Oaths by the

The Sun's capacity for seeing everything that people do qualifies him as a supervisor of justice, or at least gives him a valuable role as the god of justice's eye and as a trusty witness. His credentials are reinforced by his own strict observance of cosmic law: disah Slryo na minati pradistah, 'Surya does not infringe the directions prescribed' (RV 3. 30. 12), where dis- is cognate with Greek sik^ 'justice, right' and Latin con-dicio. The verse might be converted

14 Carmichael (1928-59), iii. 306, quoted in full later in this chapter.

15 Soph. Ant. 103 xpv°eas apepas Xefiapov, 879 ToSe XapnaSos tepov oppa; Ar. Nub. 285 oppa aWepos aKa.pa.Tov; Ov. Met. 4. 228 mundi oculus; Macr. Sat. 1. 21. 12.

16 RV 1. 113. 9; 5. 59. 5; 7. 98. 6; 9. 10. 9; 10. 10. 9; Shah-nama, Levy (1967), 185. Savitr is hiranyaksa- 'golden-eyed' (RV 1. 35. 8), much as Helios is xpvaojnos (Eur. El. 740 with Denniston's commentary); cf. G. Costa, Archivio Glottologico Italiano 69 (1984), 35.

root for root into Greek: SiKas HXios ov nivv6ei npoSeiKrovs, and the idea in fact recurs in the early Greek philosophers. Heraclitus (B 94) wrote that 'Helios will not overstep his measures; otherwise the Erinyes, Dike's police, will track him down'. Parmenides (B 1. 14) stations Dike at the gates of Day and Night, holding the keys and controlling their alternation.

The practice of invoking the Sun as a witness to oaths is attested widely and over millennia. In Hittite treaties the Sun-god of heaven, the Sun-goddess of Arinna, and the Storm-god of heaven head the lengthy list of gods named. Agamemnon in the Iliad (3. 276 f.), in making a treaty with Priam, calls upon 'Father Zeus who rulest from Ida, greatest and most glorious, and Helios, who overseest everything and overhearest everything'. In a later oath (19. 258) he testifies by Zeus, Ge, Helios, and the Erinyes. When the infant Hermes denies to Zeus that he has stolen Apollo's cattle, he insists that he is telling the truth, saying 'I am in awe of Helios and the other gods' (Hymn. Herm. 381). The chorus in Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus (660) swears to Oedipus by Helios that they wish him no harm. 'By Helios' appears frequently as a colloquial asseveration in New Comedy, and a more explicit 'I swear by Helios' a couple of times. Helios continues to be named in treaties in inscriptions.17

The Bithynians, as Arrian recorded (ap. Eust. 414. 30), 'judged cases seated facing the Sun, so that the god should oversee them'. Movses Xorenac'i relates in his Armenian history (2. 19) that 'when Hyrcanus sought an oath from Barzap'ran, he swore to him by the sun and moon and all their cults in heaven and earth and by the sun of Artashas and Tigran'.18 Rostam in the Shah-nama 'swore by his soul and by the king's head, by the sun and the sword and the field of battle'.19

The Franks in the seventh century, although converted to Christianity, still had the habit of swearing by the Sun.20 In one of the Norse heroic ballads Gudrun reproaches Atli (Attila) with 'the oaths you swore often to Gunnar and pledged long ago by the Sun southward-curving and by Odin's crag'.21

17 Cf. L. Preller and C. Robert, Griechische Mythologie, i (4th edn., Berlin 1894), 433 n. 2; West (1997), 20 f., where some Near Eastern evidence is also cited.

18 Trs. R. W. Thomson, Moses Khorenats'i. History of the Armenians (Cambridge, Mass. 1978). Cf. 2. 81, 'my father had sworn to him by the light of the sun'.

19 Shah-nama, Levy (1967), 205; cf. 106, '[Key Khosrow] swore an oath by the all-possessing Lord, by white day and azure night, by sun and moon, by throne and crown, by seal and sword and royal diadem'.

20 Vita S. Eligii in MGH Scriptores Meroving. iv. 708, nullus dominos solem aut lunam vocet neque per eos iuret.

21 Atlakvida 30. For further Germanic material see J. Grimm, Deutsche Rechtsaltertümer (4th edn., Leipzig 1899), i. 73, 354, ii. 438-43, 545. Unbegaun (1948), 425, writes of a similar practice among the west Slavs: 'La fameuse prestation de serment sur le soleil des nobles polonais et tchèques, au Moyen Age, semble n'être qu'une coutume d'origine germanique.'

Oaths by the Sun and Moon, Sun and Wind, etc., are also mentioned in Old Irish literature.22


Saying that the Sun is an all-seeing god, or the eye of a god, is satisfying to morality but leaves an obvious question unanswered. The luminary's smooth and regular daily transit from east to west, and its reappearance in the east the next morning, call for further exegesis. There is much evidence, both literary and iconographic, for the sun being conceived as a wheel. A wheel—more than an eye—is perfectly circular, and it runs easily along. But one can hardly say that a god is a wheel, and the solar wheel needs a moving cause, as its path is not all downhill. So the Sun-god may be said, not to be, but to have a wheel, which he drives or rolls along. Or the wheel is drawn along by a horse. Or it becomes a one-wheeled chariot in which the god rides; or a regular chariot, drawn by two horses or even four. Another concept is that of a boat that carries the solar disc across the sky. Or again the two ideas are combined, with the horse or horses taking the sun across the sky during the day and the boat conveying him on the ocean through the night.

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