Pern

In Slavonic lands the thunder-god was called Perún, Old Russian PerunU, Belorussian Piarun, Slovak Parom. The word also meant 'thunderbolt', and in this use it survives in the modern languages: Russian perúny (plural), Polish piorun, Czech peraun. There are Russian, Ukrainian, and Slovenian imprecations parallel to the Lithuanian ones featuring Perkunas: 'may Perun (or Perun's bolt) kill you (or take you)'. The importance of the god in tenth-century Kiev and Novgorod is attested by a series of documents, and already in the sixth century a Byzantine historian mentions the Slavs' worship of 'the maker of the lightning', considered to be the one in charge of everything.14

He is similar in character to Perkunas. He has a tawny beard. He is located high up, on a mountain or in the sky, and sends his axe or arrow down on his victim below.15 He has a close association with the oak: he strikes it, he puts fire into it, and there are sacred trees called 'Perun's oak'.16

Scholars have naturally looked for a connection between his name and that of his Baltic neighbour Perkunas. One solution has been to treat it as a taboo variant: people avoided speaking the dread name by suppressing the velar consonant in the second syllable.17 Taken on its own, Perunü can be satisfactorily explained as 'the Striker', from the Slavonic verb *per 'strike' and the common agent suffix -unU (from *-Unos or *-aunos). This is the commonly accepted etymology. To make the connection with Perkunas, it has been proposed that the *per root had a by-form with radical extension, *per-kw-. Perkunas too would then be the Striker. But this conflicts with the more obvious derivation from *perkwu- 'oak' with the -nos suffix. The attempt has been made to square the circle by deriving the tree-name from the verb, the oak being the tree that gets smitten, the tree that is dedicated

14 Procop. Bell. Goth. 3. 14. 23; S. Rozniecki, Archiv für slavische Philologie 23 (1901), 488-93, 503, 509. Cf. Grimm (1883-8), 171 f.; von Schroeder (1914-16), i. 550; Unbegaun (1948), 401 f.; Gimbutas (1971), 154-7, 166 f.; N. Reiter in Wb. d. Myth. i(2), 189-91; Puhvel (1987), 233-5; Nagy (1974), 113, 117-19 = (1990), 183 f., 187-9; Váiía (1992), 71-5.

15 Schrader (1909), 38; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 627; V. V. Ivanov-V. N. Toporov in Jean Pouillon-Pierre Maranda, Échanges et communications. Mélanges offerts a Claude Lévi-Strauss (The Hague-Paris 1970), ii. 1182-4.

16 Grimm (1883-8), 172; Ivanov-Toporov (as n. 15), 1183 f.; Jakobson (1962-88), vii. 17; Nagy (1974), 115 = (1990), 184.

17 Watkins in Mayrhofer et al. (1974), 107. Perlinas is apparently attested in Lithuanian as a substitute for Perkunas: Jakobson (1962-88), vii. 19. One might compare archaic English 'Odds-bobs' (= God's body), 'Ods-life', etc.

to the Smiter. This is not impossible, but it does not absolve us from the necessity of choosing between two incompatible analyses of Perkunas' name.18

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