Oscan fiisnu 'temple', Latin fanum (< *fas-nom); Latin feriae (< *fes-ya), festus dies 'holy day'.

It is not probable that the Indo-Europeans had a fixed canon of deities or assigned a specific number to them. The Hittites spoke of a thousand, the

5 Cf. Meid (1991), 17 f.; EIEC231; M. E. Huld, SIGL2 (1999), 135 f.; differently C. Watkins in Mayrhofer et al. (1974), 102 n. 5. The same root probably appears in gutuater, a type of Gaulish priest ( CIL xiii. 1577, 2585, al.); -ater is Celtic for pater, so 'father of the sacrifice' or something of the kind.

6 M. E. Huld, SIGL 2 (1999), 136-9, argues that the proto-Germanic form was *ansa-, an o-stem with a heteroclite i-stem plural; he relates this to the root *h2en(hi) 'breathe'. J. Puhvel, Hittite Etymological Dictionary, iii (Berlin-New York 1991), 245 f., shows that hassu- was 'the (true)born one' and not cognate with the other words. P. Moisson, Études Indo-Européennes 11 (1992), 113-41, persuasively explains asura- as a derivative of asu-, the vital spirit that animates the living and exists independently after death. Cf. also Watkins (1995), 8.

Vedic poets of thirty-three, or in one passage 3,339. Boards of twelve make sporadic appearances in various cultures, but they look like products of secondary systematization, not continuations of any ancestral tradition.8 What is more likely to be ancient, at least Graeco-Aryan, is the practice of invoking 'all the gods', without there being a definite notion of all their individual identities. Some forty Vedic hymns are addressed to 'all the gods', visve devah, and this phrase occurs frequently in the text. Zarathushtra (Y. 32. 3) uses the etymologically corresponding phrase daeva vispagho, though in a less ingratiating way: for him the Daevas are demons unworthy of worship, and he is telling them that they are all born of Evil Thought. In Homer, again, 'all the gods' or 'all the immortals' is a common formula. Dedications to 'all the gods' are documented from Mycenaean times on, and they are often cited as witnesses to oaths and treaties.9

Sometimes, instead of '(all) the gods', one major deity is picked out and the rest are attached as a collectivity, so that we get the formula 'X and the other gods'. Zarathushtra twice uses the expression Mazdasca ahuragha, 'Mazda and Lords', that is, all the others (Y. 30. 9, 31. 4). In the Younger Avestan hymn to Mithra we find a similar coupling, with Mithra appended in addition: Yt. 10. 139 'neither Ahura Mazda nor the other Bounteous Immortals nor Mithra of the broad pastures'. Darius in the great Behistun inscription declares (DB iv. 60) Auramazda-maiy upastam abara uta aniyaha bagaha tyaiy hatiy, 'Ahuramazda brought me aid, and the other gods that exist'. The early Greek poets often refer to 'Zeus and the other immortals'.10 In Livy (24. 38. 8) we find an invocation in the form uos, Ceres mater ac Proserpina, precor, ceteri superi infernique di.

0 0

Post a comment