Chapter 8: Personal Loyalty


For Osthoff, Eiche und Treue (1901), the group of Germ. treu is related to the Indo-European name for “oak,” Gr. drûs: to be loyal means to stand as firm as an oak. It will be shown that if the relationship really exists, the affiliation is the reverse: the common root signifies “to be firm” and the adjective designates “tree,” literally “what is resistant, the solid one” (the meaning of “oak” is limited to a period of Greek and should not be attributed to the time of Indo-European unity).
Between Germanic *drauhti- (Got. ga-drauhts ‘soldier’) and *drauhti-no- (old Icelandic drottin- ‘chief lord’), the affiliated words in Slavic and Baltic meaning “friend, companion” allow us to establish the link known elsewhere (in dominus, tribūnus, etc.) between the nominal expression and its derivative in -no-. *drauhti is a collective designating “company” (in the military sense, as described for us by Tacitus, Germ. 13) and drauhtino-, the princeps who impersonates authority.
In the light thrown both by the Germanic legends concerning Odin Herjan and by Tacitus Germania 43, Gothic harjis (Germ. Herr) is revealed as the name of a group of masqueraders who on occasion assembled for plundering expeditions. (Although Gr. koíranos may formally correspond to herjan, the meaning which emerges from Homeric usage prompts the rejection of this purely formal equation.)
Lat. fidēs preserves a very ancient meaning, blurred and simplified in other languages where the root *bheidh is represented, and altered even in Latin itself after a certain period; its meaning was not “trust” but “the inherent quality of a person which inspired confidence in him and is exercised in the form of a protective authority over those who entrust themselves to him.” This notion is very close to that of *kred- (studied below in Chapter 15). So we can understand why Lat. fidēs was at all periods the noun corresponding to credo.


The terms which we have studied up to now have all been concerned with the relationships of man to man, in particular the notion of “hospitality.” From this point of view, which is both personal and institutional, we shall now consider the notion of personal loyalty within a particular group of languages, but with reference to the common Indo-European vocabulary: that is to say, the bond established between a man who possesses authority and the man who is subjected to him by a personal pledge. This “loyalty” gives rise to an institution which is very ancient in the western Indo-European world and which is most clearly apparent in the Germanic world.


The designation of this concept appears in an expression represented today by the German Treue and which is well attested in all Germanic dialects: in Gothic by the verb (ga)trauan, which translates πεποιθέναι ‘to have faith’, the noun trauains, πεποίθησις, ‘trust’, trūa in Icelandic, truōn in Old English (German trauen), all derived from a nominal stem *truwō; Icelandic trū ‘respect, trust bestowed’, from which is derived Icelandic trur ‘loyal, faithful’. The action noun derived from this root has undergone a considerable development and has persisted for a long time in Germanic vocabulary: Gothic trausti ‘pact, alliance’, which translates διαθήκη, Icelandic traustr ‘reliable, sure, loyal’.
This is the source of the modern derivatives some of which designate a pact of alliance, an agreement, the pledged word, while others, verbs and nouns, have the meaning to “inspire confidence,” to “reassure,” to “console”; on the one hand we have the group represented by the English “trust” and on the other the group represented by the German trösten ‘console’. These moral notions are clearly bound up with an institution. In Germanic feudal vocabulary the Latinized form trustis designates the bond of fealty and also those who have thus bound themselves and who form the followers of a personage. The Old High German noun Traue is the source of the French trève ‘truce’.
The diversity of the Germanic forms shows the complexity of this idea, which results in terms as different as Germ. Treue, trauen ‘to have trust’, Trost ‘consolation’, Engl. trust, true and truce. They all have one and the same origin in a Germanic root *dreu-, from which stems a Germanic abstract *drou-sto- (Old Icel. traust ‘faith, trust’, Germ. Trost ‘consolation’), a derivative *draust-yo- (Gothic trausti ‘pact’) and an adjective *dreu-wo- (Gothic triggws ‘faithful’, German treu).
This group of words was studied by the etymologist H. Osthoff, in his Etymologica Parerga (1901), a collection of different etymological studies, one chapter of which is entitled “Eiche und Treue” (‘Oak and Loyalty’). This strange title summarizes the substance of a lengthy study (about a hundred pages) which starts with this word family and connects it up with an Indo-European prototype, which he thought was the name of the “oak.” The formal basis of the deduction is a connection of the Indo-European *dreu-wo with Greek drū̂s (δρῦς) ‘oak’. Osthoff considers that the “oak,” the hardiest and strongest of the trees, was the symbol of qualities the most abstract expression of which is found in this group of words with reference to the notion of “loyalty.” Thus the “oak” on this showing stood as a symbol of institutional “loyalty.” This demonstration has found a place in our etymological dictionaries, so it is important to check its foundations. Every etymological reconstruction must give the greatest weight to the dialect distribution of the forms and to the relationships which emerge from them in the classification of the different senses. Now it can be shown that Osthoff’s study completely falsifies the whole history of these terms; the true relations of the facts have been reversed.
In effect, if Osthoff is right, the name of the oak should be a common Indo-European one: it must have existed in all languages and in the given sense. We should thus expect to find a primary term in Indo-European, of constant form and sense, designating the “oak.” This is far from being the case. This word for “oak” appears only in one language and only at a certain period of that language. Before we begin to discuss it at all, one point of fact must be made. The oak is a tree limited to a specific area. The Indo-Europeans could not have known and designated it with a common name because it does not exist everywhere: there is no word for oak in Indo-Iranian for a very good reason. It is a tree of Central Europe and only the languages of Central and Eastern Europe have a word to denote it.
It would appear that this lexical distribution corresponds to the movement of the Indo-European peoples towards their historical sites. Everything—the historical, linguistic and archaeological facts—indicates that migration took place from east to west and that the Germanic peoples were among the last to be installed in the regions which they now occupy. This migration took place in several stages along a route which we can work out, and it ended in the region where the oak is found. It certainly did not start from that region.
This is confirmed by an examination of the names for the oak. The Indo-European form appears in two guises *de/orw- and *drew- with a full and a reduced degree respectively of the root and of the suffixal element, conforming to the well-established pattern of the Indo-European root. From these two forms came respectively the Gr. dóru (δόρυ) and drûs. In studying the senses, we shall take together the forms which derive from one or the other form of the root. Now it can be seen that the radical *dreu- with its alternative forms *drū-, *doru- exclusively designates “tree.” Thus Gothic triu translates Gr. xúlon ‘tree, wood’, and this is the sense in most languages. It is easy to establish that the old Slavic druva signifies “wood,” that the Indo-Iranian forms drū, dāru denote exclusively “tree,” “wood” and “plant.” In the Avestan material the adjective drvaēna, like the Gothic triweins which corresponds to it, is applied to a “wooden” object. In certain languages a secondary differentiation between the derivates took place, such as in Old Slavic between drevo ‘tree’ (from *derwo-) and druva ‘wood’ (from druwo).
The Greek forms are of particular interest in this connection. From the same root Greek has derived two historically distinct, but evidently related, terms: dóru ‘(wood of) the spear’ and drū̂s ‘oak’, which we must consider in greater detail. The first sense of dóru is “tree, sapling”; thus in Od. 6, 167 Odysseus says to Nausicaa: “I have never seen grow from the earth such a tree (dóru).”
It is also the wood used in the construction of ships: δόρυ νηΐον, the keel of a ship; further, it is the “wood” of the spear, the shaft made from ash: δόρυ μείλινον (Il. 5, 666); finally, it is the spear itself, inasmuch as it is made of wood. All these are specifications of the sense “wood,” just as in French, where bois may be applied to a bed, an orchestra or a stag.
On the other hand, drū̂s did not always designate the “oak” in Greek. The ancients tell us so quite explicitly: according to the testimony of a scholiast of the Iliad (ad Il. 11, 86) δρῦν ἐκάλουν οἱ παλαιοὶ πᾶν δένδρον ‘the ancients called any tree drū̂s’. This is confirmed by the usage of writers; thus, Sophocles, Trach. 766 δρῦς πίειρα ‘the resinous tree, the pine’. The word became specialized at an early date. Already in Homer, drū̂s is the oak, the “tree” par excellence, associated with certain cults, like the prophetic oaks of Dodona. But this specialization occurred in the course of the history of Greek and at a recent period, since it did not obliterate the memory of a time when drū̂s designated “tree” in general, in accordance with the testimony of all the other languages, where the corresponding term signifies “wood, tree” and not “oak.” Further, we find in Greek itself the original sense of drū̂s in the derivative drū̂ás, which designated the mythological beings, the Dryads: these are nymphs which reside in trees, and not in oaks in particular.
There is another Greek form which is connected with drū̂s. This is déndron (δένδρον), Homeric déndreon (δένδρεον) ‘tree’, the result of a dissimilation of *der-drewon, a reduplicated form of the type called broken reduplication (cf. Lat. carcer from *karkros, Gr. karkínos).
Here, too, the sense of the root is “wood, tree.” Thus we see how all these testimonies converge and locate in a comparatively recent phase of Greek the development of the term drū̂s from the ancient sense “wood, tree,” to that of “oak.” It follows that Osthoff’s account should be exactly the reverse. The sense of “oak” is the latest phase, and one limited to Greek, of an evolution of which the intermediary step is “tree” and which may proceed from an original concept such as “to be firm, solid.” We find an exact parallel to this evolution in modern Iranian. The Persian name for “tree” diraxt, Middle Iranian draxt, is an ancient verbal adjective draxta- (the participle of drang-), the literal meaning of which is “what is steady, what is firm”; the relationship is the same as that of Greek drū̂s to *dreu-.
It can be seen that the restriction in sense which leads to “tree” and “oak” depends on local conditions. In fact the development did not take place precisely in Germanic, where *dreu remains the name for “tree” in general (Got. triu, cf. Engl. tree), while for “oak” there is a special term *aik- (German Eiche).
We are now able to reconstruct the development of Indo-European forms along different lines. From this root *dreu- come the adjectives Skt. dhruva- (the dh is secondary, of analogical origin; it replaces an ancient d), Ir. druva- ‘solid, firm, in good health’; with an initial su-, Slavic sŭdravŭ, ‘salvus, healthy’; in Baltic, Lith. drutas ‘strong, solid’ (cf. Pruss. druwis ‘faith, guarantee’, druwit ‘believe’, ‘to have faith’). In Greek (Argolic dialect) dro(w)ón is translated by iskhurón ‘strong’ according to a gloss of Hesychius. This is a development into which the whole family of Treue (Gothic triggws ‘faithful’, ‘loyalty’) naturally fits.
But on the other hand *dreu- furnishes also an adjective *drū ‘strong, resistant, hard’ which has become the word for “tree.” It follows from this that the lexical development must be placed at different levels: the sense of “fidelity,” peculiar to Germanic, is directly connected with that of the Indo-European root, whereas the sense of “tree” was an early specialization which occasionally, as in Greek, alone survives.
Here we can see in its full force the distinction between signification and designation and how great the gap between them can be, often so big that the designation gives no clue to the signification, if semantic pointers are not available. [1]
The relationships of “trust” and “fidelity” find other expressions which we shall study particularly in the Germanic languages. One of these words is used as a term of nobility and as a military term. Our study may begin with the Gothic word ga-drauhts which in the New Testament translates στρατιώτης ‘soldier’. It is composed of a prefix ga-, indicating community, and a derivative in -ti from the verb driugan, which translates στρατεύεσθαι ‘to wage war, take the field’. From the same abstract noun drauhti- comes the denominative present drauhtinon ‘στρατεύεσθαι’ and the compound drauhti-witoþ ‘στρατεíα, combat’, where the second element signifies “rule, law.” Outside Gothic, the abstract in Germanic takes on a different sense: Old Icelandic drōt, and the corresponding forms in other dialects, designate the “armed retinue,” the “troop”; thus Old English dryht, Old Saxon druht, Old High German truht. Especially notable is the nominal derivative of *druhti-; it furnishes in its turn a form in -no-which designates the “chief, “lord”: Old Icel. drottinn, Old Engl. dryhten, Old High Germ. truhtin. The Icelandic feminine drottning ‘queen’ is still preserved in the Scandinavian languages.
Such is this Germanic word-family, the morphological relations of which are clearly apparent: an abstract noun, Goth. drauhti-, and a derived noun, literally “he who has the same drauhti-, to designate the soldier. On the other hand, another derivative in -no signifying ‘chief’ is formed on the basis of the abstract druhti-. These are the facts to be sited in the semantic context which will illuminate them.
The proper sense of these terms is recovered by comparison with a neighboring language, Slavic, and to some extent in Baltic. From this it emerges that “troop” and “chief of the troop” develops from a much more general sense, that of “friend.” In Old Slavic and in the modern Slav languages, drugŭ ‘φίλος’, ‘ἑταῖρος’ signifies “friend, companion.” The notion of a bond, of friendship, is so strong that the adjective, when repeated, may render the notion of reciprocity, “the one, the other”: Russian drug, druga. The same sense is found in Lithuanian, where draugas, with a different vocalic grade, signifies “friend, one of a couple, of a pair”; hence the abstract noun draugẽ ‘friendship, company, group of friends’. Baltic utilizes this nominal stem in a grammatical function, Lithuanian draugé ‘with’. Thus the Old Prussian compound noun draugi-waldūnen signifies ‘he who shares the inheritance, the co-heir’, German ‘Mit-erbe’.
The interest in this confrontation of German, Slavic, and Baltic is the light it throws on the proper signification of these Germanic words. We have here the notion of “company,” specified in the peculiar condition indicated in Germanic: a warrior friendship. Old Slavic preserves a parallel expression, the collective term družina ‘comrades in arms, συ-στρατιῶται’. The Gothic word for “soldier” ga-drauhts, literally “he who is part of a companionship, a friendship,” understood as a collective term the group of people who are bound together by common service in war. The abstract word drauhts is “warrior companionship”; drauhti-witoþ ‘στρατεία’ is “combat” as the “rule of the *drauhti-.”
Let us now consider Old Icelandic drottinn and its group. The Germanic form *druxti-nax, going back to *drukti-nos, is an example of a well-defined mode of formation: these are the secondary derivatives formed like Latin dominus, which designate the person at the head of a certain social group. In the Germanic languages, this type is represented by several important derivatives: Gothic þiudans (from *teuta-nos) ‘king, chief of the community’, kindins (from *genti-nos) ‘chief of the gens’, parallel with tribūnus from tribus. In Old English dryhten ‘lord’ (in the Christian texts ‘the Lord’) represents *drukti-nos ‘chief of the drukti’.
This type of relationship was characteristic of ancient Germanic society. An illustration is found in Tacitus, independent of the terms we are trying to interpret and so all the more precious, in chapters XIII and XIV of the Germania. The historian describes the manner in which the Germans fight, how they assemble, how they are organized in companies, and the relations between the companies and their chief:
Noble birth or the illustrious deeds of their fathers bestow on some the rank of a prince from early childhood; the others attach themselves to chieftains, who are in the full vigor of manhood and ripe in experience; and the role of companion is nothing to be ashamed of. It even confers distinction, depending on the esteem of the prince to whose retinue a man belongs. Among these comites there exists a singular rivalry to occupy the first place beside their prince; the princes for their part vie with each other as to the most numerous and the most courageous companions.
This reminds us of the relations between the princeps and his comites: the princeps is here called ‘drottinn’ and the comitesgadraunts’. A certain correlation is established between the historian’s description and the analysis of the vocabulary.
The formation of gadrauhts is repeated in Gothic in the synonym gahlaiba ‘συ-στρατιώτης’, ‘companions in arms, comrades’, literally ‘he who shares the same bread’. It seems evident that there is a close relationship between Gothic ga-hlaiba and Latin companio: one of the two is a calque of the other. Probably gahlaiba is the original and companio the imitation.
The name for the “army” is a term common to the Germanic dialects: Gothic harjis, Old Icel. herr, Old High Germ. hari. It appears already in the form hari- several times in the Runic inscriptions. It is further also met with as Hario-, Chario- in the Germanic proper names which have been handed down by classical authors.
This term has a counterpart in Celtic; the form harja coincides exactly with Middle Irish cuire < *koryo ‘army’. This is confirmed by the names of Gaulish peoples: the Vo-corii, Tri-corii, Petru-corii are so named because they have two, three or four troops; thus they are constituted by a union of groups of variable numbers. Here, too, Baltic, if not Slavic, has a corresponding form: Lithuanian karias, Old Prussian karjis ‘army’.
It is possible that this comparison extends beyond the western world, if we accept the Old Persian kāra as related, a word which signifies in certain passages of the Achaemenid inscriptions “the people” and in others “the army” and so denotes “the people in arms.” In this case the correspondence is less exact. The vocalic grade is different; it has a long vowel and it is not a form in *-yo. Further, kāra-, which recurs in the Middle Persian kārčār, Persian kārzār ‘combat’ is isolated and peculiar to Persian. There is no comparable Indo-Iranian term.
We may now try to make the meaning of the term in Germanic more precise with the help of an ancient mythological designation: Old Icel. Herjan, the name or surname of the great god Odin. This name is remarkable even in its formation; it belongs to the same type of derivatives in -no- mentioned above apropos of the words for “chief.” Herjan rests on *koryo-nos, ‘chief of the army’. The name of Odin himself, i.e. Wotan, is also formed in this manner: *Wōda-naz ‘chief of the Wōda’, ‘of the frenzy’, or ‘the frenzied army’.
Thus in his two names the great god is designated as the chief of a group: as Odin, he is the chief of the frenzied group which perpetrate their misdeeds in his name; as Herjan, he is the chief of the troop whose mythological name is also known to us, the Einherjar, the dead warriors who inhabit Walhalla and fight under his orders. Odin in this guise is the god of the dead. This is the troop which he commands, which constitute his proper Heer ‘army’.
How do they fight? There is a correspondence between the practices of the terrestrial Heer and those of the same Heer of the next world. There is the same grouping, infernal or terrestrial, there are the same relations between the members of that group and its chief.
Here, too, Tacitus throws much light on the sense of the words in question and his text, on the other hand, is illuminated by a study of these words. In chapter XLIII of the Germania he describes the appearance which these warrior peoples assume: “Those fierce men improve on their savage nature by enlisting the help of art and time: they blacken their shields, they dye their skin, and they choose the darkest nights for battle. The horror alone and the darkness which envelops that doleful army (feralis exercitus) spreads terror: there is no enemy who can withstand that strange and, so to speak, infernal aspect; because in each battle the eyes are the first to be vanquished!” Who are such people? They are the Harii. Tacitus here describes what was later called *Wuotanes heri (German wütendes Heer), the “frenzied army” or the “army of Wotan,” disguised as the army of the dead: they take on the appearance of infernal beings (it is a masquerade) choosing the night for fighting, to strike terror into their enemies; it is an irruption of the dead among the living. Such a masquerade is supposed to represent Odin’s army in his character as Herjan, imitating on earth the exploits of Odin's band, those which the epic calls Berserkr, literally “those who are disguised as bears.”
The Germanic name of the “army,” Gothic harjis, is defined by these conceptions and also in its lexical connections as a devastating troop: the proper activity of the Heer is characterized by the derived verb Icel. herja, Old High Germ. herian ‘to make a foray’, German heeren, verheeren ‘to devastate’. In this linguistic, ethnographic, and mythological complex, we discover the structure and function of the Heer, which is something quite different from exercitus in Latin or laós in Greek. It is a grouping of the same kind as that described by Tacitus in chapters XIII and XIV of the Germania in the passage cited above to illustrate the notion of drauhti-: restricted groups devoted to a common life and a warrior companionship by loyalty to the chief whom they follow, occasionally sallying forth to plunder or to tribal combat. It is quite a different conception from the philía of the Hellenic world, which is a normal relationship between the members of large groups, whether family or tribe, sharing the same laws, speaking the same tongue and bound by ties of hospitality. In Germanic we have an exclusive friendship between man and man, in a masculine society, devoted to the practice of arms: harjis, drauhti, like German trauen, all refer to his complex of ideas and institutions.
However, is this term limited to the western European world? The Greek term koíranos (κοίρανος) ‘chief’ has often been connected with harjis, etc. It is curious, in fact, that the formation of koíranos coincides exactly with Icelandic herjan ‘chief of the army’, and this suggests that we have in Greek the same name for the army, in the form *koryo-. We must therefore define more closely the sense of koíranos which is rather vaguely translated as “chief.”
In Homer, the koíranos exercises the functions of commander, and the term, taken in this sense, provides a derivative verb koiranéō ‘to act as koíranos’. For instance, Il. 2, 207: “Thus koiranéōn, he went through the ranks of the army…”; koiranéōn (present participle) consists in reprimanding some and encouraging others; in calming down those who are excited and giving confidence to the less courageous. As for those who want to impose their views and to meddle by giving advice to their chief, he reminds them (ibid, v. 204–205): οὐκ ἀγαθόν πολυκοφανίη εἷς κοίρανος ἔστω, είς βασιλεύς ... ‘polu-koiraníē is not a good thing: let there be only one single koíranos, one basileús’. For the poet, different from the basileús, the koíranos is not a war lord; he never takes part in the battle himself nor is he found at the head of his troops. He goes among the ranks to make his personal authority felt. Nor does he preside over the debates in the assembly. In the Odyssey (18, 106) the beggar Iros takes it on himself to chase away those who come to beg in their turn; he provokes from Odysseus the advice not to act as a koíranos, that is to say to meddle by giving orders, by administering reprimands. So the koíranos is here again different from a fighting chieftain. In Homer, as in non-Homeric texts, koiraneîn is the activity of a local potentate exercising his authority over the people of the household rather than over the whole army. If in the Odyssey there are several passages in which the suitors koiranéousi, this is because they give orders to domestics and behave like masters. But it would seem that we cannot regard the koíranos as the military chief at the head of a given unit. The title corresponds to a very different function from that of the Nordic herjan.
Another question is the connection which there may be between koíranos and the Hittite kuirwanaš (variants kuriwanaš, kurewanaš) ‘independent, autonomous, not a vassal’. As far as it can be defined, the Hittite term seems only to have a fortuitous resemblance to koíranos. It is even possible, to judge by the variations in form, that it comes from a local language. It is not clear what to make of the fact that the proper name Koíranos is borne in Homer by a Lycian and a Cretan. Similarly, it is impossible to interpret in one way or another the absence of the term koíranos in Mycenean.


The expression par excellence for the notion of “loyalty,” the one which is the most general and at the same time the best characterized in western Indo-European, is the Latin fidēs with its etymological family. It is attested in several spheres of usage, i.e. with religious, moral, philosophical, and even legal senses. We shall now consider this group of words in order to define as far as we may the modalities of the notion by study of the normal relations.
To the family of Latin fidēs corresponds in Greek that of peíthomai (πείθομαι). The verbal form appears first in the middle, the present active peíthō ‘persuade’ being secondary. It was coined at a fairly late date from peíthomai ‘obey’. In accordance with an ancient morphological alternation, peíthomai has as its perfect the active form pépoitha, like gígnomai : gégona. This root provided an abstract noun pístis ‘trust, faith’, with an adjective pistós, ‘faithful’. From pistós comes a new present tense pistoûn ‘to make trustworthy, to oblige, to bind by promise’ and also pisteúō ‘to have faith’, which has persisted.
Apart from Latin and Greek we can only cite with the same sense a noun form in Albanian ‘oath’, from *bhoidā. There are numerous other phonetically comparable forms, but the sense is so different that we can not justify the relationship which the form suggests: this is where the difficulties of the problem begin. The facts are first those of Germanic: the Gothic form beidan goes back to *bheidh-, that is the same prototype as Latin fidēs, foedus, but the Gothic verb means ‘προσδοκᾶν, to expect, to await, to endure’, the same as Old Icel. biđa. Further, with another grade of the root, we have Gothic baidjan, with a different meaning again, because it translates Greek anankázein ‘compel’, just like Old Saxon bēdian ‘compel’, ‘force’. The sense of “constrain” permits however a connection with the Slavic běditi, which translates the same verb anankázein, and with the noun běda, ‘anánkē, necessity, compulsion’.
These connections are registered in all the etymological dictionaries with the uncertainties and doubts imposed by the disparity of the meanings.
We do not venture either a firm rejection or adoption of these correspondences seeing that we have no means of either justifying or refuting them. It is, however, important to know how far we can extend the comparison. Must we limit ourselves to Greek and Latin forms for the reconstruction? But if Germanic and Slavic forms are to be included, this modifies the semantic data. Before coming to a decision it will be necessary to examine the sense of the terms in those languages where it can be rigorously defined.
Let us first consider the Latin words. We must first state that the sense of fidēs is defined inaccurately in our dictionaries, so inaccurately as to make it impossible even to understand the construction of its first uses. To study it we must have recourse to the article on fidēs in the Latin Thesaurus, where the different meanings are correctly classified.
If we continue to translate fidēs with “faith,” certain essential expressions like fidem habere, fidēs est mihi, frequently met with in the language of comedy, risk being understood in exactly the opposite sense: thus Plautus, Pseudolus 467: parvam esse apud te mihi fidem ipse intellego. If we translate mihi fidēs est with “I have faith (in you), I give (you) my confidence” we arrive at exactly the opposite of what it actually means, which in fact is “(I have known for a long time that you despise me because) I understand well that you have only very little confidence in me.” Another example in Plautus, Amph. 555: facis ut tuis nulla apud te fidēs sit is to be understood in the same way: “You have no confidence in your people.”
The context and the authentic syntax of this turn of phrase impose a translation which seems to reverse the expected connections: fidēs est mihi apud aliquem signifies “somebody has confidence in me.” To translate fidēs more literally, let us replace “confidence” with “credit.” The literal translation of fidēs est mihi apud aliquem becomes “I have credit with somebody”; this is really the equivalent of “I inspire confidence in him” or “he has confidence in me.” Thus the Latin notion of fidēs establishes between the partners an inverse relationship to that which we generally understand under the notion of “confidence.” In the expression “I have confidence in somebody,” the confidence is something belonging to me which I can put into his hands and which he disposes of. In the Latin expression mihi est fidēs apud aliquem it is the other who puts his trust in me and it is at my disposal.
Thus the term fidēs is bound up with the construction est mihi, the proper expression of possession; and this “possession” is determined by the preposition apudchez’, indicating the partner. The “possessor” of the fidēs thus holds a security which he deposits “with” (apud) somebody: this shows that fidēs is really the “credit” which one enjoys with one’s partner. All the early examples confirm this.
This term figures in still another well-known turn of phrase where the sense also requires rectification. This is the appeal: pro divom fidem made to obtain the help of the gods, or again: di, obsecro vestram fidem, ‘O gods, I beseech you for your fidēs’. Since fidēs designates the confidence which the speaker inspires in his interlocutor, and which he enjoys with him, it follows that it is for him a “guarantee” to which he can have recourse. The fidēs that mortals have with the gods assures them in return of a guarantee: it is this divine guarantee which the speaker invokes in his distress.
Once we have penetrated into these syntactical and semantic relations, it is the French phrase avoir confiance en quelqu’un ‘to have confidence in someone’ which looks peculiar. It is right to say “je donne ma foi, j’accorde ma confiance,” ‘I give my trust, I bestow my confidence’. Something of mine is in effect given to somebody who now possesses it (“he possesses my confidence”). But how to explain that we also say “to have confidence” in somebody? How can one give a thing and have it at the same time? The answer should not be sought in French or English itself; the expression “avoir confiance” ‘to have confidence’ is incomprehensible except as a translation of the Latin fidem habere. We must thus explain fidēs in this new construction which is quite different from the other. This time it is the verb which we must consider. In fact, the turn of phrase fidem habere alicui is to be understood in the same manner as honorem habere alicui ‘to bestow honor on somebody’, and signifies thus “to bestow on somebody the fidēs which belongs to him.” Thus Terence, Eun. 197: forsitan hic mihi parvam habeat fidem ‘perhaps this man will have little confidence, will bestow on me slight fidēs’.
Here we see the relation between hic mihi fidem habet and the ancient est mihi fidēs apud ilium. By a natural development we pass in the language of rhetoric to the expression fidem facere orationi ‘to create fidēs in an oration’, that is credibility. From now on it is the utterance which possesses a fidēs and it is possible to say est orationi fidēs apud auditorem ‘the speech possesses this fidēs vis-à-vis the hearer’ and thus becomes capable of persuading him. From this by abbreviation we get fidem auditori facere, literally “to make credibility for the hearer.”
It is from this that fidēs develops into a subjective notion, no longer the confidence which is inspired in somebody, but the trust which is placed in somebody. This conversion was the essential stage in the evolution. It would be possible to follow the development of the notion in familiar phrases: se in fidem ac dicionem populi Romani tradere ‘to deliver oneself into the fidēs and power of the Roman people’; fidēs is joined to dicio, the power to dispose of somebody; or se in fidem et potestatem alicuius tradere, ‘to surrender oneself into the fidēs and power of someone’. Just like potestās and diciō, fidēs is a quality acknowledged in the victor.
These equivalents bring to light another aspect of fidēs. If we review the different words associated with fidēs and the circumstances in which they are employed, it will be seen that the partners in “trust” are not in the same situation; the one who holds the fidēs placed in him by a man has this man at his mercy. This is why fidēs becomes almost synonymous with diciō and potestās. In their primitive form these relations involved a certain reciprocity: placing one’s fidēs in somebody secured in return his guarantee and his support. But this very fact underlines the inequality of the conditions. It is authority which is exercised at the same time as protection for somebody who submits to it, an exchange for, and to the extent of, his submission. This relationship implies the power of constraint on one side and obedience on the other. It is seen very clearly in the precise signification of the Latin word foedus (from *bhoides-), a “pact” established originally between two unequal partners. This is shown in certain poetic usages: omnes foedere naturae certo discrimina servant ‘all, in conformity with the laws fixed by nature, preserve the characteristics which differentiate them’ (Lucretius V, 923); has leges alternaque foedera certis imposuit natura locis ‘nature has imposed these laws and eternal pacts on certain localities’ (Vergil, Georgics I, 60). The constraining power of foedus was later extended to both parties.
The Latin forms illuminate the various aspects of the sense thanks to the phraseology of the religious and legal language. Outside Latin, these notions have become laicized and specialized. Nevertheless, the verb peíthomai in Greek “I let myself be persuaded, I obey” still enables us to recognize that “persuasion” is equivalent to, or develops to, the sense “obedience” and presupposes a constraint although the institutional form of this submission is no longer apparent.
We may now return to, and make more precise, the etymological relationships with the Germanic and Slavic forms. Up to now etymologists have left open the question whether the sense of Gothic beidan ‘to wait, bide’ should or should not be connected with that of fidēs, etc. The same is true of Old Slavic běda ‘constraint, anánkē’. Similar problems often arise if we take too summary a view of the relationships of sense. The first condition is to observe and to define exactly the terms in question in the language itself. If we examine how Gothic employs beidan ‘to expect, prosdékhesthai, prosdokân’, it will be noticed, particularly in Luke II, 25 “he was a just and pious man” beidands laþonais Israelis, προσδεχόμενος παράκλησιν τοũ Ἰσραήλ, ‘who expected the consolation of Israel’. Here the “expectance” is a “confidence” in the fulfilment of the prophesy of Isaiah (33, 20). Mark XV, 43 was silba beidands þiudangardjos gudis (Joseph of Arimathea, a notable member of the Council) ‘who also expected the kingdom of God’. Here, also, “expect” is equivalent to “place one’s confidence in…” Luke II, 38 þaim usbeidandam laþon Jairusaulwmos ‘to those who expected the deliverance of Jerusalem’; it is still an event expected with confidence that is given by conviction. This is indirectly confirmed in the context of I Cor. XIII, 7 where gabeidiþ ‘ὑπομένει, endures’ follows þulaiþ ‘excuses’, galaubeiþ ‘believes’, weneiþ ‘hopes’. There thus is in Gothic no break with the ancient sense of *bheidh-, but only an evolution from “put one’s confidence in somebody or something” to “expect,” and even if it is taken in an ordinary sense, this verb always refers to a hopeful expectation.
Nor is there any difficulty in admitting that beidan has its causative in baidjan. Here, again, scholars have found an insurmountable obstacle in the sense of baidjan, which translates Gr. anankázein ‘constrain’; how could “constrain” be the causation of “expect”? The fact is that the following has not been taken into consideration: Gothic uses two different verbs to render anankázein. One is nauþjan ‘to exercise a physical constraint’ and the other baidjan, indicating only a moral constraint, which is that of persuasion (cf. II Cor. XII, II; Gal. II, 3, 14). It is thus possible to imagine that the connection between beidan and baidjan is analogous to that of Gr. peíthomai ‘to trust somebody’ and peíthō ‘to get somebody to obey’. The same is true of Old Slavic běda ‘constraint’. In this light the old unity can be restored and we can see that, as between the senses of the Greek and Latin forms and those of Germanic and Slavic, there was a weakening and especially a loss of the institutional sense. This is in the main due presumably to the emergence of another expression for faith and fidelity in Germanic, i.e. Treue and the related terms.
The history of fidēs goes beyond its etymological relatives. It has long been noticed that fidēs in Latin is the abstract noun corresponding to a different verb: crēdō. This suppletive relationship has been studied by A. Meillet [2] who has shown that the ancient connection between crēdō and fidēs was revived in Christianity: it was then that fidēs, a profane expression, evolved towards the sense of “religious faith” and crēdere ‘believe’ towards that of “to confess one’s faith.”
We must here anticipate the conclusions of an analysis which will be found below (Book One, Chapter 15) in order to demonstrate what predetermined to some extent that fidēs and crēdō should function in this suppletive way. Crēdō, we shall see, is literally “to place one’s *kred,” that is “magical powers,” in a person from whom one expects protection thanks to “believing” in him. Now it seems to us that fidēs, in its original sense of “credit, credibility,” implying dependence on the one who fidem habet alicui, designates a notion very close to that of *kred. It is easy to see, once the old root noun *kred was lost in Latin, how fidēs could take its place as a substantive corresponding to crēdō. In these two terms we are back once again with notions in which there is no distinction between law and religion: the whole of ancient law is only a special domain regulated by practices and rules which are still pervaded by mysticism.


[ back ] 1. For *doru-/*dreu- see our article “Problèmes sémantiques de la reconstruction” already cited.
[ back ] 2. Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, XXII, 1922, 215ff.