The meaning of Homeric εὔχομαι through its formulas

Appendix. The transitive usage of Vedic ūh-

Separate treatment of this usage of ūh- is justifiable on prima facie grounds. The transitive usage of a medium tantum verb whose cognates (Av. aoj-, Gk. εὔχομαι) are intransitive must be secondary. Moreover, the transitivization of inherited intransitive verbs is not an exceptional event in Vedic. Renou and Whitney single out this phenomenon as a special tendency of the language. [1] Nevertheless it is important to try to account for its occurrence in this particular word and to present its contexts. If both the usage and contexts of transitive ūh- are not readily derivable from those of intransitive ūh-, it may be necessary to modify the hypothesis we have made regarding the etymology of ūh-, εὔχομαι, etc., and to suggest a different semantic prototype for these words from which such a transitive usage could evolve. This investigation therefore constitutes a test of the viability and explanatory power of the etymology proposed.

Now transitive ūh- presents an overt grammatical contrast to intransitive ūh-, and this contrast could either be the vehicle for the preservation of sacral ūh- or simply a grammatical transformation of secular ūh-. Typological parallels suggest a meaning ‘bless, glorify, extol’ for such a transitivized form in sacral contexts, ‘praise’ if the verb only remained secular. Compare Germ, sich rühmen ‘boast’, vs. transitive rühmen ‘praise’, and contrast Lat. glōrior ‘boast’, vs. transitive glōrificō ‘glorify, extol (sacral)’. Dictionaries and handbooks define transitive ūh- as meaning ‘esteem, praise’: ‘achten, beachten’, [4] ‘rühmen, loben; preisen, empfehlen’ [5] ). But in fact the verb always occurs in sacral contexts which are more suitable to a meaning ‘bless, extol, glorify’. For example:

1.30.4 ayám u te sám atasi
           kapóta iva garbhadhím
           vácas tác cin na ohase

Dieser Soma ist dein. Du schießest darauf los wie der Tauberich auf sein Weibchen. Diese Rede von uns weißt du gewiß zu würdigen (ohase).”

The subject of ohase is Indra, and vácas tác refers to the words of the poet’s sacral hymn. In this setting, a meaning ‘bless, glorify, extol’ for ohase is more à propos than Geldner’s “weißt du gewiß zu würdigen”. Transitive ūh- occurs three times in contexts which are closely parallel to this one. At 7.66.12, the subjects of óhate are gods, and its direct object is the relative yád, whose antecedent is again the poet’s hymn:

7.66.12 tád vo adyá manāmahe
            sūktaíḥ sū́ra údite
            yád óhate váruṇo mitró aryamā́

“Das ersinnen wir für euch in wohlgesetzten Worten heute bei Sonnenaufgang, was Varuṇa, Mitra, Aryaman löblich finden (ohate).”

At 7.16.11, the subject of óhate is once again a god, but its direct object, by extension, is not the hymn but the men on whose behalf it is sung:

7.16.11 úd vā siñcádhvam úpa vā pr̥ṇadhvam
            ā́d íd vo devá ohate {142|143}

Gießet auf oder füllet nach, dann belobt (ohate) euch der Gott.

Finally, transitive óhate is attested three times in succession in a short passage in 5.52. At first its subject is the Maruts, storm-gods, and its object the yajñá- ‘rite oral’, [
6] a word often associated with vácaḥ (1.26.10, 1.91.10, 8.66.5, 10.50.6):

5.52.10 etébhir máhyaṃ nā́mabhir
yajñáṃ viṣṭārá ohate

“… unter diesen Namen in breiter Schar (kommend) würdigen sie (ohate) mein Opfer.

In the following pāda, the poet, describing a mystical vision he has had of the Maruts, extends the usage of óhate:

5.52.11a ádhā náro ní ohate

Und die Männer würdigen (ohate) es [sc. yajñám]”

Then, he extends it a step further, to produce this peculiar, metaphorical usage:

5.52.11b ʼdhā niyúta ohate

und ihre Gespanne würdigen es . . .

Whatever poetic or mystical association links these three subjects for óhate, [
7] the point of departure for them at 5.52.10 is a usage of transitive ūh- which does have parallels, and the context as a whole is sacral.

The four remaining attestations of transitive ūh- [8] have a simply described relationship to this usage of the verb to designate a god’s action in response to hymn, yajñá-, or those on whose behalf a rite oral is performed. {143|144}They invert the situation, and designate the action of impious sacrificers upon the gods to whom they appeal. For example, in a hymn to the Viśvedevā:

5.42.10 yá óhate rakṣáso devávītāv
            acakrébhis tám maruto ní yāta
            yó vaḥ śámīṃ śaśamānásya níndāt
            tuccyā́n kā́mān karate siṣvidānáḥ

Here again the context of transitive ūh- is sacral, [
10] if ironically so. As Geldner has pointed out, [11] the passage contrasts óhate with níndātschmähet”. The contrast is more pointed if transitive ūh- has sacral connotations; notice also the contrast between yá óhate rakṣáso wer die Rakṣase óhate and yó vaḥ śámīṃ śaśamānásya níndātwer eures Sängers Arbeit níndāt”, between acceptable and impious poetic prayer. This usage of transitive ūh- is a precise and expressive inversion, not to say perversion, of the one previously discussed, where the proper god όhate the hymn of the pious singer. Here is another example of it from a hymn to Bṛhaspati, lord of prayer and protector of the singer against his enemies:

2.23.16 mā́ na stenébhyo yé abhí druhás padé
            nirāmíṇo ṛpávó ‘nneṣu jāgr̥dhúḥ
            ā́ devā́nām óhate ví vráyo hr̥dí
            bŕ̥haspate ná paráḥ sā́mno viduḥ


To sum up this discussion there are two usages of transitive ūh-, both occurring in sacral contexts. In one, a god óhate a rite oral or its beneficiaries. In the other, an unacceptable performer of rite óhate gods, demons, or moral flaws. If we are to account for the grammatical transformation of ūh- from intransitive to transitive verb, it should also be possible to account for these contextual fixations of the transitive verb.

The only Indic evidence available as a locus of diffusion for transitive ūh- in these sacral contexts is the one attestation of sacral intransitive ūh-:

8.5.3c vā́caṃ dūtó yáthohiṣe
‘As a messenger I say the word (of the hymn).’

On formal and functional grounds, as we have already shown, this usage of ohiṣe is an archaism relative to transitive ūh-. And this traditional phrase contains an ambiguity which may well have been the starting point for the development of transitive ūh-. {145|146}Formally speaking, vā́cam can be either direct object or cognate accusative with ohiṣe. The lexical and phonetic distinctness of vā́c- and ūh- could have made the preservation of their archaic interrelationship as an etymological figure especially tenuous. A secondary interpretation of vā́cam as a direct object may have taken place, and of necessity this would have involved the creation of a transitive meaning for the verb ūh-. Now we actually have attested precisely this reinterpretation of precisely this archaic phrase:

1.30.4c vácas tác cin na ohase
“Diese Rede von uns ohase.”

Here vácas (the hymn) is the direct object of ohase, and ohase has a transitive meaning: “glorify, sanctify”. A further transformation has occurred: the subject of ohiṣe in 8.5.3c was the poet, while the subject of ohase in 1.30.4c is a god, Indra. Presumably, the new transitive meaning of ohase motivated this transformation. It would be a violation of tabu for the poet, not the god, to glorify or sanctify the ritual, as the prototype in 8.5.3c would demand. [
14] This explanation also economically accounts for the fixation in pejorative contexts of transitive ūh- when poets are still the subject of the verb: they are impious poets. And in the apotropaic transformation of subjects from poet to god attested in 8.5.3c and 1.30.4c we have the locus of diffusion for the other, positive contexts of transitive ūh-. Thus the twofold, secondary development of sacral, transitive ūh- has an explanation completely in terms of Indic evidence which demands no modification of our etymological and semantic assumptions about the archaism and functions of intransitive ūh.


[ back ] 1. Renou 1952: pp. 342—3; Whitney2 1967: p. 92, § 274d.

[ back ] 2. See above, p. 66f., for the grammatical constraints on sacral and secular εὔχομαι, and Ch. II, n. 6, for another example of this phenomenon in Homeric epic; for the stylistic distinctiveness of sacral εὔχομαι in ritual descriptions, see above, p. 31 ff. and for a telling example of its ability to avert functional ambiguity, p. 94 on Τ 100.

[ back ] 3. In Avestan, sacral and secular usages can coexist without formulas because the root aoj- has overtly retained its original meaning ‘say’, and thus the sacral and secular usages have not resulted in semantic specializations which would cause one of the usages to atrophy.

[ back ] 4. Grassmann 1873: s. v. ūh-.

[ back ] 5. Geldner 1901: p. 60.

[ back ] 6. For this translation of vajñá-, see Renou 1958: p. 106 and Manessy 1961: p. 236 on the contrast between vajñá- ‘rite oral’ and adhvará- ‘rite manuel.’

[ back ] 7. See Geldner 1951: ad loc.: “Manches ist dunkel, besonders ohate”. In Geldner 1901: p. 61 he offers the following paraphrase of this passage, which is helpful: “Bei den Marut is alles—Namen, Gestalt, die Männer selbst und ihre Tiere—so wunderbar, daß sie schon durch das Auffallende ihrer Erscheinung Reklame für das Opfer des Dichters machen, zu dem sie kommen.”

[ back ] 8. An apparent additional attestation is contextually alien to all of these and appropriate instead to intransitive ūh-:

6.17.8 ádevo yád abhy aúhiṣṭa devā́n

“als der Ungott sich über die Götter überhob,

da erwählten sie im Kampf um die Sonne den Indra …”

ádevo is the Vṛtra, who is boasting; in the next stanza, intransitive ūh- occurs in precisely the same context (6.17.9; see above, p. 121 f. on this passage and other instances of this usage in Vedic). The accusative devā́n in 6.17.8 has been conditioned by the preverb abhí, which often makes intransitive verbs transitive: see Renou 1952: p. 318, p. 343; alternately, devā́n may be the object of abhí as a preposition.

[ back ] 9. This translation in Geldner 1901: p. 60.

[ back ] 10. On devávīti-Göttermahl, Opfer’ see Geldner 1951: ad 9.1.4: the Indic commentators define it as vajñá-, and the verbs vī- and yaj- occur together at 1.77.2, 3.29.8, 7.17.3.

[ back ] 11. Geldner 1910: p. 60.

[ back ] 12. The word vráyoSchwäche’, object of ā́ … óhate, is hapax legomenon, but Geldner’s definition is well-defended, and other alternatives are not substantially different. See his note ad loc. Also, the arrangement of preverbs around óhate is peculiar but paralleled (ibid.).

[ back ] 14. The mystical extension of the subjects of óhate at 5.52.10—1 to men and teams of horses cannot be invoked as a counter-example to disprove the existence of the tabu being postulated. They are extensions of the ritually correct usage, not inversions of it (see the discussion above, p. 143). For the existence of a tabu such as the one postulated here, see Benveniste 1969: t. 2, pp. 198—202 on Greek ὁσίη, which signifies the act performed by a god to render a sacrifice acceptable to men (cf. especially HHerm 130), and a forthcoming article by C. Watkins on Umbrian supa, Hittite UZU šuppa. The parallels strongly suggest that transitive ūh- be translated ‘sanctify’, which is also typologically possible. Cf. Modern Greek εὐχή ‘blessing’, εὔχομαι ‘give blessing or good wishes to’.