The language of the gods

In narratives about the gods there is no difference between their speech, when they are represented as speaking, and that of men. On occasion, however, certain persons or things are said to have a different name among the gods (and sometimes among other orders of being) from the one familiar to mankind.138

The oldest examples are found in Hittite and proto-Hattic ritual texts.139 For example (CTH 733 ii 1), 'When he speaks prayers to his (the god's) wife, the singer [says]: "(Among mankind) you (are) Tahatanuitis, among the gods [you] (are) the fountain mother, the Queen" ', and so on. These formulae perhaps come from Hattic rather than Indo-European tradition. But there are parallels in Indic, Greek, Germanic, and Celtic.

Early in the last chapter I quoted a verse of the Rigveda about the division of language into four parts, three of which were stored in secret, known only

137 Compared with the myth of Odrreri's mead by Kuhn (1859), 144-61. On the opposition between Asuras and Devas see below.

138 On this topic cf. H. Güntert, Von der Sprache der Götter und Geister (Halle 1921); de Vries (1956), i. 299; R. Lazzeroni, Annali della Scuola Normale di Pisa ser. 2: 26 (1957), 1-25; West (1966), 387 f.; id. (1997), 352 f.; V. N. Toporov, Poetica 13 (1981), 201-14; Watkins (1994), 456-72.

139 E. Laroche, JCS 1 (1947), 187; J. Friedrich in Sprachgeschichte und Wortbedeutung (Festschrift für A. Debrunner, Bern 1954), 135-9.

to the Brahman poets. This esoteric knowledge must have included the 'hidden names of the gods' (RV 5. 5. 10, devOunam guhya nUmani), needed for successful ritual; the expression implies that the gods had names for themselves that differed from those in common use but were not unknown to the learned Rishi. Whatever other poetic or cultic vocabulary he had at his disposal might, if it suited him, be classified as gods' language. In 4. 58. 1 'the secret name of the ghee', understood to be the holy Soma, is called 'the tongue of the gods', apparently because it causes the sacral vocabulary to be uttered at the sacrifice.

SB 1. 1. 4. 4 describes a ritual in which the priest takes a black antelope skin (carman-) with the words 'You are a defence (sarman-)', and it is explained that while carman- is its human name, 'it is sarman- among the gods'. Grammarians faced with Vedic forms that differed from those expected put them down as 'gods' words'. Aitareya Brahmana 7. 18. 13 explains how the officiating priest, the adhvaryu, responds to the hota/s mantras: ' "Om" is the response to an rc, "evam tatha" to a gatha. For "om" is divine (daivam), "tatha" is human (manusam).' Om is a sacred word, more or less 'amen', while evam tatha is a pedestrian 'just so'.

In the ritual of the Asvamedha, the great royal horse sacrifice, the horse was ceremonially addressed with its four names, dsva-, hdya-, drvan-, vajin-, of which the last three are elevated synonyms of the ordinary word for 'horse'; as it were, steed, courser, racer. The four terms are assigned to four distinct cosmic orders: 'As hdya- it carried the gods (Devas), as drvan- the Asuras, as vajin- the Gandharvas, as dsva- men'.140 This is virtually saying that these four races each have their own language, to which the respective words belong.

In many places in Homer and later Greek poetry the gods' name for a person, place, or thing is stated, usually contrasted with the human name.141 It is a means by which poets can present alternative, elevated or 'marked' names and vocables and acknowledge their special status.

The Greeks never go beyond a pair of names and the binary opposition of gods and men. On the other hand, the fourfold division made in the Indian text is outbid in the Eddic poem Alvissmdl (9-34), where the dwarf Alviss (Know-all) systematically recites the names of various things—earth, heaven, moon, sun, cloud, wind, etc.—in the languages of six orders of being: they are usually humankind, the ^sir, the Vanir, the giants, the elves, and the dwarfs, but in some stanzas one or other of these is replaced by another term. It is

140 TS 7. 5. 25. 2; Guntert (as n. 138), 160; Watkins (1995), 269. For the Asuras see below.

141 Il. 1. 403 f., 2. 813 f., 14. 290 f., 20. 74; Od. 10. 305, 12. 61, etc.; a full collection in West (1966), 387.

in effect a poetic thesaurus cast in literary form; the Know-all is the poet himself.

The compiler of the Irish bardic grammar Auraicept na n-Eces, apropos of grammatical gender, cites three different ways of expressing the distinction of masculine, feminine, and neuter, and says that 'according to some' the first (the plainest and simplest) is the idiom of the sons of Mil, that is, of the ordinary Irish people; the second, which uses artificial terms, is that of an earlier race, the Fir Bolg; the third, an old set of technical words, is that of the Tuatha De Danann. These last are in a sense the gods (see below).142

Indo-European poets no doubt had at their disposal a professional vocabulary that included rare, choice, archaic, or artificial words. On the evidence cited above, it may be inferred that they also had the concept (or conceit) that some such words, not current in the speech of men, belonged to that of the gods.

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