Iranian Lycian Armenian

In the last chapter some passages of the Avestan Yasna were cited in which the Waters were addressed. In the oldest of these texts (38. 3) they are called Ahuranls Ahurahya, 'Ahura's Ahura-wives'. In pre-Zoroastrian times, before the elevation of Ahura Mazda to supremacy, they were probably Ahuranls in the sense of 'the Asuras' wives'. In any case the term suggests a high degree of personification, and it will not be inappropriate to consider them as nymphs. In Y. 66. 1 and 68. 1-14 a singular 'Ahurânî of Ahura' is revered.

There is other scattered evidence for water nymphs among Iranian peoples. That the Ahuranls were known in the western parts of the Persian empire as well as the north-east is indicated by the great trilingual inscription at Xanthos in Lycia, where Nv/^rnv in the Greek version is matched in the Aramaic version, if H. Humbach's reading is correct, by 'hwrnys:: Aramaic having no term for nymphs, the translator used an Iranian one familiar to him.

The Lycian version has Eliyâna; this seems to be related to Luwian ali(ya), 'qui désigne un élément liquide: lac, étang ou rivière ... les Eliyâna seraient, au propre, des Naïades.'15 Water nymphs are perhaps also to be recognized, together with the Indo-European word for 'water', in the wedri of another Lycian inscription.16

Herodotus (4. 5. 1) relates a Scythian myth that the Scythians were descended from a union between 'Zeus' and a daughter of the river Borysthenes (the Dnieper). This daughter of a river was evidently not herself a mortal woman, and she must be classed as a nymph.

In Ossetic legend the waters are ruled by Donbettyr, 'Water-Peter'. He has daughters of extraordinary beauty, with long golden hair. One story tells of

14 RV 10. 95; SB 11. 5. 1; Brhaddevata 7. 146-52; Kuhn (1859), 78-94; Oldenberg (1917), 256 f., who observes that in the original version it was probably the Apsaras who was not to be seen in her true form. The Gandharvas are another class of supernatural, male, often coupled with the Apsarases. The name (usually singular in the Rigveda) is the same as that of the Avestan yellow monster GandaraPa who was defeated by Karasaspa (Yt. 19. 38-41, al.). In the latter half of the nineteenth century it was held to be one of the clearest results of comparative mythology that the Gandharvas were the same as the Greek Centaurs (kéntauroi). But the names do not correspond by the rules of phonology, and the creatures have virtually nothing in common mythologically.

15 E. Laroche in H. Metzger et al., Fouilles de Xanthos, vi: La stèle trilingue du Létôon (Paris 1979), 114.

16 Tituli Lyciae 56; D. Schurr, Kadmos 36 (1997), 127-40.

the unlucky marriage of one of them to the Nart hero Axsartag. She turned them both into fishes, and so they spent a year together in the sea, but after they went to live in his homeland disaster struck, Axsartag killed himself, and she returned to the waters. But she was pregnant with twins, and had to go back to the Narts to give birth to them; they were the heroes Uryzmœg and Hœmyts. Uryzmœg was later taken to visit his relatives under the sea. In the nineteenth century Ossete girls went to river banks on the Saturday after Easter to pay their respects to Donbettyr's daughters.17

Armenian folklore knows of good fairies, the Parik, who often take the form of beautiful women and dance amid nature. The forest is inhabited by the Mayrekin, the mistress of the cedars or of the wood. There is also a collectivity called the Yaverzaharsunk', the 'eternal brides', who are protectors of young life and assist brides and young mothers.18 Hellenists will recall that the Greek word vvpfiy, besides meaning 'nymph', also means 'bride', both in the sense of a woman shortly to be married and of one newly married.

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