The Sun as a deity

There is extensive evidence for the recognition of the Sun as a deity among Indo-European peoples. The solar gods mentioned in Hittite texts include one or more of probably non-Indo-European pedigree, such as the Sun-goddess of Arinna, but others, like the above-mentioned Sius-summi and Tiwat/Tiyat, are securely Indo-European. It is also worth noting that in taking over the name of the Hattic Sun-goddess Estan, the Hittites applied it to a male god. 'The goddess took on the personality of an ancient Indo-European god.'6

The Indic gods listed in Suppiluliuma's treaty with Mitanni do not include the Sun. But the (non-Indo-European) Kassites had a Sun-god whose name, Sur(i)yas-, closely resembles Vedic Sur(i)ya- and may be a borrowing from those western Indics. In the Amarna letters there appears a north Syrian prince Suwardata, which looks very much like a theophoric name, 'given by Suwar', parallel to the Suryadatta attested in post-Vedic India.7 Surya is the recipient of ten hymns of the Rigveda, and eleven more are addressed to Savitr, the Arouser, who is also in some sense the god of the Sun.

In Greek myth Helios appears as a god with a genealogy and progeny. He is invoked as a witness to oaths (see below). He can be portrayed as a speaking character interacting with other gods (Od. 8. 302, 12. 374-88, Hymn. Dem. 26-9, 62-89). He is not prominent in public cult except in Rhodes, but there he had an important festival.

Greek writers observed what they took to be Sun-worship among some other Indo-European peoples: the Persians (Hdt. 1. 131), the Thracians

5 O. Szemerenyi, however, Akten der 2. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft (1962), 191 f., derives it from *sokw-li- ~ *sekw 'see'.

6 Gurney (1977), 11. On Sun-gods in Hittite texts cf. Daisuke Yoshida, Untersuchungen zu den Sonnengottheiten bei den Hethitern (Heidelberg 1996).

7 Cf. T. Burrow, The Sanskrit Language (London, n.d.), 28; Kammenhuber (1968), 48-51, 173 (sceptical).

(Soph. fr. 582), or more vaguely 'the barbarians' (Ar. Pax 406-11). At Rome the cult of the Sun was regarded as native to the Sabines (Varro, De lingua Latina 5. 68, 74; Festus p. 22. 5 L.). As Sol Indiges, he had annual festivals, and a sacred grove at Lavinium. There was an old temple of Sol and Luna at the Circus Maximus.

The Germans, according to Caesar (Bell. Gall. 6. 21. 2), 'class as gods only those whom they can see and by whose offices they evidently benefit, the Sun, Vulcan, and the Moon'. This is clearly a very reductionist and superficial view of German religion. However, Tacitus (Ann. 13. 55) represents the German noble Boiocalus as invoking the Sun et cetera sidera in a rhetorical appeal, and many centuries later the goddess Sunna makes her appearance in a little mythological narrative in the second Merseburg spell. Snorri (Gylf. 35) says that Sol was counted among goddesses, and she appears occasionally in personified form (Vgluspa 5; Gylf. 11).

Cormac's Glossary s.v. Indelba records that the Irish set images of the Sun on their altars, and St Patrick (Confessio 60) speaks of Irish heathen worship of sun and moon. This corresponds, to be sure, with a conventional Christian notion of paganism, but in some cases there is circumstantial detail that adds credibility to the reports. A fourteenth-century chronicler, Peter of Duisburg, writes that the Prussians, having no knowledge of God, 'omnem creaturam pro deo coluerunt, scilicet solem, lunam et stellas, tonitrua, volatilia, quad-rupedia eciam, usque ad bufonem'.8 In the following century Jerome of Prague encountered a Lithuanian community who worshipped the sun and venerated a huge mallet; the priests explained that with this mallet the signs of the Zodiac had liberated and restored to mankind the Sun, who for several months had been held captive in a strong fortress by a most powerful king.9 There must once have been a springtime ritual of breaking up the earth with mallets, associated with this myth of the return of the Sun-goddess.

The Slavs too are regularly credited with sun- and moon-worship by chroniclers and clerics. But we are not dependent only on such vague notices. There is record of a god Dazbog who was identified with the Greek Helios and called ^apb, 'Tsar Sun'—the neuter 'sun' being personified by means of the royal title. He was the son of Svarog, who was equated with the Greek Hephaestus; probably we should understand 'Fire'. The Sun also appears in Russian folklore in female persona as MaTymKa KpacHoe Co.rn^, 'Mother red Sun'.10

9 Recounted by Jerome to Enea de' Piccolomini (Pope Pius II): Mannhardt (1936), 135 = Clemen (1936), 104.

10 See further von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 39-41; Vaiia (1992), 68-71. The identifications with Greek deities are in glosses on Malalas' chronicle in the twelfth-century Ipateev Annals.

The literary testimony to the Sun's divine status may be supplemented by the evidence of prehistoric art. Starting from the third millennium bce, and across much of Europe as well as further east, there are numerous examples of what are clearly solar symbols, in some cases the object of adoration by human figures. We shall return to this later.

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