The thunderweapon

The thunder-god typically wields his own special weapon. It is generally conceived as a club, mace, or hammer, made of stone or metal. The Anatolian Tarhunna is depicted with a club, a battle-axe, or a three-pronged lightning bolt.51 Indra's weapon is most often called a vajra-, probably 'smasher', from the same root as Greek Fdyvvpt 'smash, break'. From the Sanskrit comes Tocharian A wasir, B wasir 'thunderbolt'. This is a very old noun, represented not only in Avestan vazra- but in the second element of the Greek heroic name Mele(w)agros. It gives also, as a loan-word in Finno-Ugric, Finnish vasara 'hammer' and Mordvinian uszer 'axe'.52 It must originally have denoted an ordinary club or celt. Another term used for Indra's weapon is vadha- (or

48 Grimm (1883-8), 177; Güntert (1923), 12; F. Specht, ZVS65 (1938), 208-10; F. R. Schröder (as n. 45), 40 f.; Schmitt (1967), 34 f., 185 f.

50 de Vries (1956), i. 439 f. 51 Gurney (1977), 22; Watkins (1995), 430.

52 B. Schlerath, Orbis 24 (1975), 493-518, cf. 26 (1977), 133 f.; Watkins (1995), 332, 411-13;

D. Q. Adams in EIEC 112; aliter Nagy (1974), 124 = (1990), 197.

vadhar, vadhatram), which has a similar meaning, 'smasher, killer'. It is also denoted by various words meaning 'stone' (asani-, asman-, adri-, parvata-). The poet of RV 7. 104. 4 f. speaks of burning stone darts, forged from mountains.

The weapon is embellished with much imaginative detail. It was made for Indra by the divine artificer Tvastr (1. 32. 1, 85. 9). It is of metal, ayasa- (1. 52. 8, 80. 12, al.; ayasa,- . .. asman-, 1. 121. 9). It is bright (arjuna-, 3. 44. 5; dyumant-, 5. 31. 4); hot (3. 30. 16); eager (2. 11. 6; 4. 22. 3; 6. 17. 10; 10. 96. 3); sharp (1. 54. 4; 2. 30. 3; 7. 18. 18; AV 12. 5. 66); Indra sharpens it like a carving-knife (RV 1. 130. 4, cf. 55. 1; 7. 104. 19 f.; 8. 76. 9). It is pronged (bhrstimant-, 1. 52. 15); tripartite (trisamdhi-, AV 11. 10. 3); a four-edged rain-producer (RV 4. 22. 2); hard, six-cornered, made from seer's bones (MBh. 3. 98. 10, cf. RV 1. 84. 13); it has a hundred knots or joints (sataparvan-, RV 1. 80. 6; 8. 6. 6, 76. 2, 89. 3; AV 8. 5. 15; 12. 5. 66); a hundred edges (RV 6. 17. 10); a thousand spikes (1. 80. 12; 5. 34. 2; 6. 17. 10).

The vazra- appears with similar features in the Avesta, here as the weapon of Mithra, who swings it at the heads of Daevas (Nyayisn 1. 15 = Yt. 6. 5). It has a hundred bosses and a hundred 'mouths' (= blades), and is made of strong, yellow, gold-like iron (Yt. 10. 96 = 132).

The effect of the vajra- on Vrtra is devastating. It breaks his head (RV 1. 52. 10, 15; 8. 6. 6, 76. 2; 10. 67. 12); burns or scorches him up (2. 11. 10, cf. 30. 5; 7. 104. 4); chops him down (2. 11. 18, 19. 2; 3. 33. 7; 4. 17. 7, 19. 3); blows him down from the air (8. 3. 20); lays him low (10. 111. 6); dismembers him (1. 32. 7; 8. 6. 13, 7. 23); hides him in darkness (1. 32. 10; 8. 6. 17).

The Greek poets' keraunos is made for Zeus by the Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, as Indra's vajra- is made by Tvastr. It is 'bright', dpyrfs (cf. Zeus dpyiKepavvos); the adjective is a derivative of the same root as the arjuna- applied to Indra's weapon. It is fiery (Hes. Th. 692-700, 844-6, 859-67, Pind. Pyth. 3. 58, etc.), but also sooty (afflaAoeis, fioAoeis) and sulphurous (Od. 12. 417 = 14. 307). It is not said to be of metal or stone, though the phrase xaAKeos aK^wv, 'a bronze anvil', which Hesiod imagines descending from heaven to earth and from earth to Tartarus (Th. 722-5), may once have referred to the divine missile, like the Vedic ayasa-.. . asman- cited above.53 When represented in art, the thunderbolt is shown held in Zeus' fist, typically with three spiky flames shooting out at each end.

53 asman- and aK^wv are the same word, as is Lithuanian akmuo: Perkuno akmuo is used of belemnites or other stones supposed to have been hurled down in thunderstorms. In [Aesch.] fr. 192. 3 the Aethiopian Ai^rq in which Helios bathes is called xaAKGKepawos; this presumably means 'flashing dazzlingly with coppery light', and has no bearing on the material that thunderbolts are made of.

However, this iconography derives from Near Eastern art and does not reflect Indo-European tradition.54

The keraunos affects its victim in much the same way as does the vajra-. Hesiod's description of the thunderbolting of Typhoeus (Th. 853-68) is sufficient illustration. The monster's multiple heads are comprehensively scorched. He collapses crippled on the earth, setting it on fire and melting it like tin or iron. Finally he is flung into Tartarus' dark prison.

Celtic myth does not deal in explicit thunderbolts. However, the Irish Dagda's iron club, with which he kills the living or revives the dead, has been seen as the counterpart of Indra's and Thor's weapons.55 Thor's, at least, had the power of bring the dead back to life (see below).

Saxo Grammaticus describes Thor as wielding a mighty club whose handle was broken off (clava, 3. 2. 10 p. 66). In the Norse sources it is a hamarr, which we render as 'hammer', though we should not imagine something too much like a carpenter's hammer.56 Thiodolf (Haustlgng 18. 3) calls it 'sharp'. It was forged from iron by the dwarf Eitri with the help of his brother Brokk. When Brokk gave it to Thor he told him that 'he would be able to hit as hard as he wished, whatever was before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it, it would never miss and never fly so far that it would not find its way back to his hand. And if he wished, it was small enough for him to keep inside his shirt. But it had the defect that the handle was rather short' (Skaldsk. 35).

That Thor's weapon represents the thunderbolt follows from his own name and is acknowledged in the story of the giant Hrungnir, who saw lightning and heard thunder immediately before Thor appeared and hurled the hammer at him to fatal effect (Skaldsk. 17). The killing of giants and trolls is the hammer's principal occupation. Its effect is regularly described as breaking the victim's head (Gylf. 21, 48; Skaldsk. 17); there is no scorching or burning. But it can also restore to life, as appears from an episode where Thor kills his goats, feasts on them, and resurrects them the next morning, using the hammer to hallow the skins (Gylf. 44).

The name of the hammer was Miollnir, from a proto-Germanic *melduni-yaz. Pearkons' mace has a similar designation in Latvian, milna, from Baltic *mildnu. These terms relate on the one hand to a series of words in other languages meaning 'hammer' or 'mallet' (Luwian maldani-, Latin malleus, Russian molot, Breton mell), and on the other to words meaning 'lightning'

54 Paul Jacobsthal, Der Blitz in der orientalischen und griechischen Kunst (Berlin 1906).

55 de Vries (1961), 38 f. In Chapter 3 (p. 150) I compared the implement with Hermes' rod as described in the Iliad.

56 On Thor's hammer cf. Grimm (1883-8), 180-2, 1344 f.; de Vries (1956), ii. 124-8; Turville-Petre (1964), 81-5; Klaus von See et al., Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, ii (Heidelberg 1997), 529-31.

(Old Church Slavonic mluniji, Russian molnija, Old Prussian mealde; Welsh mellt; cf. Icelandic myln 'fire'). The underlying notion is that of crushing or grinding, as in Greek pvXn 'mill' and the verbs Latin molare, Russian molot. The semantic steps are crush: crushing instrument: thunderbolt: lightning.57

The Baltic and Slavonic thunder-gods' weapons are not pictured so consistently. Perkunas and Perun usually hurl an axe. But Perkunas sometimes has a hammer, which returns to his hand when thrown; this is probably a Germanic borrowing. Perun sometimes shoots an arrow (strela).58 The Latvian Pearkons has his milna, but at other times a spear, a sword, an iron rod, arrows, or stone bullets. With all of these, as with Thor's hammer, the emphasis is on the physical impact of the thunderbolt and not on brightness or burning. But the Belorussian Piarun is said to make lightning flash out from between two stones. This is of some interest, as the same is said of Indra:59

He who by killing the Serpent made the seven streams flow, he who drove forth the cows with the removal of Vala, he who generated fire between two stones, the contest victor—he, O peoples, is Indra!

As the damage caused by the thunderbolt is everywhere conceived as being due to the impact of a solid object, the question arises how the god responsible is able to repeat the performance indefinitely. There are two alternative answers, either or both of which may be of Indo-European antiquity. Either he gets his unique weapon back each time, or he has an inexhaustible supply of ammunition.

We have seen that Miollnir returns to Thor of its own accord, and that the same is sometimes said of Perkunas' hammer. It is also said of the Dagda's missile. It is not, so far as I know, ever said of Indra's vajra-, though in the Mahabharata he has a spear with this property.60 In Roman times there was a belief that the lightning goes back into the sky.61 At the mythical level there was a story that it was taken back to Zeus by his bird, the eagle (Manil. 5. 489, 500 f.).

57 Ernout-Meillet (1959) s.vv. malleus, molo; V. V. Ivanov-V. N. Toporov (as n. 15), 1195; Lorenz (1984), 312; Bader (1989), 89 n. 201; Gamkrelidze-Ivanov (1995), 619; Watkins (1995), 429.

58 M. Gimbutas, JIES 1 (1973), 475; Vaiia (1992), 72.

59 RV 2. 12. 3; V. V. Ivanov-V. N. Toporov (as n. 15), 1195 f.; cf. Nagy (1990), 196.

60 Skaldsk. 35 (quoted above); de Vries (1956), ii. 127; MBh. 3. 286. 16, 294. 24 (sakti-, explicitly distinguished from the vajra-). We shall see in Chapter 12 (p. 463) that the motif is not confined to divine weapons.

61 Cic. De div. 2. 45; Lucr. 6. 87-9 = 383-5; Luc. 1. 155-7; Pliny, HN 2. 143 f.; Arrian ap. Stob. 1. 29. 2 (i. 238. 1 Wachsmuth).

On the other hand a popular belief is attested from end to end of Europe and Asia, as well as in parts of Africa, that certain types of stone found on the earth are thunderstones and have valuable magical properties, especally that of protecting a house against future strikes. It is widely believed that the thunderstone when first hurled or shot down from the sky penetrates the earth to a depth of several feet, and then gradually rises to the surface over a period of many days or years. The belief attaches particularly to wedge-shaped flints or stones that look like axes and are in fact, in many cases, prehistoric stone tools. Such are the objects known as 'Perkunas' stone', 'Perun's arrows', and the like. These ideas are already attested in Classical authors.62

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