Visvarupa and his cows

The waters imprisoned by Vrtra are likened to cows pent up in a stall, cows being a standard Vedic metaphor for anything capable of giving nourishment.

67 Vrtra and the Hydra have been compared by L. von Schroeder, Herakles und Indra (as n. 38), 32-8; F. R. Schroder (as n. 45), 8.

68 Greimas (1992), 31; Vaiia (1992), 72, 283 f.; Lambertz (1973), 471 f., 473 f., 486 f., 488 f.

There is another Vedic myth in which a herd of cows is in the possession of a three-headed dragon (ahi-); the dragon is killed, his heads cut off, and the cows liberated. The dragon's name is VisvarUpa, 'Omniform'. He was the son of Tvastr, and had a wealth of cows and horses (RV 10. 76. 3). His slayer was Trita Aptya, a figure associated with Indra and the Maruts. Indra delivered VisvarUpa to Trita (2. 11. 19). Trita fought him, killed him, and let the cows out (10. 8. 8). Indra cut off his three heads and drove the cows home for Trita (10. 8. 9, 48. 2).69

A version of the same myth is alluded to in the Younger Avesta. The hero who corresponds to Trita Aptya is ©raëtaona, son of Aößya. He defeated the three-headed demon Azi Dahaka70 and took away, not a herd of cows, but his two beautiful wives (Y. 9. 7-8, Yt. 5. 29-35, 9. 13-15, 14. 40, 15. 19-25, 19. 4650, Vd. 1. 17). '©raëtaona son of Aößya' would seem to have replaced an earlier *©rita A ößya = Trita Aptya, perhaps signifying 'Third McWaters'.71 At least in its Indic form the surname suggests that this deity was somehow associated with the waters. The inference is that the demon he slays is, like Vrtra, a blocker of the waters.

This Indo-Iranian myth has long been compared with another of Heracles' exploits:72 his journey across the western Ocean to the island of Erythea to capture the cattle of Geryoneus, also called Geryon. Geryon had three heads (Hes. Th. 287) and (at least from the time of Stesichorus) a triple body, with six arms and six legs. Heracles borrowed the Sun's cup in order to cross to Erythea, killed Geryon together with his herdsman Eurytion and his dog, and drove the cattle back to Greece. Geryon's name is presumably related to y^pvs, ynpvœ, which are elevated poetic words for 'voice, utter, sing',

69 On Trita cf. Macdonell (1898), 67-9; Oldenberg (1917), 141 f.; K. Rönnow, Trita Aptya. Eine vedische Gottheit, i (Uppsala 1927); Hillebrandt (1927-9), ii. 307-11; Oberlies (1998), 195-9.

70 Azi- = Vedic âhi-, 'serpent'; Dahaka- is related to Vedic dasâ-, 'devil'. The Iranian demon is described as 'three-headed, six-eyed' (Y. 9. 8, Yt. 9. 34, al.), as is Visvarupa ('six-eyed, three-headed', RV 10. 99. 6). In Yt. 5. 61 ©raetaona is called vsrsdrajâ, 'varaöra-smasher', which implies the same label for the dragon as gave Vrtra his name; cf. Puhvel (1987), 102.

71 Cf. Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, i (Leiden-Köln 1975), 97-100; Puhvel (1987), 110 f.; Watkins (1995), 314; P. Jackson and N. Oettinger, IIJ45 (2002), 221-9. The interpretation of both terms is disputed. ©rita appears elsewhere as a separate hero (Y. 9. 9-11, Yt. 13. 113, Vd. 20. 1-3; one of those who defeated the Turanian Danavas, Yt. 5. 72-4). 'Third' as a mythical name has been compared with Zeus' title of Third Saviour (TpÎTos aoiT-qp); Athena TpiToyéveia (Third-born? Born of Tritos?); the Norse ^riSi 'Third' (Grimnismal 46. 4, Gylf. 2). Cf. Grimm (1883-8), 162; de Vries (1956), ii. 86 f.; F. R. Schröder (as n. 45), 26 f.; B. Lincoln, History of Religions 16 (1976), 43-53. One might add the mysterious Troyan of Russian and Serbian myth, cf. Vâàa (1992), 83. Note that 'Third' would be a poetic or hieratic code-name, fully comprehensible only with specialized knowledge.

72 M. Bréal, Hercule et Cacus (1850) = Mélanges de mythologie et de linguistique (Paris 1882), 1-162; Müller (1897), 766-8; Watkins (1995), 464-8.

though cognate with Old Irish gäir 'shout'; it is just possibly relevant that Visvarüpa is described as tuvirävah, 'loud-roaring' (RV 10. 99. 6).73

Geryon's dog has a mythological dignity of his own, for Hesiod lists him as Typhaon's first offspring, before Cerberus and the Hydra, and he in turn fathers the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion (Th. 309, 326 f.). Some authors give him two heads. The name of this noteworthy hound is Orthos or Orthros, the first variant being the better attested.74 This has been compared with Vrtra-, Avestan vorodra-.75 We should have expected *Artros as the corresponding Greek form, but if certain allowances are made the equation is not impossible.

The location of Geryon and his cattle beyond the river that encircles the earth recalls another Vedic myth. Indra's cows are stolen by the demons known as Pams and taken and concealed in their stronghold on the far side of the world-encircling stream Rasa. They are tracked down by Indra's dog Sarama; the Pams are curious to know how she has managed to cross the Rasa. They suborn her, and on her return to Indra she denies that she has found the cows. But he discovers the truth, follows her back to the Pams, kills them, and recovers his cattle.76 It is doubtful whether the imprisoned beasts here have anything to do with pent-up waters. The myth perhaps belongs with another series of texts in which the release of cows by rupturing a rock barrier represents the dawn (RV 1. 71. 1 f.; 2. 24. 2 f.; 3. 39. 4-7; 4. 1. 13-17, 3. 11; 10. 67. 4, 68. 2-12). We saw in the last chapter that Usas and Surya have their red cows that they drive out each morning.

Roman writers relate that Hercules stopped in Latium on his way back from Erythea with Geryon's cattle. A fire-breathing ogre called Cacus (three-headed according to Propertius) lived at that time in a cave on the Aventine. He abducted some of the cattle in the night and concealed them in his cave, the entrance of which he then blocked up with a massive rock. Hercules managed after some time to find out where the animals were and to break into the cave from above. He then clubbed Cacus to death and recovered the cows.77

According to the Augustan antiquarian Verrius Flaccus the hero of the story was not the Greek Heracles but a herdsman of outstanding strength

73 Durante (1976), 58. Of the Italic Cacus (see below) it is obscurely mentioned that his mouth or mouths gave forth a noise (Prop. 4. 9. 10, Ov. Fast. 1. 572).

75 F. Max Müller, Chips from a German Workshop (3rd edn., London 1894-5), iv. 252-4; id. (1897), 421-5; Pisani (1969), 200 f.

76 RV 10. 108; Brhaddevata 8. 24-36; Oldenberg (1917), 143 f. For the Rasa cf. RV 9. 41. 6; 10. 121. 4.

77 Virg. Aen. 8. 190-272; Livy 1. 7. 3-6; Prop. 4. 9. 1-20; Ov. Fast. 1. 543-82; Dion. Hal. Ant. 1. 39; Verrius Flaccus ap. Serv. auct. Aen. 8. 203.

named Garanus. Evidently a native Italic myth featuring this Garanus was assimilated into the Greek saga of Heracles. But who was he? Can he perhaps be related to the widely attested Celtic god Grannus, a god of water and watering places? In Propertius' version of the Cacus story Hercules, on recovering his cows, is assailed by parching thirst and finds the land waterless. Some distance away he finds the secluded sacred grove of the Bona Dea, with a temple and a stream, but it is closed to men. The priestess refuses him access. He breaks in nevertheless and slakes his thirst.

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