The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic

Evidence for the meaning of the Indo-European Root *nes-

1. Introduction

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the background of the Greek root nes-. In Greek itself three factors are involved: the meaning of the root, the interpretation of this meaning, and the presence of the root in the word nóos. These factors have been considered at length, and the problem now is to determine what in each case was inherited by Greek from Indo-European.

One can approach this problem only by means of the comparative method. In this chapter, therefore, I shall be concerned with attestations of the root nes– in languages other than Greek. The evidence to be considered bears, first of all, on the meaning “return to life” of Greek nes-; the cardinal evidence for this is provided by Germanic languages, which will therefore be considered first. As for the involvement in sun symbolism of the root nes-, the main evidence is provided by Sanskrit, although the meaning “return to light” seems to have been preserved in Germanic as well, and also in Albanian. Attention will therefore be paid to this in section 2, “Germanic,” and a brief section 3 will then be devoted to Albanian. In section 4, “Indic,” the context of sun symbolism will be explored more fully.

The final factor is the derivation of Greek nóos from nes-. In the Indic section a case will be made that this root already implied “intelligence” in Indo-European. {125|126}

2. Germanic

The modern German word genesen, “get well, recover,” contains the Indo-European root nes-, and, by its meaning, still bears witness to the original meaning of the root. With only this word in mind one can understand what led Sigmund Feist to reconstruct the earliest Germanic meaning of nes– as “zum Leben zurückkehren (return to life).” [1] The correlation between this and what has been found in early Greek leads to the conclusion that the meaning “return to life” goes back to Indo-European times.

The discussion to follow will deal first with the forms from nes– in Gothic, secondly with those in West Germanic, and lastly with those in Nordic. In each case the original meaning “zum Leben zurückkehren” can still be seen, or at least inferred. In each case there is also a certain amount of evidence for an original meaning “return to light,” although the nature and strength of this evidence vary from dialect to dialect.

In dealing with Gothic one must take account of the problem that our evidence is contained in a translation of the Greek Bible. The context in which words appear is therefore predetermined. The element of choice, however, enters into the translator’s use of a particular word in a given context. In the case of the root nes-, this point has a kind of general relevance; for the Gothic forms from this root are used to translate such Greek words as sṓzein and sōtēría, which in the original text have to do with the specifically Christian notion of “salvation.” This notion, furthermore, implies a “return from death” to life everlasting. While it does not follow automatically from this that the Gothic forms from nes– imply a “return from death,” this possibility is at least distinctly present.

The verb nasjan is a causative formation and therefore has a transitive sense, translating sṓzein, “to save.” Christian salvation is again opposed to death in the following phrase, Mark 3:4: ψυχὴν σῶσαι (saiwala nasjan) ἢ ἀποκτεῖναι, “to save a soul or kill it.” The participle from nasjan is nasjands, “sōtḗr,” which was discussed above.

The verb nasjan also appears as ganasjan, with the perfective element ga-. This verb translates sṓzesthai, “be saved,” in the following interesting example; in Luke 8:50 the context involves a young girl presumed to be dead, concerning whom Christ says to her father: μόνον πίστευε, καὶ σωθήσεται (jah ganasjada), “only believe and she will be saved.” The verb also translates iãsthai, “to heal,” and thus acts as a causative to ganisan in the sense “get well” of the latter; cf. Luke 6:19: καὶ ἰᾶτο πάντας (jah ganasida allans), “and he healed all.” {128|129}

Based on the verb nasjan is the feminine noun naseins, formed with the suffix –eins from original *-ī-ni-, and translating sōtēría and sōtḗrion; the latter stands in the original of Luke 2:30 ff.:

ὅτι εἶδον οἱ ὀφθαλμοί μου τὸ σωτήριόν σου (nasein þeina) ὃ ἡτοίμασας κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν, φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν

Because my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people, a light for the revelation of the Gentiles.

This completes the list of Gothic forms, the contexts of which must speak for themselves, and their cognates in West Germanic may now be considered. Here the meanings of Gothic ganisan, both “be saved” and “get well,” are closely reflected in Old English genesan (also nesan) and Old Saxon ginesan, “be saved,” and Old High German genesan, “be saved, get well”; similarly, Old Saxon and Old High German ginist means “salvation” and “recovery.”

The cognates of Gothic nasjan require more comment, for here there was, in part, a semantic development, reflected in the modern German cognate nähren, “nourish.” Nasjan itself simply means “save,” and this meaning was preserved in Old English and Old Saxon nerian; similarly, the participles neriend and neriand mean “savior” in the two respective dialects.

In order to determine the oldest meaning of the first set, which is native to West Norse, one must consider the evidence of Old Icelandic. It emerges from this that Old Icelandic nœra did not mean “nourish” at all, but still had the older sense of “revive, bring back to life.”

For the sake of comparison, let us first cite an example of Old Icelandic næra, “nourish.” These occurrences are few and late—thus the phrase næra sín hibýli, “to feed his family,” in the Konungs Skugg-sja (326B), a late translation of the Speculum Regale.

The meaning of nœra is quite distinct from this, as the following example will show. (In these examples I shall quote the spelling of the texts, which frequently have næra for nœra; {131|132} the reason for this is that -æ- and -œ- have fallen together in modern Icelandic, thus obscuring the distinction in which we are interested; the meanings, however, will serve to identify the forms as coming from nœra.) An example that might at first seem to have to do with “feeding” but does not, is found in Fornaldar Sögur 3.571: hón dreypir víni á varrir þeim ok nærdusk þeir skjótt, “she dripped wine on their lips, and they brought themselves back to life again.” The meaning naturally cannot be “and they nourished themselves again.”

For nœra as “bring back to life,” one might also consider the following striking example, Fornmanna Sögur 6.353: nærdisk hón svá sem frá leid, “she brought herself back to life who had perished (i.e., swooned)”, where the context has nothing at all to do with “nourishing.”

3. Albanian

4. Indic

Güntert’s solution is possible, but the hypothetical abstact noun *nasati– is weak. One would have expected *nasti– in view of Gothic ga-nists, or even *asti– on the basis of Indo-Iranian astam. Given this weakness, I would propose a different solution.

The two twins, as noted above, “save” and “heal” distressed mortals. They perform these functions in a series of archaic myths which the Rig-Veda refers to frequently. Three such myths, furthermore, provide explicit evidence that the underlying function of the two “saviors” and “healers” was in fact “to bring back to life.” The myths concern the mortals Rebha, Bhujyu, and Śyāva. {137|138}

εἵλετ’ αἰῶνα φθιμένου Πολυδεύκης Κάστορος ἐν πολέμῳ. {140|141}

In the narrative itself, Pindar says that Polydeuces “opened the eye, then the voice” of his fallen brother (l. 90):

ἀνὰ δ’ ἔλυσεν μὲν ὀφθαλμόν, ἔπειτα δὲ φωνὰν χαλκομίτρα Κάστορος.

More important than the statistical count, however, is the evidence of one strophe which contains the Nā́satyā/Aśvínā oppositions: in RV 2.41.7 this opposition is closely correlated with a further opposition between “cattle” and “horses.” The {147|148} strophe is divided into three segments, the first two of which articulate the two oppositions in question. The first segment begins with the adjective gómad, “rich in cattle,” and ends with the vocative Nāsatyā, which the second segment begins with the adjective áśvāvad, “rich in horses,” and ends with the vocative Aśvinā. The parallelism between these two segments makes it clear beyond doubt that “cattle” are associated with the name Nā́satyā and “horses” with the name Aśvínā:

gómad ū ṣú nāsatyā/ áśvāvad yātam aśvinā/ vartī́ rudrā nṛpā́yyam

Come quickly (ū ṣú … yātam) along the path (vartī́) rich in cattle, you Nāsatyā; come quickly along the path rich in horses, you Aśvinā; come quickly, you Rudrā, along the path which protects men (nṛpā́yyam).

All three strophes contain the phrase gómad dasrā híraṇyavat, consisting of the vocative dasrā and the neuter adjectives gómad, “rich in cattle,” and híraṇyavat, “rich in gold.” In RV 8.22.17, the collocation gómad dasrā in the third segment of the strophe is clearly opposed to the collocation áśvāvad aśvinā in the first segment:

ā́ no áśvāvad aśvinā / vartír yāsiṣṭam madhupātamā narā / gómad dasrā híraṇyavat

Come to us (ā́ no … yāsiṣṭam) along the path (vartír) rich in horses, you Aśvinā; come, you who most enjoy the sacrificial drink, you heroes (madhupātamā narā); come along the path rich in cattle, you dasrā, rich in gold.

RV 1.30.17 contains the same opposition, but the syntax is varied on the “horse” side of this opposition, and the phrase gómad dasrā híraṇyavat is appended loosely to express the “cattle” side:

ā́śvināv áśvāvatyā / iṣā́ yātaṃ śávīrayā / gómad dasrā híraṇyavat

Come here (ā́ … yātam) with a surpassing wealth (iṣā́ … śávīrayā) rich in horses, you Aśvinā; rich in cattle, you dasrā, rich in gold.

RV 1.92.16 follows the pattern of the two previous strophes but omits the adjective áśvāvad altogether:

áśvinā vartír asmád ā́ / gómad dasrā híraṇyavat / arvā́g ráthaṃ sámanasā ní yachatam

Being of one mind rein in your chariot in this direction (segment 3), along the path toward us, you Aśvinā (segment 1), which is rich in cattle, you dasrā, and rich in gold (segment 2). {151|152}


[ back ] 1. S. Feist, Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der gotischen Sprache 3 (Leiden, 1939), s.v. ganisan.

[ back ] 2. Cf., e.g., John 8:12: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

[ back ] 3. It may be noted that the image of Christ as tò phō̂s, “the light,” completely dominates the fourth Gospel, the one which betrays the greatest Greek influence; cf. A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, ed. J. Hastings (Edinburgh, 1924), pp. 34–35. A point unrelated to Gothic, but in itself well worth noting, is that in Greek Hermetic writers there are about ten references to a deity called Noũs and defined as phō̂s, “light,” and zōḗ, “life”; for these references, see W. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1957), p. 341.

[ back ] 4. For a list of attestations of the various Gothic forms, see H. C. von der Gabelentz, Ulfilas, vol. 2 (Leipzig, 1843), s.vv.

[ back ] 5. For the derivations given here, see Feist (n. 1), s.vv.

[ back ] 6. Cf. chap. 4, n. 60 for the possibility of a similar Greek formation *néstis.

[ back ] 7. Rhys Carpenter, Folktale, Fiction, and Saga in the Homeric Epics (Berkeley, Calif., 1956), pp. 138–139, compares Beowulf’s descent to the ocean depths to Odysseus’s descent to the underworld, arguing that both derive from the same ultimate source (the “Bearson” legend); the argument is at least interesting in light of the posited etymological meaning of neređ as “brings back from death.”

[ back ] 8. Cf. J. and W. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch IV.1.2.7 (Leipzig, 1878), s.v. genesen.

[ back ] 9. See J. De Vries, Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Leiden, 1962), s.v. næra, who further argues that the borrowings were not from Old High German, but rather from a Low German form neren (which one must assume had the same meaning).

[ back ] 10. The Swedish dialects in question are those of Bohuslän and Dalsland, both of which are West Norse in origin.

[ back ] 11. For Icelandic, cf. De Vries (n. 9), s.v., and A. Noreen, Altisländisches Grammatik (Halle, 1890), p. 90; for Norwegian dialect, cf. I. Aasen, Norsk Ordbog (Christiania, 1873), s.v.

[ back ] 12. Made by R. Meringer, Wörter und Sachen 1 (1909): 168 ff.

[ back ] 13. It should be noted that Faroese nøra, “provide with food; breed or raise (livestock)” does not contrast with another form *næra; has the falling together of two forms thus given nøra the meaning “nourish”? Such a coincidence of forms has taken place in the case of Icelandic (see below in text).

[ back ] 14. It should also be noted that corresponding to the Old English compound ealdorneru, “life’s salvation, refuge,” is the Old Icelandic compound aldrnari, which, however, is a designation for “fire” in the context of the Ragnarök—the destruction and recreation of the world (Völuspa 57.3).

[ back ] 15. Cf. J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Bern, 1954), 2:766; M. Mayrhofer, Kurzgefasstes etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindischen (Heidelberg, 1956–1974), s.v. nasate; H. Frisk (chap. 1, n. 4), s.v. néomai. (Frisk, however, adds a caution that the form is ambiguous.)

[ back ] 16. N. Jokl, Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Wien 168: 1, 40.

[ back ] 17. Stuart E. Mann, An Historical Albanian-English Dictionary (Cambridge, 1957).

[ back ] 18. Jokl repeats the notion that the basic meaning of Old Icelandic nœra is “ernähren (nourish)”; but one should note that at least Albanian kneƚem has nothing to do with “feeding.”

[ back ] 19. Sanskrit also has the reduplicated form niṃsate, “kiss,” to which Greek nísomai is thought to correspond; the difficulty with the Greek form is that original –ns– should have produced –n-, not –s-. For a bibliography of proposed solutions, see Frisk (chap. 1, n. 4), s.v. néomai.

[ back ] 20. For the derivation, see M. Mayrhofer (n. 15), s.v.

[ back ] 21. See n. 27 below.

[ back ] 22. The Mitanni name occurs on a treaty from the fourteenth century B.C. between the Mitanni king Matiwāza and the Hittite king Suppiluliuma. Mitanni equivalents of the Vedic Mitra, Varuṇa, and Indra occur on the same treaty and thus establish the identity of the Nasattii̪a(nna). For the Mitanni evidence, see M. Mayrhofer, Die Indo-Arier im alten Vorderasien (Wiesbaden, 1966), pp. 14–15, with further bibliography; there is a convenient summary of the evidence in T. Burrow, The Sanskrit Language 2 (London, 1965), p. 28. The Iranian demon Nā̊ŋhaiθya is twice cited in the Avesta (Vīdēvdāt 10.9 and 19.43).

[ back ] 23. The Petersburger Wörterbuch of Böhtlingk and Roth, which cites all three interpretations, does not mention the source of this one.

[ back ] 24. See Herman Lommel, Festschrift Walther Schubring (Hamburg, 1951), p. 29, who points out that na– instead of an– in such a compound would be highly unusual, and who argues that the name “not untrue” (or “not unreal”) would be too abstract and undistinctive to be old.

[ back ] 25. This derivation is given by Yāska (Nirukta 6.13) and defended by Lommel (n. 24), pp. 29–31. The story on which the derivation is based is found in the Bṛhaddevatā 6.162–167.7 to RV 10.17.1–2: the twins’ mother Saraṇyū conceived them when she and her husband Vivasvat, in the form of horses, attempted to mate; the seed of Vivasvat fell on the ground and Saraṇyū breathed it in through her nostrils. This myth, which has a close parallel in the Purāṇas (see Lommel, p. 30), cannot have to do with the original meaning of the name Nā́satyā. The decisive objection, which will be argued later in this section, is that Nā́satyā was originally singular and designated one twin in opposition to the other. The interpretation “nose-born,” which must concern both twins equally, is thus to be rejected.

[ back ] 26. H. Brunnhofer, Von Aral bis zur Ganga, p. 99—unavailable to me but cited by Lommel (n. 24), p. 29, and H. Güntert, Der arische Weltkönig und Heiland (Halle, 1923), p. 259.

[ back ] 27. H. Güntert (n. 26), p. 259. Güntert’s derivation has been accepted by Wackernagel-Debrunner, Altindische Grammatik, vol. 2, pt. 2 (Göttingen, 1954), p. 939. M. Mayrhofer (n. 15), s.v. Nā́satyā, regards a derivation from nes– as likely and credits Güntert with the best solution.

[ back ] 28. G. Nagy (chap. 4, n. 55), p. 43 n. 121. The Old Persian form is a Median borrowing; for the verb in question, cf. Old Persian xšay-, “rule,” Avestan xšāy-, “have power,” and Sanskrit kṣay-, “possess.”

[ back ] 29. I quote from Nagy’s discussion, which also cites Hittite evidence:

For a parallel syntagma in Celtic, cf. Old Irish 3rd plural relative bertae “they who bear” < *bheronti- i̪o: likewise Gaulish dugiiontiio “they who serve,” discussed by C. Watkins, “Preliminaries to a Historical and Comparative Analysis of the Syntax of the Old Irish Verb,” Celtica 6 (1962) 24. Such a syntactical order is well-attested in Indo-Iranian: cf. Rig-Veda 1.70.5: dā́śad yó asmāi “he who awaits him,” as discussed again by Watkins, op. cit. 29 … . I add here some possible parallels suggested to me by C. Watkins:

Lūcetius, the name of one of the followers of Turnus: Vergil, Aeneid IX 590. Servius ad loc.: … lingua Osca Lucetius est Iuppiter dictus a luce. Cf. also Gaulish Leucetios, epithet of the god of war. For references and further instances (including a possible occurrence in the Carmen Saliare), cf. J. Whatmough, The Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy II, 197.

Δουκέτιος, the name of a king of the Sicels: Diodorus Siculus 11.78.7. For references and further instances, cf. again Whatmough, PID II 452.

Hence *leuketi-i̪o “he who shines” and *deuketi-i̪o “he who leads,” both nominalized. There is a parallel syntagma in Hittite: e.g. in Laws I 25, paprizzi kuiš “he who defiles” (a well, in this case); also, in an Akkadian-Hittite vocabulary (Keilschrifttexte aus Boghazköi I 42 31), the Akkadian participle ḫābilu “gewalttätig” is glossed as dammešḫiškizzi kuiš, literally “welcher schädigt.”

[ back ] 30. The fact that a god is the subject of the activized verb in this reconstruction of the divine name Nā́satyā is to be noted; cf. chap. 4, n. 58 above.

[ back ] 31. The epithet párijman, “traversing,” is also used of the twins as a pair (e.g., RV 1.46.14). For the dual form Nā́satyā as originally meaning “Nā́satya– and his brother,” cf. J. Wackernagel, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 23 (1877): 302 ff., on the Homeric dual Aíante as originally meaning “Ajax and his brother.”

[ back ] 32. Cf. also RV 1.117.4, another reference to the myth of Rebha, which says: “you two, by your miraculous powers, put him back together again when he had come apart” (sáṃ táṃ riṇītho víprutaṃ dáṃsobhir). For other references to this myth, see K. F. Geldner, Der Rig-Veda, vols. 1–3 [Harvard Oriental Studies 33–35] (Cambridge, 1951), on RV 1.116.24.

[ back ] 33. Geldner takes pitṛ́bhya ā́ as “to his parents,” but the Rig-Veda always uses the dual when the meaning is “parents.” See Geldner on RV 1.116.3–5 for other references to the myth of Bhujyu.

[ back ] 34. RV 1.117.24 and 10.65.12.

[ back ] 35. Vedic nírṛti– can be either the goddess or the concept of “destruction” or “dissolution,” and it is not in fact clear which is meant in this verse. For a comparison of the goddess with the Roman Lua Mater, see G. Dumézil, Déesses latines et mythes védiques (Brussels, 1956), pp.107–115. Related to nírṛti– is the verbal adjective nírṛta-, which is applied to the same Vandana in 1.119.7: “Vandana, who was decomposed by old age (nírṛtaṃ jaraṇyáyā), you miracle-workers put back together again (sám invathaḥ) as craftsmen do a chariot.”

[ back ] 36. For more on the relationship between the twins and the Dawn, see n. 66 below; for general remarks on this relationship see Donald Ward, The Divine Twins (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968), pp. 11 and 15.

[ back ] 37. RV 1.183.6, 1.184.6, and 7.73.1; the same phrase occurs in RV 1.92.6 to Uṣas.

[ back ] 38. They are called “husbands” (pátī) in RV 4.43.6, “wooers” (varā́) in RV 10.85.8–9; Sūryā́ mounts their chariot in, e.g., RV 5.73.5 (ā́ … vāṃ sūryā́ ráthaṃ tiṣṭad).

[ back ] 39. The duhitā́ sū́ryasya mounts the chariot of the twins in RV 1.116.17, 1.118.5, and 6.63.5; she “chooses” their chariot in RV 1.117.13 and 4.43.2.

[ back ] 40. The Latvian Dieva dēli are actually called their sister’s suitors; see Ward (n. 36), pp. 10–11, who also discusses the Greek Dioscuri and their sister Helen; cf. also Gregory Nagy, “Phaethon, Sappho’s Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 77 (1973): 162–177.

[ back ] 41. For the cult title and literary epithet of the Dioscuri, see A. Furtwängler, “Dioskuren,” in Roscher’s Lexikon (chap. 3, n. 12), vol. 1, no. 1, cols, 1163–1164. D. Ward (n. 36), pp. 14–15, 18, summarizes the evidence for the Indo-European origins of the twin’s functions as “saviors” and “healers.”

[ back ] 42. The same episode was narrated in the Cypria; fragment 11 (Allen) tells how Lynceus spied the Dioscuri before the battle began. Apollodorus 3.11.2 also narrates the episode.

[ back ] 43. In the actual narrative Pindar says that when Polydeuces reached Castor, the latter “was not yet dead, but still gasping” (l. 74): καί νιν οὔπω τεθναότ’, ἄσθματι δὲ φρίσσοντα πνοὰς ἔκιχεν. Apollodorus 3.11.2, however, says that Idas “killed” (κτείνει) Castor, and that Polydeuces refused immortality from Zeus “while Castor was a corpse” (ὄντος νεκροῦ Κάστορος). Pindar’s word φθιμένου, “perished,” expresses the underlying reality of the situation, which is that Castor, as a “mortal,” had to “die.” Fragment 6 of the Cypria (Allen) expresses this reality in terms of Castor’s “fate”: Κάστωρ μὲν θνητός, θανάτου δέ οἱ αἶσα πέπρωται, / αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ἀθάνατος Πολυδεύκης, ὄζος Ἄρηος, “Castor, on the one hand, was mortal, and a fate of death was allotted to him, but Polydeuces, scion of Ares, was immortal.” As a combination of immortal and mortal elements, the Dioscuri, even as a pair, experience a regular alternation between “life” and “death.” Such an alternation is precisely what characterizes the twins in our earliest evidence, Odyssey 11.302–304: οἳ καὶ νέρθεν γῆς τιμὴν πρὸς Ζηνὸς ἔχοντες / ἄλλοτε μὲν ζώουσ’ ἑτερήμεροι, ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε / τεθνᾶσιν, “Obtaining honor from Zeus even beneath the earth, now they live, on alternate days, and now they are dead.” Iliad 3.243–244 is not inconsistent with this passage, although it is briefer, and Pindar Nemean 10.55–57 follows a similar tradition.

[ back ] 44. Cf. Zeus’s speech to Polydeuces in Nemean 10.80–82: Ἐσσί μοι υἱός· τόνδε δ’ ἔπειτα πόσις / σπέρμα θνατὸν ματρὶ τεᾷ πελάσαις / στάξεν ἥρως, “You are my son; but as for this one, a hero afterwards let drip his mortal seed when he approached your mother as her husband.”

[ back ] 45. Cf. D. Ward (n. 36), pp. 4–5 and 12–14, who emphasizes that dual paternity, frequently involving an opposition between an immortal and a mortal father, is a common feature in twin mythology the world over.

[ back ] 46. Cf. also RV 5.76.3, which bids the twins to come “day and night” (dívā náktam), but apparently a third time as well—namely, “midday” (madhyáṃdine).

[ back ] 47. It is also probable that the Vedic twins were identified with the morning and evening stars; cf. D. Ward (n. 36), pp. 15–18, who cites bibliography and also considers the comparative evidence of other Indo-European twins; cf. also Gregory Nagy, “Phaethon, Sappho’s Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas” (n. 40), pp.172–173, n. 94.

[ back ] 48. S. Wikander, “Nakula et Sahadeva,” Orientalia Suecana 6 (1957): 66–69.

[ back ] 49. This is just part of a larger argument that Wikander put forth in “Pāṇḍavasagan och Mahābhāratas mytiska förutsättningar,” Religion och Bibel, Nathan Söderblom-sällskapets Årsbok 6 (1947): 27–39 (translated into French by Georges Dumézil in his Jupiter Mars Quirinus [Paris, 1948], 4: 37–53). In this earlier study, Wikander dealt with the structure of the Pāṇḍavas, the five heroes of the Mahābhārata, as a group. All five are the sons of different gods, and Wikander convincingly showed that the fathers represent the old trifunctional scheme which Dumézil has discovered and elaborated. Wikander showed further that the five sons preserve archaic representations of their fathers, and of the three functions with which they are associated. In “Nakula et Sahadeva” (n. 48), Wikander went on to study separately the representatives of the third function, the twins Nakula and Sahadeva, as they preserve old oppositions that are not directly attested for their fathers. Dumézil has summarized and expanded all of Wikander’s findings in the first part of his Mythe et épopée, vol. 1 (Paris, 1968), which is now the best source to consult; for the structure of the five Pāṇḍavas, see pp. 53–102, and for the twins in particular, pp. 73–89.

[ back ] 50. Wikander, “Nakula et Sahadeva” (n. 48), pp. 72–73. The author also shows here that Sahadeva is differently characterized as “modest, correct, obedient,” and the like. D. Ward, “The Separate Functions of the Indo-European Divine Twins,” in J. Puhvel, ed., Myth and Law among the Indo-Europeans (Berkeley, Calif., 1970), pp. 193–202, has shown that this feature of Sahadeva’s character is paralleled in other Indo-European twins, and is thus highly traditional. I cannot, however, agree with Ward’s main thesis that the “modest” Sahadeva (and the Indo-European twin he represents) is differentially associated with Dumézil’s third function. Wikander (n. 48), pp. 75–76, in showing that Sahadeva is associated with Yudhiṣṭhira while Nakula is assocated with Bhīma in battles of the Mahābhārata, demonstrated that Sahadeva is differentially associated with the first function, and Nakula with the second. Dumézil, Mythe et épopée (n. 49), 1: 81–86 devotes a separate section to “Sahadeva et la première fonction”: he calls Sahadeva an “auxiliaire de la première fonction” on p. 86. As we shall see below, Sahadeva is to be connected with the son of Dyaus, and one would naturally expect this twin to be ranked above the son of Sumakha.

[ back ] 51. Wikander (n. 48), pp. 71–72.

[ back ] 52. 1.139.5533, 5.47.1832, 5.49.1996, 5.89.3168, 8.76.3814, 9.10.477.

[ back ] 53. Wikander, pp. 73–74.

[ back ] 54. Draupadī, Bhīma, and Arjuna also die in this scene, and Yudhiṣṭhira also interprets their deaths as the result of peculiar moral flaws; see Dumézil, Mythe et épopée (n. 49), 1: 81–82, who shows that essential features of the characters in question have in this scene been turned into flaws.

[ back ] 55. Sahadeva’s “intelligence” is also a marked feature in two aberrant traditions of the Mahābhārata, as Dumézil (n. 49), pp. 82–85 has shown. The first of these is the Persian account of the “Sons of Pan” (see Dumézil, pp. 82–83). According to this, each of the five sons received a particular talent as a result of his teacher’s prayers; Sahadeva, “who looked for wisdom and who did not speak unless spoken to, asked for the science of the stars and a knowledge of hidden matters.” The second aberrant version is that of the eighteenth-century Swiss Colonel de Polier, who studied with an Indian teacher and whose extensive notes, including a résumé of the Mahābhārata, were published as La Mythologie des Indous by his cousin, the Chanoinesse de Polier, in 1809 (see Dumézil, pp. 42–43, for the nature and value of this text). In the Mahābhārata of the Colonel de Polier, the five Pāṇḍavas are all characterized at their births, and Sahadeva is called “the most enlightened of mortals, the most perspicacious, and the most learned in the knowledge of past, present, and future” (see Dumézil, p. 84). The fault which causes Sahadeva’s death in this version is more particular than it is in the vulgate: Sahadeva did not tell his brothers that their mother Kuntī had had a son (Karṇa) by the god Sūrya before they were born, “although he had penetrated this mystery by means of his great intelligence” (see Dumézil, p. 85).

[ back ] 56. See p. 48 in Dumézil’s translation of Wikander’s 1947 study (n. 49 above).

[ back ] 57. Wikander, “Nakula et Sahadeva” (n. 48), p. 76. Sahadeva expresses his preference for and competence in handling cattle in 4.3.67–72 and 4.10.288–293.

[ back ] 58. Dumézil, Mythe et épopée (n. 49), 1: 87–89. The closest parallel is the Iranian female pair Drvāspā, “Mistress of healthy horses,” and Gə̄uš Tašan, “Builder of the cow,” or Gə̄uš Urvan, “Soul of the cow” (see Dumézil, pp. 88–89). For the Indo-European comparison, Dumézil cites somewhat looser parallels in Scandinavian, Italic, and Greek (pp. 87–88).

[ back ] 59. Wikander, “Nakula et Sahadeva” (n. 48), p. 79.

[ back ] 60. Cf. Homeric Hymn 33.1–2, where both twins are first called “sons of Zeus” and then “sons of Tyndareus”: ἀμφὶ Διὸς κούρους ἑλικώπιδες ἔσπετε Μοῦσαι / Τυνδαρίδας

[ back ] 61. Wikander, “Nakula et Sahadeva” (n. 48), pp. 79 ff. For the evidence that led Wikander to this conclusion, see below in text.

[ back ] 62. Wikander, “Nakula et Sahadeva” (n. 48), pp. 79, 81–82.

[ back ] 63. The origin of such oppositions may have been dual dvandva compounds which split and resulted in two separate dual terms (ekaśeṣa-s); see Wikander (n. 48), p. 79.

[ back ] 64. These figures are based on my own count; Wikander (n. 48), pp. 81–82 reports only eight cases of co-occurrence for vṛ́ṣaṇā and only twenty for dasrā́.

[ back ] 65. It should be noted that this strophe occurs in a catalogue of gods whom Dumézil has identified as the Indic gods of the three functions; such catalogues are rare in the Rig-Veda, and highly traditional. Strophes 1–6 of RV 2.41 are devoted to the gods of the first two functions, and strophes 7–9 are devoted to the twins, the representatives of the third function. For Dumézil’s analysis of this hymn, see his Tarpeia (Paris, 1947), pp. 45–56, and Mythe et épopée (n. 49), 1: 51.

[ back ] 66. Earlier in this section there was a brief discussion of a mythological relationship between the Nā́satyā and the dawn goddess Uṣás; subsequent remarks on gómat and áśvāvat, the two adjectives which serve to oppose the twins to each other, permit further remarks on the relationship with Uṣas. The two adjectives in question occur simultaneously in the Rig-Veda only in references to the twins and to Uṣas: RV 1.92.14 invokes Uṣas with the vocatives gómati áśvāvati, “rich in cattle, rich in horses”; in RV 1.48.2, 1.123.12, and 7.41.7, Uṣā́sas, “Dawns,” in the nominative plural, is modified by áśvāvatīs gómatīs, “rich in horses, rich in cattle.”

What is an opposition in the case of the twins, however, cannot be so in the case of Uṣas, a solitary figure. As the “Dawn goddess,” furthermore, Uṣas has more to do with cattle than with horses. Besides her well-known “ruddy cows,” we also have the formal evidence of the adjective gómat, which twice modifies “dawns” in the plural, without any accompanying form of áśvāvat (RV 1.113.8 and 2.28.2); the adjective áśvāvat, on the other hand, is never used of Uṣas without an accompanying form of gómat. Uṣas is, in fact, characterized by her cattle; one wonders whether Rā́trī, “Night,” in the old pair Uṣás-Rā́trī (see G. Dumézil, Déesses latines et mythes védiques [Brussels, 1956]), was once somehow associated with horses. This would correlate well with Yāska’s statement (see text at n. 47 above) that Rātrī and Uṣas were the simultaneous mothers of the twins.

[ back ] 67. Wikander (n. 48) p. 79.

[ back ] 68. Wikander (n. 48), p. 79, and again on p. 81 as follows: “pour ce qui concerne les termes nāsatya et dasra, on n’observe nulle part, dans les texts vediques, une relation claire entre les deux, ni d’opposition ni d’autre sorte (as far as the terms nāsatya and dasra are concerned, nowhere in the Vedic texts does one observe a clear relation between the two, either of opposition or of another sort).” With one reservation (see n. 69 below), I agree with Wikander’s statement, but his next step is misleading. Since there is no phraseological evidence in the Rig-Veda for an opposition between Nā́satyā and dasrā́, Wikander attempts to establish a Rig-Vedic opposition between Nā́satyā and divó nápātā, and to infer an opposition between Nā́satyā and dasrā́, given the equation dasrā = divó nápātā (see earlier in this section). The problem with this argument is the supposed opposition between Nā́satyā and divó nápātā, which, like the supposed opposition between Nā́satyā and dasrā́, simply does not exist. Wikander argues its existence on the basis of RV 1.117.11–12, a two-strophe passage containing the name Nā́satyā in strophe 11 and the epithet divó nápātā in strophe 12. But the term Aśvínā is also present in each strophe, and there are thus two genuine oppositions in the passage (Nā́satyā/Aśvínā and divó nápātā/Aśvínā). Each opposition is articulated within a single strophe, as is required; the argument that terms in different strophes (Nā́satyā and divó nápātā) are opposed to each other seems to me to be a pure figment.

[ back ] 69. There are only four cases of co-occurrence, namely 1.3.3, 1.116.10, 1.116.16, and 1.183.4; in none of the four cases is there any opposition between the terms in the various contexts, and one context (in 1.116.16 the Nāsatyā … dasrā are invoked for having restored a mortal’s eyes) suggests that the term dasrā was perhaps used to gloss Nāsatyā: the full gloss would have been dasrā bhiṣajā(u), “you two miracle-working doctors” (see n. 70 below). One may argue, therefore, that 1.116.16, far from opposing the terms Nāsatyā and dasrā, which would have been untraditional, actually glosses the old name Nā́satyā with the phrase “you miracle-working doctors.”

[ back ] 70. Note the collocation dasrā bhiṣajā(u), “miracle-working physicians,” in RV 1.116.16 and 8.86.1.

[ back ] 71. Note the collocation dasra mantumaḥ, “you miracle-working wise one,” which is twice applied to the god Pūṣan: RV 1.42.5 and 6.56.4; for the Indo-Iranian origins of this collocation, see R. Schmitt, Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit (chap. 2, n. 28), pp. 160–161, on Avestan dangrā mantū, “by wise resolution,” in Yasna 46.17.

[ back ] 72. I will simply note here a comparison between Vedic Nā́satyā and Greek Néstōr, which I intend to pursue in a separate study. The comparison also involves Nestor’s regular Homeric epithet hippóta, “the horseman,” which corresponds to the twins’ second name, Aśvínā. The double comparison between hippóta Néstōr and the Nā́satyā/Aśvínā raises the question of whether Nestor’s origins have to do with Indo-European twin mythology. Has the Greek Nestor, like the Avestan Nā̊ŋhaiθya, become separated from a twin brother? (For Nā̊ŋhaiθya, see n. 22 above and end note 4.)