The solar steeds

The solar wheel must be travelling at some speed, as it traverses the whole earth within a day. The idea that it is drawn by a horse became current at an early date.

ud u eti prasavita jananam, I mahian ketur amavah Suriyasya, samanam cakram pariyavivrtsan I yad Etaso vahati dhursu yuktah.

Up goes the arouser of peoples, the great waving banner of Surya, to set rolling forward the common Wheel that Etasa conveys, yoked in harness.

Etasa 'Swift' is often mentioned as the steed who draws the sun or the Sun's wheel.33 Dawn is said to bring with her the eye of the gods and to guide the fair white horse (7. 77. 3).

Among the many rock carvings from Scandinavia, dating from between 1500 and 400 bce, are a number depicting a horse or a pair of horses pulling a wheel or disc. One from Kalleby in Bohuslan, Sweden, shows a horse pulling a large four-spoked wheel and hovering over a longship.34 Another from Balken in the same region shows a horse with a band running back from its head to a disc that flies above its back. Further designs of a horse pulling the sun, here represented by concentric and/or radiate circles, appear on several

29 David Stronach, Pasargadae (Oxford 1978), 178 f. and pl. 162a.

30 Pettazzoni (1956), 167; cf. 197 (Hallstatt culture), 240.

31 M. Green (1986), 46 f. Cf. the same author's study, The Wheel as a Cult Symbol in the Romano-Celtic World (Brussels 1984).

32 Cf. de Vries (1956), i. 139 f.; M. Green (1986), 55 f.; (1991), 46-8.

33 RV 1. 121. 13; 4. 17. 14; 5. 31. 11; 7. 66. 14; 8. 1. 11; 9. 63. 8; cf. 1. 61. 15; 4. 30. 6; 5. 81. 3; Macdonell (1898), 149 f.; Hillebrandt (1927-9), ii. 161-4.

34 Glob (1974), 103, 151 fig. 61; M. Green (1991), 78, 79 fig. 61.

bronze razors from different sites in Denmark.35 In all of the above except the Kalleby carving the horse is facing to the right, in other words pulling the sun in the direction in which it is seen to cross the sky.

The most spectacular of Scandinavian representations is the famous Trundholm sun-horse, discovered in 1902 in a bog in north-west Zealand. This is a bronze model horse about 25 cm. long, drawing behind it a bronze disc taller than itself, 26 cm. in diameter. The whole group measures about 60 cm. in length. The disc has a bright side, covered with gold leaf, and a dull side; the bright side is displayed when the group is viewed with the horse facing to the right. The set was mounted on three pairs of wheels, two for the horse and one for the sun-disc, each wheel having four slender spokes and actually able to turn.36 This remarkable artefact, now in the National Museum in Copenhagen, is dated to about the fourteenth century bce. It is not unique: fragments of a similar assembly, but with two horses, had been found a few years earlier near Halsingborg on the other side of the sound. Sun-discs comparable to the one in the Trundholm group have been found in Ireland, the Isle of Man, and near Bath.37

When one knows these second- and first-millennium depictions of the horse pulling the solar disc, it is tempting to recognize an analogous theme on certain Aegean objects from a much earlier period. They are from Troy and the Cyclades, from the mid-part of the third millennium; we do not know that the populations in question were Indo-European, but there is no historical implausibility in it, seeing that Anatolia had probably been colonized by Indo-European-speakers well before 3000.

The first item in question is an Early Cycladic II silver diadem from Syros, on the preserved section of which we see a male quadruped facing left, with a band of some sort round his neck, and behind him a large sun-disc with flames radiating from centre to rim. The animal is more like a dog than a horse, and one would not expect the horse to be known in the Aegean at this period. It is not possible to see if the band round his neck was continued as a link to the disc. Behind the sun is a standing figure with a bird's head and outspread wings. Left of the animal, on the broken edge, is another sun-disc, which probably occupied the centre of the whole design. Symmetry suggests

35 F. Kaul in Meller (2004), 57, 61 (fig. centre right; first millennium bce).

36 J. Déchelette, Revue archéologique 413 (1909), 308 f.; de Vries (1956), i. 112 f.; Glob (1974), 99-103; Gelling-Davidson (1969), 14-16, 19-21; M. Green (1991), 64-6; F. Kaul in Meller (2004), 54-7.

37 Déchelette (as n. 36), 309 f.; Gelling-Davidson (1969), 16.

that the animal-sun-bird sequence was repeated in reverse on the lost half of the diadem.38

Among the many crudely decorated spindle-whorls from Troy II there are some on which the swastika symbol seems to be associated with a many-legged animal.39 The many legs (six to ten) were perhaps a mythical expression of speed and stamina. Slovak and Russian folklore tells of an eight-legged horse that draws the sun, and although he has no apparent solar associations we think also of Odin's famous eight-legged steed Sleipnir.

A god is not a wheel, as someone recently observed, and a god is not a horse. So with the horse pulling the wheel, what becomes of the Sun-god? He is provided for by making the wheel into a chariot--initially a one-wheeled chariot.

sapta yunjanti ratham ekacakram; I eko asvo vahati saptanama. trinabhi cakram, ajaram, anarvam, I yatrema visva bhuvanildhi tasthuh. Seven yoke the one-wheeled car; one horse with seven names draws it. Three-naved is the wheel, unageing, unstoppable, on which all these creatures stand.

Indian art of the first century bce to the second c e shows Surya riding his one-wheeled chariot, now drawn by four horses.40 The solar vehicle must be the model for the one-wheeled, golden chariot, drawn by immortal white horses, that Mithra rides in the Avestan hymn to him, even if he is not yet identified with the Sun.41

The number of horses varies. Surya's (or Savitr's) are often mentioned in the plural. Sometimes they are two (RV 1. 35. 3), or seven (1. 50. 8 f.; 4. 13. 3; 5. 45. 9; 7. 60. 3), seven or a hundred (AV 13. 2. 6 f.), even a thousand (RV 5. 62. 1); in other places the number is indefinite (1. 115. 4; 4. 45. 6; 5. 29. 5; 7. 45. 1; 10. 37. 3, 49. 7; AV 13. 1. 24, al.).

In the Avesta the Sun has the formulaic epithet 'possessing swift horses' (Y. 3. 13, Yt. 6. 0, 1, 4, 10. 90, etc., hvaro aurvat.aspom). At Hasanlu in northwest Iran, a site associated with early Aryan migrations, a gold bowl of the twelfth to eleventh century bce was found with mythological scenes in which the Weather-god in a bull-chariot is followed by solar and lunar deities in

38 Illustrated in Emily Vermeule, Greece in the Bronze Age (Chicago 1964), 53 f.; Goodison (as n. 27), 16 and fig. 27.

39 See Heinrich Schliemann, Ilios (London 1880), figs. 1872, 1947, 1991.

40 Sukumari Bhattacharji, The Indian Theogony (Cambridge 1970), 226.

41 Yt. 10. 125, 136; see Gershevitch (1959), 35 f., 281 f., 330 f. The Irish saint Aed mac Bricc (aed = 'fire') rode through the air in a one-wheeled chariot: Acta sanctorum Hibern. ex cod. Salmant., ed. C. de Smedt-J. de Backer (Edinburgh 1888), 337, 339, 352, 354, 358; O'Rahilly (1946), 472.

chariots drawn by equids.42 Later Iranian ideology may be reflected in Xenophon's account of a procession of Cyrus in which there appeared a white chariot with golden yoke, consecrated to Zeus, and another belonging to the Sun (Cyrop. 8. 3. 12; cf. Curt. 3. 3. 11).

There is no allusion in the Iliad or Odyssey to Helios' horses or chariot, though Dawn is given horses in one passage (Od. 23. 244-6). But they appear in several of the Homeric Hymns, in Mimnermus and other archaic poets, and in art perhaps from the first half of the seventh century.43 In Hymn. Hom. 31. 15 the chariot is xpuaotvyov, 'golden-yoked', as in the Rigveda (1. 35. 2-5) Savitr's is a golden car with golden yoke-pegs and pole. When Euripides describes a shield-device of 'the Sun's shining wheel on the winged mares' (or 'chariot': El. 464-6 ^de6wv kvkXos 'AXioio I innois a/ nrepoeaaais), we almost seem to be back with the horse-drawn wheel, but perhaps he is just combining traditional images in a careless way.

An association of the Sun-god with horses is attested for other ancient peoples. Herodotus (1. 216. 4) records that the Massagetai worship only the Sun, and that they sacrifice horses to him, assigning the swiftest of mortal creatures to the swiftest of gods. In Sophocles' Tereus (fr. 582) someone, perhaps Tereus himself, addressed 'Helios, highest object of reverence for the horse-loving Thracians'. Xenophon in Armenia found himself in possession of an elderly horse that was sacred to the Sun (Anab. 4. 5. 35). Sun, wheel, and horse are variously associated on Celtic Iron Age coins.44 An Irish legend tells of one Eochaid Mairccend 'Horsehead' who had Wind and Sun (Gaeth, Grian) as his steeds. Grian outran the fastest horses of the Ulstermen.45 In Norse myth the Sun has two horses, Arvakr (Earlywake) and AlsviSr (Allswift) (Grimnismal 37; Sigrdrifumal 15; Gylf. 11).

Tacitus knew the rumour of a Baltic region where the sun did not sink far enough beneath the semi-frozen sea to allow the stars to shine (Germ. 45. 1). When it rose, the sound was audible, so people believed, and the outlines of horses (equorum: v.l. deorum, eorum) and the rays emanating from the god's head could be discerned.

Certainly the myth of the Sun's horse or horses persists in the folklore of Baltic and Slavonic peoples. In the Latvian songs the Sun travels on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage; the number of horses varies between one and six (Jonval nos. 123-4, 168, 171-3, 179, 186). They are yellow (dzeltens, 123,

42 M. J. Mellink, Iranica Antiqua 6 (1966), 72-87; EIEC 258 f.

43 Mimn. 12; Hymn.. Dem. 63, 88, Herm. 69, Hymn. Hom. 28. 14, 31. 9, 15; 'Eumelus' fr. 11 West; LIMC v (add.) Helios.

45 Edward J. Gwynne, The Metrical Din^dshen^chas, iv (Dublin 1924), 182, 126; O'Rahilly (1946), 291.

171-3), or grey (179), or brown (124). Slavonic folk traditions tell of a golden car and two white horses, or three (gold, silver, and diamond), or twelve (yellow-brown).46

In RV 4. 53. 4 the phrase maho ajmasya, 'the great drive', is apparently used of the path of the solar horses (cf. 1. 163. 10). It has an exact equivalent in Greek ¡¿eyas oypos, which in one of the later Homeric Hymns (32. 11) designates the moon's orbit and in Aratus (749) the sun's path through the zodiac. The word oypos generally means a furrow or row; it perhaps refers to wheel-ruts in a passage of Nicander.47

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