Relations with mankind

Although certain individual deities are charged with the supervision of justice, contracts, and so on, in general the Indo-European gods do not have an ethical character. The essential thing about them is their power, which they can exercise at their pleasure. It is therefore important to have them as friends.35 In Hittite ritual the priest prayed 'May the Tabarna, the king, be dear to the gods!'36 The Indian prayer priyo devänöm bhöyasam, 'may I be the gods' friend' (AV 17. 1. 2), or priyäm mö kmu devesu, 'make me a friend among the gods' (19. 62. 1), would have seemed quite normal to the Greeks. Compare Theognis 653, 'May I be of good fortune (ev-Sai^wv) and dear to the immortal gods'; Pindar fr. 155, 'What can I do to be dear to you, strong-thundering son of Kronos, and dear to the Muses?'; Euripides fr. 800. 2, 'may I never be anything but dear to the gods'. In the epics Hector and others are characterized as 'dear to the gods'; kings are 'dear to Zeus', warriors 'dear to Ares'. People were given names such as Diphilos and Herophilos, 'dear to Zeus', 'dear to Hera'. These have parallels in Germanic and Slavonic names such as Oswini 'God's friend', Serbian Bogoljub, Polish Bogumil, etc.37 In the Sigurdarkvida (24. 7) Sigurd is called Freys vinr, 'Freyr's friend'. Conversely certain persons were held to be hated by a god or the gods, or temporarily to be the object of their anger, and to suffer in consequence.38

35 Cf. Oldenberg (1917), 292, of the Vedic picture, 'das Bild der Götter im allgemeinen trägt ethische Züge doch nur oberflächlich an sich. Für das religiöse Bewußtsein ist es das Wesentliche, daß der Gott ein starker Freund ist.'

36 CTH 537. 1 obv. 2 f. Near Eastern kings regularly styled themselves 'beloved of the gods', or more often of a particular god: West (1997), 130 f.

37 Cf. Grimm (1883-8), 93, 211; Schramm (1957), 32 f., 71.

38 Grimm (1883-8), 18-20 and 137, collects Germanic examples; see also West (1997), 124-8.

The relationship of god to people was expressed using terms taken from the human world: king, father, herdsman. In the Rigveda gods are frequently addressed or described as rajan-, 'king', or samraj-, 'great king': Varuna (1. 24. 7-9, 12-14, 156. 4, etc.), Indra (1. 63. 7, 178. 2, etc.), Soma (1. 91. 4, 8, etc.), Agni (1. 79. 6; 3. 1. 18, etc.), Mitra (3. 59. 4). The Greek deities are similarly titled ava£ or dvaooa; a Wanax appears as a deity in the Pylos tablets.

aaiAevs and aaiAeia are used especially of Zeus and Hera, but sporadically of others, and as an independent divine name (BaaiAevs, BaaiAr) in several places.39

The titles 'father' and 'mother' cleave especially to Heaven and Earth, as will be shown in the next chapter. But other Vedic gods besides Dyaus are called 'our father' or 'the father': Agni (RV 1. 31. 10; 2. 1. 9), Tvastr (2. 17. 6; 10. 64. 10), Brhaspati (6. 73. 1), Varuna (7. 52. 3). In Greece the practice is rare, but Ion of Chios addresses Dionysus as naTep (fr. 26. 13; cf. Aesch. fr. 382). At Rome it was well established. Cato quotes prayers containing the vocatives Iane pater and Mars pater (De agric. 134. 2 f., 141. 2-4). Aeneas in Ennius (Ann. 26) prays to pater Tiberine, as does Cocles in Livy (2. 10. 11). Gellius (5. 12. 5) records a Neptunus pater and Saturnus pater, and inscriptions attest Marspiter, Dis pater, Vediovis pater, Liber pater, and others.40 Divine 'mothers' are especially common in northern and western Europe; I shall come to them presently.

In the Hittite treaty between Muwatalli and Alaksandu of Wilusa (CTH 76 iv 1) one of the gods invoked is 'the Sun-god of heaven, king of the lands, shepherd of mankind'. The shepherd metaphor may in this case be a Semitic borrowing, as it is commonly used of gods in Babylonian and Hebrew poetry.41 But it could equally be Indo-European inheritance; it was natural in any pastoralist society, and we shall see in Chapter 11 that its application to human rulers was common to Indo-European and Near Eastern peoples. In the Rigveda gopah 'cowherd' is widely used in the general sense of protector of anyone or anything, and often applied to gods. For example, Vishnu in RV 1. 22. 18 is called gopa ddabhiyah, 'undeceived cowherd', that is, protector of men; cf. 2. 9. 6. Agni in 1. 96. 4 is visfm gopah, cowherd of human settlements. Brhaspati in 2. 23. 6 is told tuvdm no gopah pathikfd, vicaksandh, 'you are our pathmaking, observant cowherd'. From Greek poetry we can quote Ana-creon's prayer to Artemis (PMG 348), in which he uses the verb noipalveiv 'shepherd' of her power over the people of Magnesia on the Maeander.

39 Cf. Usener (1896), 226-31; Campanile (1977), 67-71. For Near Eastern gods as kings see West (1997), 108, 557 f.

40 CIL i.2 970, 1012, 1439, 2290, etc.; Campanile (1977), 68, 71-3, 76.

Gods are givers. We saw at the beginning of the chapter that a word meaning 'dispenser' became the common term for 'god' in Iran and the Slavonic countries. In prayers the gods are constantly being asked to give things. As Theodor Benfey first observed in 1872, a more specific predicate 'giver(s) of good things' can be inferred (at least for Graeco-Aryan) from parallel expressions in the Veda, Avesta, and Greek epic.42 In Indo-Iranian they are based on the roots da 'give' and vasu- 'good'. Indra is vasudää (RV 8. 99. 4; so of Earth, AV 12. 1. 44); data väsu 'giver (of) good' (2. 22. 3; 6. 23. 3; 7. 20. 2;

10. 55. 6); däta väsünaam 'giver of good things' (8. 51. 5; so of Aryaman in TS 2. 3. 14. 4); Agni is vasudHva^n- (2. 6. 4). Similarly in the Avesta Ahura Mazda is vaghuda (Y. 38. 4) or data vaghuuqm (Vd. 22. 1, 8, 14, cf. 19. 17), while the Holy Immortals are vohunym dätäro, 'givers of good things' (Y. 65. 12, Visprat

11. 12). This corresponds quite closely to the Hesiodic and Homeric formula which calls the gods Swrypes ¿awv. The vocative singular Swrop eawv is used in addressing Hermes in the Odyssey (8. 335) and twice in the Homeric Hymns. It looks as if the Greek and Vedic phrases must go back to a common prototype, though eawv—evidently an archaic word—is difficult to analyse.43 The 'giving' root reappears in the Old Russian DaZibogu, Church Slavonic DaZdibogu, 'Giver of Wealth', while a Lithuanian god written as Datanus and glossed as donator bonorum seu largitor is attested in a sixteenth-century source.44

It is a common idea, not confined to Indo-European peoples, that gods sometimes roam the earth disguised in human form.45 'Of old, in the Aeon of the Gods, O king, the blessed Lord Aditya came down from heaven, unwearied, in order to see the world of men' (MBh. 2. 11. 1). The Asvins 'are healers and servants, and, taking any form they please, they walk in the world of the mortals' (ibid. 3. 124. 12). 'Even gods, taking the likeness of strangers from elsewhere and assuming every kind of aspect, go from one community to another, monitoring men's unrighteous or orderly conduct' (Od. 17. 485-7). Several Greek and Roman myths tell how a god, or two or three gods together, travelled about and received hospitality from someone who did not know

42 Durante (1962), 28 ~ (1976), 92; Schmitt (1967), 142-8; cf. Schlerath (1968), ii. 149.

43 Karl Hoffmann, Aufsätze zur Indoiranistik, ii (Wiesbaden 1976), 600-4, explains it as a replacement for *eFiFow < *ewehwän < *htweswom.

44 R. Jakobson (1962-88), vii. 29 f.; Usener (1896), 89 ~ Mannhardt (1936), 356. The Germanic and Celtic word for 'give' (in Celtic 'take') seems to have given names to the Gabiae and Alagabiae, beneficent goddesses recorded from the northern provinces of the Roman empire, and to some individuals such as Ollogabia, Garmangabi, Friagabi, and the later attested Scandinavian Gefjon, Gefn: de Vries (1956), ii. 293, cf. 317, 319 f., 329; Olmsted (1994), 412-14. There is no connection with the Lithuanian Gabia, Gabjauja, Matergabia, and Polengabia listed by Usener (1896), 90, 95, 98; see Biezais-Balys (1973), 407.

45 For Sumerian and Old Testament evidence see West (1997), 123 f.

what they were and who impressed them with his goodness and piety, or his lack of it. In Nordic mythology Odin goes about similarly, accompanied by Loki and Hrenir.46 A Lithuanian legend explains why horses graze continuously while oxen chew the cud: it is because a horse was too busy eating to show the god Perkunas the way when he was walking the earth, but an ox helped him.47

The gods' disguise is not always perfect. Their divine nature may betray itself in certain visible clues. Helen recognizes Aphrodite by her beautiful neck and breast and her sparkling eyes (Il. 3. 396 f.; cf. Hymn. Aphr. 181); the Locrian Ajax recognizes Poseidon by the movements of his lower legs as he departs (13. 71 f.). According to a passage in the Mahabharata (3. 54. 23) the gods are distinguished by absence of sweat and dust, unblinking eyes, and by their feet not touching the ground. Pisani found a remarkable parallel in Heliodorus' Aethiopica (3. 13. 2), where Calasiris tells Cnemon that while a layman would be taken in by gods in human form, the expert can recognize them by their steady, unblinking gaze and even more by their gait, as they glide smoothly along off the ground without parting their legs.48 There is no great likelihood that coincident details attested only in such late texts represent independent transmission of Graeco-Aryan heritage rather than post-Alexandrian diffusion. But as the Homeric passages already refer specifically to eyes and gait, the basic idea may be ancient.

Another curious parallel concerning a sign that manifests a god's presence may be mentioned in passing. In the Iliad (5. 838 f.), when Athena steps into Diomedes' chariot beside him, the poet remarks that the wooden axle groaned at the weight, because it was carrying a formidable goddess and a hero. This Athena is no incorporeal phantom; she has mass. A Norse narrative tells how the Swedish king Eric, wanting to consult an oracular deity called Lytir, took the god's wagon to a certain place and waited till it became heavy. That meant that Lytir was in it.49

The disguised deity may at a certain point declare his or her own identity, as Poseidon does to Tyro, avrap iyw roi el(i nooeiSdwv ivooix6wv (Od. 11. 252), or Dionysus to the Tyrrhenian helmsman, etpi S iyw Aiovvoos ipi po^os, or Indra in the Mahabharata, Indro'ham asmi, where aham asmi =

46 Voluspa 17 f.; Reginsmal, introductory prose; Skaldsk. G56, 39.

47 Grimm (1883-8), iii. xxxviii-xliii and iv. 1702-4, collects this and further material, much of it featuring Christ and Peter; the old story pattern survived in Christian dress.

48 V. Pisani, ZDMG 103 (1953), 137 f. (= Schmitt (1968), 169 f.); id. (1969), 64.

49 Flateyjarbok i. 467; Davidson (1964), 94. Davidson suggests that this was also the sign by which the priest of Nerthus ascertained that the goddess was present at her sacred wagon, which was then led in procession (Tac. Germ. 40. 3, is adesse penetrali deam intellegit).

50 Od. 11. 252; Hymn. Dion. 56; MBh. 13. 12. 36. Further Greek (and Biblical) examples in West (1997), 183 f.

Animals such as dogs are better than humans at sensing the presence of gods and spirits.51 But a human being may be temporarily granted the special kind of vision that enables him to see the gods in their true form and know them for what they are. In the fifth book of the Iliad (127 f.) Athena tells Diomedes that she has removed the 'fog' (dxAvs) that has hitherto lain upon his eyes, so that he will be able to distinguish between god and mortal and identify any deity that he may encounter in the battle. In the Mahabharata (3. 42. 16 f.) Arjuna, before being given divine weapons, is visited by the gods, and Yama bellows 'Arjuna, Arjuna, behold us! The World Guardians have assembled. We bestow on you eyesight, for you are worthy of seeing us.'


Of the many individual gods that the Indo-Europeans must have known by name, very few can now be identified. In principle divine names, no less than ordinary vocabulary items, could appear in recognizably related forms in different language branches. In a small number of cases they do, or may do, and these will be discussed in due course. But for the most part the different pantheons have very little in common, at least in terms of shared names. Sometimes a god's essence survived under a different name, or his functions were taken over by another deity.

More than one factor contributed to the replacement of names. A god's primary name might be avoided for taboo reasons. It might be displaced by familiar epithets or titles, rather as the Christian deity is no longer known as Yahweh or Jehovah but is mostly just called God, or alternatively the Almighty, the Heavenly Father, the Lord, and so forth.52

Scholars have often found that divine names in different traditions looked as if they should be the same, but showed anomalies of form, and did not quite correspond in the way that the laws of phonology would predict. There is a school of thought that admits some licence in the matter. Jan de Vries wrote that 'the research of recent years has shown that especially in religious nomenclature the sound laws do not need to be followed in their unconditional strictness'. No less a philologist than Roman Jakobson opined

51 Eumaeus' dogs whimper and cower as Athena comes to talk to Odysseus (Od. 16. 162 f.; see A. Hoekstra's note on 161). Grimm (1883-8), 667, 1484, collects material from Germanic folk-tales. Dogs howl at the approach of the Lithuanian death goddess Giltiné: Biezais-Balys (1973), 408.

52 Cf. Usener (1896), 324 f.; Vendryès (1948), 264 f.; G. Dumézil, Les dieux des Indo-Européens (Paris 1952), 5 f.; M. Gimbutas, JIES 1 (1973), 469 f.; Sergent (1995), 390.

that 'a rigorous, pedantic application of current phonetic and grammatical rules to such a highly specialized field of language as hieratic onomastics would be sheer fallacy'. Freedom of treatment was 'quite a typical feature of mythological nomenclature, prompted in part by the severe rules of taboo and partly by the vital needs of ecstatic expressivity'.53 It is widely accepted that the force of taboo can operate by deforming rather than suppressing the supernatural being's proper name.54 That might explain some of the anomalies that confront us. It might, for example, have played a role in the irregular dialect variations found in the names of many Greek gods— Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, Apollo, Ares, Dionysus.55 At any rate it is a convenient theory.

Gods' names are not invented arbitrarily, like those of aliens in science fiction. Originally they have a meaning, they express some concept, and sometimes this is still apparent or discoverable.

In PIE, before the development of the three-gender system characteristic of MIE, there was a two-gender system which simply distinguished between animate and inanimate. In some cases there were pairs of words, one of either gender, for what we would think of as the same thing. For instance, Fire considered as an active principle was *hngwnis (animate), but as a mere physical entity *peh2ur (inanimate); the first gave the Latin masculine ignis, the second the Greek neuter nvp, English fire, etc. Water as a living, moving thing was *h^ep- (animate), as an inert element *uodr (inanimate). If either was to be accorded divine status, it was naturally the an imate, and in Vedic we duly find Agni 'Fire' and Apah 'the Waters' as the recipients of hymns.

On a similar principle other things could be made into deities by transferring them to the animate gender.56 Thus the Indo-Iranian god of the contract, Miträh/Midrö, is the masculinized form of the neuter miträm/ midrom 'contract'. Indra's monstrous enemy Vrträh, who blocked the waters, is the masculinized form of the neuter vrträm 'blockage'. What is in Vedic the neuter noun vänah, genitive vänasah (< *venos, *venesos), 'loveliness', appears in Latin as the female deity Venus, genitive Veneris. Zarathushtra very frequently sings of Asa- 'Truth' as a divine principle, mostly as a neuter (asom, = Vedic rtäm), but when he wants to address him directly, or represent him as a

53 de Vries (1956), ii. 275; Jakobson (1962-88), vii. 44 f., cf. 13.

54 The phenomenon can be illustrated from English exclamations of an earlier generation: 'by Gum', 'Golly', 'Gosh' for (by) God, 'O Lor' for Lord, 'Jeepers Creepers', 'Cripes', 'Crikey' for (Jesus) Christ, 'Heck' for Hell, 'well, I'll be darned' (or dashed, danged) for damned.

56 Cf. Paul Thieme, Mitra und Aryaman (New Haven 1957), 20-6, 38, 81 f.; id., Paideuma 7 (1960), 135-46; Pisani (1969), 257 f., 264; Johanna Narten, Die Amosa Spontas im Awesta (Wiesbaden 1982), 64.

speaking figure, he becomes masculine (Y. 28. 5, 29. 3, etc.). In Greek the god of war and destruction, Ares, is a masculine related to the feminine dp— 'ruin, destruction' and the neuter apos 'damage'. In the Iliad he is attended by two figures representing fear and panic, Deimos and Phobos; Phobos is the personification of a noun that is masculine already, while Deimos is masculinized from the neuter Beipa.

Sometimes male gods are made out of feminine nouns. The Avestan feminine mazda 'wisdom' (Y. 40. 1, = Vedic medha) was deified as the masculine Ahura Mazda, 'Lord Wisdom'. The gods who according to Hesiod make Zeus' thunder and lightning, Brontes and Steropes, are masculines made from the feminine nouns povT— and aTepon—. Latin cupido fluctuates in gender as a common noun, but as a god Cupido is male.

Many gods were created for specialized roles and named accordingly, whether by the above method or by attaching a suffix to the operative word or forming a compound with it. It has even been maintained that the Indo-Europeans had only deities of this sort.57 We cannot go as far as that, but the type is certainly early, and we can recognize some pervasive patterns of nomenclature.

Some names have the form of agent nouns built on verbal roots. In the Veda we have Savitr, 'Arouser, Stimulator', a deity hard to distinguish from the Sun; Dhatr, 'Creator'; Tvastr, 'Artificer', the maker of Indra's weapon and other articles (= Avestan & orostar, Y. 29. 6); and a few other minor figures.58 In Greece we have Alastor, probably 'Unforgetter', the demon that pursues those tainted by blood-guilt, and many titles of Zeus that focus on a single function, such as 'Ay—Twp, AvavT—p, AaTpanaTas (Homeric daTeponrT—s), AftiKTwp, revv—T^p, "Ektwp, MaipaKT—p, 2W—p.59 Jupiter too has such titles in plenty: Cultor, Defensor, Depulsor, Inventor, Iutor, Monitor, Pistor, Stator, Victor, and others. There are many Roman godlets of comparable form. When the Flamen performed the sacrum cereale for Tellus and Ceres, he invoked Vervactor, Reparator, Imporcitor, Insitor, Obarator, Occator, Sarritor, Subruncinator, Messor, Convector, Conditor, and Promitor, all controlling different stages of the agricultural cycle.60 There is no single name among all the above that can be attributed even to a late phase of Indo-European. But we may assume that this method of creating divine names goes back to early times.

57 Usener (1896), 279; Schrader (1909), 35-7. On such 'Sondergotter' see Usener, 75-9 (Roman), 108-15 (Baltic), 122-77 (Greek); Oldenberg (1917), 63, 258 (Indian).

58 On all of them see Macdonell (1898), 115-18.

59 For these and others see the catalogue of Zeus' titles in RE xA. 253-376.

60 Fabius Pictor fr. 6 in E. Seckel-B. Kuebler, Iurisprudentiae Anteiustinianae Reliquiae, i.6 (Leipzig 1908); Usener (1896), 76.

Many gods' names contain the suffix *-nos or (feminine) *-neh 2 > -na. They include deities attested in the second millennium bce, the Hittite storm-god Tarhunna (from tarh- 'overcome, vanquish') and the Indic Varuna (from var(-u-) 'cover, protect'). In the European languages the suffix was added to existing nouns to signify 'controller of', 'lord of'. It made not only divine names but also human titles like Greek Kolpavos 'army leader' (see p. 449), Latin domi-nus, tribu-nus, Gothic piudans 'king' (< *teuto-nos: *teuta 'people'), Old English dryhten, Old Norse drottinn 'lord' (< *drukti-nos: *drukti- 'armed retinue').61 As for deities, we may refer to the Greek Ouranos < *Worsanos, 'lord of rain', and Helena < *Swelena, 'mistress of sunlight' (p. 231); the Illyrian Menzanas, 'lord of horses'; the Roman Neptunus, 'lord of waters' (p. 276), Volcanus, 'lord of fire-glare' (p. 268), Silvanus, 'lord of woods', Portunus, 'lord of ports', Tiberinus, 'lord of the Tiber', and goddesses such as Fortuna, Bellona, Pomona; the Germanic WodenlOdin < *Wodanaz, 'lord of frenzy'; the Gallic Epona, goddess of horses, Nemetona, goddess of groves, Ritona Pritona, goddess of buying and selling, and many others;62 the Lithuanian thunder-god Perkunas, 'lord of oaks', Velinas, 'lord of the dead' (modern Velnias, the Devil), and Zemyna, Zemyne, 'mistress of the Earth'. Perkunas, as we shall see in Chapter 6, has some claim to Indo-European antiquity, but for the rest, as in the case of the agent-noun formations, it is the type that is inherited rather than the individual representatives of it.

In the more easterly parts of the Indo-European area the idea 'lordllady of' could be expressed more explicitly through the use of the word *potis, feminine *potnih2. This too was applicable in either the human or the divine sphere. The master of the house (Latin domi-nus) was in Vedic dampatih, in Avestan dong paitis, in Greek Sean^Tys; the master of the clan or settlement (*woi£os) was in Vedic vispatih, in Lithuanian viespat(i)s.

As for gods, we meet in the Rigveda a deity Brhas-pati or Brahmanas-pati, 'Lord of Prayer', to whom eleven hymns are addressed. Both parts of the name are accented, showing that they were still felt as independent elements. In Prajaapati, on the other hand, the 'Lord of Generation', they are integrated into one word with a single accent. The common noun pati- is frequently coupled with a genitive to make an attributive phrase describing a god's province. It can also have the sense of 'husband', like its Greek equivalent

61 Cf. Meid (1957); Benveniste (1973), 89-94, 245-8; B. Schlerath in Sprache und Kultur der Indogermanen (Akten der X. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft (1996); Innsbruck 1998), 91.

62 Cf. Duval (1957), 56 f.; Olmsted (1994), 356 f., 360, 374 f., 409 f.; Lambert (2003), 29. Note that in Gaulish -ona, unlike Latin -ona, the [o] is short.

noois, and in the Mahabharata we find titles such as Umapati 'husband of Uma' = Rudra (5. 49. 24), Sacapati 'husband of Saca' = Indra (5. 158. 13).

These recall the Homeric designation of Zeus as ipiySovnos noois "Hp-qs, 'the loud-thundering husband of Hera'. Poseidon (in dialects Poteidaon, Potidas, etc.) has often been explained as 'Husband of Earth'; this is linguistically problematic (apart from the fact that he was not the husband of Earth) but it is plausible enough that the name should contain the *poti- element and that its original meaning was 'Master of (something)'. On a Linear B tablet from Pylos (PY Tn 316) that lists various deities receiving offerings, there is one spelled do-po-ta, perhaps to be read as Dospotas, 'Master of the House', like the classical Seonorns but with a more specific reference.

The Vedic Dawn goddess is bhuvanasya patna, 'mistress of creation' (RV 7. 75. 4), and the same phrase is used of the Waters (10. 30. 10). The plural patnih is used as a collective name for the gods' wives (1. 103. 7; 5. 41. 6, 50. 3). The corresponding Greek word, norvia, is commonly used of goddesses, sometimes with a defining qualification, as in the Mycenaean Potnia Daburinthoio 'Mistress of the Labyrinth', Potnia Ikkweia 'Mistress of Horses', etc., and the Homeric norvia 6-qp&v, 'Mistress of Animals'. Potnia by itself serves as a goddess's name at Pylos, and plural Potniai were worshipped in several places.

The ancient pattern remained productive in Baltic. A series of Lithuanian gods' names are compounds formed with -patis: Dimstipatis 'Master of the House', Laukpatis 'Master of the Fields', Raugupatis 'Master of the Sour Dough', Vejopatis 'Master of the Wind', Zemepatis, fem. Zempati, 'Master/ Mistress of the Earth'.63 Apart from such names, the patis element survives in Lithuanian only in the very old compound viespatis mentioned above: an indication of their archaic character.

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