Indo-European Language and Society

Book VI: Religion

Chapter 1. The “Sacred”


The study of the designation of the “sacred” confronts us with a strange linguistic situation: the absence of any specific term in common Indo-European on the one hand, and a two-fold designation in many languages (Iranian, Latin, and Greek) on the other. The investigation, by throwing light on the connotations of the historical terms, has the aim of clarifying the structure of a notion, the expression of which seems to demand not one but two terms. The study of each of the pairs attested—Av. spǝnta : yaoždāta (cf. also Got. hails: weihs); Lat. sacer: sanctus; Gr. hierós: hágios—lead us to posit, for the prehistorical period, a notion with a double aspect: positive “what is charged with divine presence,” and negative “what is forbidden for men to contact.” (The Greek hósios does not enter into the designation of the sacred; a double opposition, to hierós and to díkaios, determines its value: “what is permitted to men by the gods.”)


The chapters which follow are devoted mainly to the study of the religious vocabulary of Indo-European, at least the expressions for the fundamental notions. Here we encounter the same difficulties of method which made themselves felt in our study of the other institutions. The problem is, through an analysis of the lexicon, to reach back to the realities of the Indo-European world. If in fact we limit ourselves to a consideration of that portion of the vocabulary which can be immediately and completely defined by regular correspondences, we find ourselves condemned to see the object of our study gradually dissolving before our eyes.
What comparative grammar enables us to achieve has been expounded in an article by Meillet. [1] He shows that we cannot determine in any fullness Indo-European conceptions concerning religion because comparison only provides us with general terms, whereas the study of the real world shows us that each people had its own beliefs and its own rites and cult.
Comparative grammar, because of its very method, tends to eliminate special developments so as to reconstruct the common fund of words. This mode of proceeding leaves only a handful of Indo-European words: thus there would be no common term to designate religion itself, or cult, or the priest, not even one of the personal gods. The only thing which could be credited to the original community would be the idea of “god.” This is well attested in the form *deiwos, the sense of which is ‘luminous’ and ‘celestial’; this is the quality which marks the god off from human beings, who are “terrestrial” (such is the meaning of the Latin word for “man,” homo).
All the same we can inform ourselves about the religious vocabulary of Indo-European without looking for correspondences attested in all the languages of the family. We shall try to analyze the essential terms of the religious vocabulary, even when the religious value of the terms examined appears in only one language, provided that they are open to interpretation by the etymologist.

Avestan—spǝnta : yaoždāta

We shall in fact discover that the religious value of a term is often perceptible only in one language. Our task will then be to try and find out how far it is a survival or how far it constitutes a new development. The interest of this branch of research lies precisely in such differentiation and delicate distinction of sense.
It will be advisable to take as our starting point this first notion which is so important, namely that of the “sacred,” in relation to which so many other concepts and terms of religion find their due place. For this notion of the “sacred” we have a rich vocabulary which differs considerably from language to language. Rare are those which present a common term; but when we have this good fortune, we must utilize it to the utmost and try to give all precision possible to the meaning of the term. Now there is a term of the greatest significance which is found in a group of contiguous languages: in Slavic, in Baltic, and in Iranian. This is the word represented by OSl. svętŭ (Russ. svjatój), Lith. šventas, Av. spǝnta.
This correspondence defines an adjective which has kept its strongly religious value in beliefs of different character: in Slavic and Baltic it belongs to the Christian vocabulary and signifies “holy, sanctus”; in Iranian, in its Avestan form, it is, in Mazdaean beliefs, the best equivalent of what we call the “sacred.”
This term has in each of the languages a certain number of etymological relationships either with other survivals or with secondary derivatives. In Baltic, the Lithuanian šventas forms a group with OPr. swints, Lettish svēts, which have the same form and meaning and so contribute nothing new. But in Iranian spǝnta– is connected with a numerous group of distinct terms. From a formal point of view, spǝnta is a verbal adjective in –ta-, made from a root spǝn– which appears in the comparative spǝnyah– and the superlative spǝništa-. In conformity with the ancient rule, the comparative and superlative are formed not on the stem of the positive but from the root. The same root spǝn– provides a neuter substantive spānah-, spanah– ‘the quality of spǝnta’; and from this substantive comes a derived adjective spanahvant-.
The adjective spǝnta which is translated by “sanctus” has a fundamental importance in the religious vocabulary of the Avesta. With another adjective amǝrǝta (> amǝša) ‘immortal’, it constitutes the title amǝšaspǝnta, the group of seven divinities who preside over the material and moral life of man, and who—although they bear abstract names—were at an early date incarnated each in an element: water, earth, plants, metals, etc. Each of them is both the symbol of a virtue and the guardian deity of an element of the world. They are grouped round the supreme god, Ahura-Mazda and they are constantly invoked in the hymns called the Gāthās, which contain the teaching of Zoroaster himself, as well as in the mythological and epic texts in the collection of the Yašts of the Avesta. Their collective name can be translated “the Immortal Saints.”
Apart from this spǝnta is often used to specify the most important concepts of the religious universe. It is associated with mąθra ‘effective word’; with mainyu ‘(divine) spirit’; with xratu ‘mental force, spiritual vigor’; with gāθā ‘chant, hymn’. We also find it with the names of individual beings: it is the epithet of the god of the beverage haoma (Vedic soma), it is the epithet of an animal so important as the bovine in cosmology: gaospǝnta. It became an element of the name of Aramati, a divinity of the earth: spǝntāārmaiti became in Middle Iranian Spandarmat, with the two elements closely joined, the name no longer being felt as a compound. In the vocabulary of Armenian, which owed so much to Iranian loan words, and which preserves an abundance of terms of the Iranian tradition, the name Spandaramet survives as the equivalent of Dionysus, while the substantive sandarametkc ‘subterranean world’ has as its first element sand-, which may represent a dialect form of the ancient spǝnta-. Along with sandaramet– we have derivatives created in Armenian itself: sandarametayin, translating Greek khthónios ‘of the earth’ and sandarametakan, translating Greek katakhthónios ‘of the lower world’. It was therefore in virtue of his being an ancient divinity of the earth that Spandaramet was transferred in Armenian to the rôle of Dionysus as a god of fertility. But the details of the evolution are not clear. With spǝnta we must group various adjectives and substantives drawn from the same root which have in some cases become dissociated from it. First, apart from the comparative and superlative, which at least show that the quality denoted by spǝnta was capable of degrees, we have the substantive spānahsanctitas’, associated with masti, which denotes knowledge or the understanding of religious truths.
The other members of the same etymological family are less immediately recognizable. In order to identify them we must try and reconstruct the Indo-European prototype, which offers no difficulty. In the three languages, Iranian, Slavic, and Baltic it takes the form *k’wento; the root appears in the form of the comparative in *-yos (Av. spmyah); we thus have a root *k’wen. But * k’wen– in fact represents an infixed form of the root, which must be posited as *k’eu-. This is what appears in the Avestan verb sav– ‘to be useful, advantageous’, with its derivatives sava-, savā-, savah, substantives meaning “profit, advantage”; sūra, an adjective “strong, powerful.”
The sense of sav– in Avestan “to be advantageous, to profit” emerges from a formula which has three symmetrical compounds: frādatgaēθā, varǝdatgaēθā, savogaēθā. The common term gaēθā– denotes the totality of creatures and in particular possessions of live-stock. These three compounds each have as their first element a present participle; frādatgaēθā– means “what causes creatures to grow”; varǝdatgaēθā- “what increases the creatures,” and the third savōgaēθā– “what benefits creatures.” But such increase does not depend on the ordinary methods and means of man; it is of a divine nature. The three epithets are always divine attributes. Thus they sum up a property of a supernatural character, that of producing increase in the world of creatures.
The adjective sūra does not mean simply “strong”; it is also a quality of a number of gods, of certain heroes one of whom is Zaraθuštra, and of certain notions such as the “dawn.” Comparison with related forms of the same root shows the primary sense. The Vedic verb śū– (śvā-) means “to swell, to grow,” implying “strength” and “prosperity”; hence śūra– ‘strong, brave’. The same conceptual relationship recurs in Greek where we have the present kueîn ‘be pregnant, carry in the womb’, and the substantive kûma ‘swelling (of the waves), wave’ on the one hand and kûros ‘strength, sovereignty’, kúrios ‘having power’ on the other.
This comparison brings out the identical primary sense “to swell,” and in each of the three languages a specific evolution. All three coincide in having a derivative in –ro, *k’ūro-, a noun or an adjective, which has taken on the meaning of “power” and “authority.” But Iranian has developed the implications of this sense, given it special values and used it for the religious notion which we have just studied.
Both in Indo-Iranian and in Greek there is an evolution of sense from “swelling” to “strength” and “prosperity.” Thus “strength,” defined by the adjective Av. sūra, is the strength of fullness, of swelling. Finally, spǝnta characterizes the notion or the being endowed with this virtue, which is internal development, growth and power. In this way we can restore the connections between Gr. kuéō ‘be pregnant’ and kúrios ‘sovereign’, and between Av. sūra ‘strong’ and spǝnta; and the relations between these words enable us to determine the peculiar origin of the notions of “the sacred.” The being or object which is spǝnta is swollen with an abundant and supernatural force. It is invested with a power of authority and effectiveness which has the property of increasing, augmenting, both in the intransitive and transitive senses. This value long remained alive in the Iranian world; the translation and the commentary of the Avesta in Pehlevi translates spǝnta by aβzōnīk ‘exuberant, swollen with power’.
Although the corresponding Slavic term is known only as a translation of a Christian concept (hágios ‘holy’), we may presume that the original idea behind the OSl. svętŭ was charged with notions of natural religion. The Slavs preserved after their conversion many traces of pagan ideas. In popular songs impregnated with prehistoric folklore svętŭ refers to words or beings endowed with supernatural power.
The Iranian forms of the group of spǝnta, which are the most numerous, assumed considerable importance once they had taken on a religious value; they designate both supernatural power and the “sanctity” of certain mythological figures.
Thus the character of the holy and sacred is defined as a notion of exuberant and fertilizing force, capable of bringing to life, of bringing into being the products of nature.
We now turn to another expression of the same idea, the notion of the sacred in Germanic. The Germanic term corresponding to svętŭ in Slavic is, in Gothic, the adjective weihs, which translated Gr. hágios and yields the verb weihan (Germ. weihen) ‘consecrate, Gr. hagiázein’, and weihnan ‘to be consecrated, Gr. hagiázesthai’. The abstract noun weihiþa translates Gr. hagiasmós ‘consecration’ and weiha denotes “the priest.”
The word is represented in Germanic as a whole: OE wīhdag ‘holy day’, OHG wih ‘holy’, OIcel. ‘temple, consecrated place’, etc. On the other hand, we do not find outside Germanic anything which corresponds beyond certain limited, uncertain items which are difficult to define. The only form which can be compared with any degree of probability is the Latin victima ‘animal offered to the gods’, but the formation of the Latin word is obscure. It would be practically the only example of a suffix –ima, except perhaps another adjective of the same semantic group, sacrima, which is known only from an old gloss in Festus, with the sense ‘sweet wine’ offered as first fruits to Bacchus. Thus the comparison is satisfying and plausible only as regards the root element.
We might perhaps be justified (and this is a hypothesis often advanced) to find a third correspondent in Umbrian, granted a variation in the final consonant of the stem; here we have the imperative eveietu, which may mean “let him consecrate” or something of the kind. The context favors this interpretation, which, it must be admitted, is partly etymological. The form eveietu (cf. the Latin imperative in –to) is traced to *eweigetod; if we accept this interpretation, this would give us an identical meaning in the two groups of languages. In this way we should have a confirmation that the notion of the “sacred” in Gothic was defined by the nature of the “consecrated” object, which was offered to the god as his exclusive possession.
We see how different this notion is from that current in Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic. For the moment there is no conclusion to be drawn from this difference: it will suffice simply to note it. It is only at the end of our study that we shall be able to see, once we have reviewed the different terms in use in each language, how to define the profound significance of a notion which appears to us to be unitary, but which found such different modes of expression among the Indo-European peoples.
One striking fact is that, nearly everywhere, we have for the notion of the “sacred” not one but two distinct terms. In Iranian, besides the word spǝnta we may recall the verb yaoždā– quoted in connection with ius. [2] This duality recurs in Germanic: Gothic weihs ‘consecrated’ and Runic hailag, Germ. heilig ‘holy’; in Latin sacer and sanctus; in Greek hágios and hierós. It poses a problem which must be considered in the terms peculiar to each language.
Let us first consider the Germanic facts. The starting point for the notion represented today by German heilig ‘holy’ is the Gothic adjective hails, which expresses a quite different idea, that of “safety, health, physical and corporal integrity”; hails translates hugiḗs, hugiaínōn ‘in good health, sound’; gahails translates holóklēros ‘entire; intact’, the negative adjective unhails is the equivalent of árrōstos, kakôs ékhōn ‘unwell’, and the substantive unhaili means “sickness.” From the nominal stem come the verbs (ga)hailjan ‘to make healthy, cure’ and gahailnan ‘become healthy, be cured’.
The meaning changes slightly when we turn from Gothic to Old Icelandic: OIcel. heil means ‘good omen’; similar is OE hael ‘good omen, happiness, omen’; and the derived verb in Icelandic is heilsa ‘salute, wish good health’. On the other hand we find a form made with the help of a suffix common to the whole of Germanic, the adjective *hailaga-. We find the neuter form in an old Runic inscription inscribed on the gold ring from Petrossa: Gutan Iowi hailag, which appears to mean “sacred to the god of the Goths.” Another inscription, also in runes, reads Wodini hailag which is translated as “endowed by Wotan with good fortune.” The adjective is attested in the other Germanic languages: OIcel. heilagrsanctus’, OHG heilagheilig’. In English, it appears as holy, and this is related to the word whole, which corresponds to the Got. hails: thus the two notions, though differentiated today, were closely connected in early times.
It is only in Germanic that this group of words underwent this development. But it is not isolated etymologically; it is connected with the OSl. cělŭ, ‘hale, entire, salvus’, with the derived present cĕljǫ ‘to cure’. In Baltic there corresponds OPr. kails ‘whole, safe’ and the abstract (feminine accusative in –un) kailūstiskun ‘good health’. Finally, the word is also known from Celtic, if we may compare Welsh coel ‘omen’, Old Breton coel ‘interpreter of omens’.
All these forms may be traced to a prototype, the adjectival form *kailos, which is completely unknown to Indo-Iranian and Greek and which, even in the western group of languages, is confined to the group formed by Slavic, Germanic, and Celtic. It is not certain whether Baltic has not borrowed it from Germanic in the ancient form with initial k-.
From Gothic onwards, hails ‘in good health, who enjoys physical integrity’, is also used as a wish to translate the Greek khaîre ‘hail’. This is explained by supposing that physical integrity has a pronounced religious value. The one who is possessed of “health,” that is who is physically intact, is also capable of conferring this state on others. “To be intact” is the good fortune one wishes for, the omen which one expects. It was natural that such perfect “integrity” was regarded as a sign of divine grace, with a sacred significance. By its very nature divinity possesses this gift which is integrity, well-being, good fortune, and it can bestow this on men in the form of physical health and by omens of good fortune. The notion of heilig, though not present in Gothic, was latent in that language even though the nature of our texts do not bring it to light. In the course of time the primitive Gothic term weihs was replaced by hails, hailigs.

Latin—sacer : sanctus

We now turn to the study of an important group, that of the words which still today in their modern form denote the idea of the “sacred.”
Latin has two words, sacer and sanctus; their relation from a morphological point of view is perfectly clear, but the problem lies in the meaning of the terms.
The Latin word sacer includes the idea of what is most precise and specific about the “sacred.” It is in Latin that we find the clearest distinction between the sacred and the profane; it is also in Latin that we discover the ambiguous character of the “sacred”: consecrated to god and affected with an ineradicable pollution, august and accursed, worthy of veneration and evoking horror. This double value is peculiar to sacer and it serves to distinguish sacer and sanctus, for it does not appear in any way in the related adjective sanctus.
Further, the relation established between sacer and sacrificium opens the way to a better understanding of the mechanism of the “sacred” and its connection with sacrifice. This term “sacrifice” which is familiar to us associates a conception and an operation which seem to have nothing in common. How does it come about that “to sacrifice” although it properly means “to make sacred” (cf. sacrificium) actually means “to put to death”? Why does a sacrifice entail a death?
On this fundamental implication the study of Hubert and Mauss has thrown a vivid light. [3] It shows that the sacrifice takes place so that the profane world can communicate with the divine world through the priest and by means of the rites. To make the animal “sacred,” it must be cut off from the world of the living, it has to cross the threshold which separates these two universes; this is the point of putting it to death. From this comes the value, which we feel so profoundly, of the term sacerdos, which goes back to *sakrodhots, the second component being derived from the root *dhē– ‘make, put’, whence “to make effective, accomplish” (cf. facio). The sacerdos is the agent of the sacrificium, the one who is invested with powers which authorize him “to sacrifice.”
The adjective sacer goes back to an ancient *sakros, which has a variant form in the Italic sakri-, which recurs in Old Latin in the plural form sacres. This form *sakros is a derivative in –ro– from a root *sak-. Now sanctus is properly the participle of the verb sancio, which is derived from the same root *sak– by means of a nasal infix. This Latin present tense in –io– with a nasal infix stands to *sak– as jungiu ‘to join’ in Lithuanian does to jug-. The morphological procedure is familiar.
But this morphological relationship does not explain the sense, which is different. It is not sufficient to attach both sancio and sanctus to the root *sak-, since sacer for its part has produced the verb sacrare. This is because sancio does not mean “to make sacer.” We must define the difference between sacrare and sancire.
We have an instructive and explicit definition in Festus: homo sacer is est quem populus iudicavit ob maleficium; neque fas est eum immolari, sed qui occidit parricidi non damnatur. A man who is called sacer is stained with a real pollution which puts him outside human society: contact with him must be shunned. If someone kills him, this does not count as homicide. The homo sacer is for men what the sacer animal is for the gods: neither has anything in common with the world of men.
For sanctus [4] we have a definition in the Digest I, 8, 8: sanctum est quod ab iniuria hominum defensum atque munitum est: ‘a thing is sanctum which is defended and protected from damage by men’; cf. Digest I, 8, 9§3: proprie dicimus sancta quae neque sacra, neque profana sunt, sed sanctione quadam confirmata, ut leges sanctae sunt …; quod enim sanctione quadam subnixum est, id sanctum est, et si deo non sit consecratum: ‘the term sancta is properly applied to those things which are neither sacred nor profane, but which are confirmed by a kind of sanction, in the way that the laws are sanctae: what is submitted to a sanction is sanctum, even though it is not consecrated to a god’. These are circular definitions: a thing is sanctum if it is supported by a sanctio, an abstract formed from the word sanctum. However, what emerges is that sanctum is neither what is “consecrated to the gods,” the word for which is sacer, nor is it what is “profane,” that is what is opposed to sacer. It is something which, while being neither of these two things, is affirmed by a sanctio, which is protected against every kind of assault, like the leges sanctae. We must understand that in the phrase lex sancta the adjective still has its full force as a passive participle.
If the old divine name Ampsanctus in Virgil (Ampsancti valles) is really to be understood as undique sancti (so Servius), that is, “sancti everywhere,” the meaning of amb– being “on both sides,” this would confirm the use of sanctus in the sense “surrounded by a defense, defended (by a limit or an obstacle).”
In the expression legem sancire, the sanctio is properly that part of the law which lays down the penalty which will be inflicted on the person who transgresses it; sanctio is often associated with poena. Consequently sancire is equivalent to poena afficere. Now in ancient Roman legislation the penalty was inflicted by the gods themselves who intervened as avengers. The principle applied in such a case may be formulated as qui legem violavit, sacer esto, ‘may he who has violated the law be sacer’. Laws having this character were called leges sacrae. In this way the law became inviolable, and this “sanction” put the law into force. Hence came the use of the verb sancire to indicate that clause which permitted the promulgation of the law. The expression used was not only legem sancire, lex sancta but also lege sancire, that is to say to make something inviolable by means of a law, by some legal disposition.
In all these uses it emerges that the use of sancire is to delimit the field of application of a measure and to make this measure inviolable by putting it under the protection of the gods, by calling down on the violator divine punishment.
The difference between sacer and sanctus comes out clearly in a number of circumstances. There is not only the difference between sacer as a natural state and sanctus as the result of some operation. One said: via sacra, mons sacer, dies sacra, but always murus sanctus, lex sancta. What is sanctus is the wall and not the domain enclosed by it, which is said to be sacer. What is sanctus is what is defended by certain sanctions. But the fact of making contact with the “sacred” does not bring about the state of being sanctus. There is no sanction for the man who by touching the sacer himself becomes sacer. He is banished from the community, but he is not punished any more than the man who kills him is. One might say of the sanctum that it is what is found on the periphery of the sacrum, what serves to isolate it from all contact.
But this difference is gradually effaced, as the old sense of the sacred is transferred to the sanction: it is no longer the murus which is sanctus, but the whole of the field and everything which is in contact with the divine world. Now we no longer have a definition of a negative kind (“neither sacred nor profane”) but a positive concept: a person becomes sanctus who is invested with divine favor and so receives a quality which raises him above the generality of men. His power makes him into an intermediary between man and god. Sanctus is applied to those who are dead (the heroes), to poets (vates), to priests and to the places they inhabit. The epithet is even applied to the god himself, deus sanctus, to the oracles, and to men endowed with authority. This is how gradually sanctus came to be little more than the equivalent of venerandus. This is the final stage of the evolution: sanctus is the term denoting a superhuman virtue.
Thus if we attempt a definition of what distinguishes sacer from sanctus, we can say that it is the difference between implicit sacredness (sacer) and explicit sacredness (sanctus). By itself sacer has its own proper value, one of mystery. Sanctus is a state resulting from a prohibition for which men are responsible, from an injunction supported by law. The difference between the two words appears in a compound which associated them: sacrosanctus, what is sanctus by a sacrum: what is defended by a veritable sacrament.
It is not superfluous to insist on this difference, seeing the errors committed by those who neglect it. A comparatist [5] cites the following passage from Varro, De re rustica 3,17: “Proinde ut sacri sint ac sanctiores quam illi in Lydia …” and draws the conclusion that the comparative of sacer is sanctior. Seeing that the comparative suffix of Indo-European is added to the bare root, sanctior stands for *sacior; the superlative sacerrimus offers no obstacle because this Latin form does not go back to an Indo-European form. Such a line of reasoning misapprehends the facts. If we had to take sanctior as the comparative of sacer, the two adjectives would be wholly interchangeable, since sacer was able to borrow the form of sanctus to make its comparative. Must we therefore translate: “as if they (the fish) were sacred and more sacred here than in Lydia”? Evidently not: these fish are on the one hand “sacred” and on the other “more sancti” than those of Lydia. Sacer is an absolute quality and does not admit of degrees. At the most a supreme state is conceivable; sacerrimus ‘sacred above all else’. But sanctus is in the domain of the relative: something may be more or less sanctum.
We find confirmation of this in another work by Varro, L. L. VIII, 77. This time we have a grammatical text, which is concerned with the formation of comparatives and superlatives. Varro draws attention to the differences presented in this respect by adjectives which have the same form in the positive. He takes the three adjectives macer, sacer, and tener: the superlatives are the same: macerrimus, sacerrimus, tenerrimus. But he cites only two words in the comparative, macrior and tenerior. If he was not in a position to cite *sacrior (although he quotes sacer and sacerrimus) this is because sacer had no comparative, because the sense of the word did not admit of degrees, and this is confirmed by what we can gather from the passage just quoted.


The Greek facts demand a detailed study. Here we have to deal with two terms: hierós and hágios. Both raise many problems within Greek and outside Greek as regards their etymology and the exact sense to be attributed to them.
The general opinion is that it is possible to propose an Indo-European etymology for hierós, but this produces a sense which is not reflected in the actual use of the term. Here Sanskrit plays a decisive part. Hierós, with another phonetic variant hiarós (Aeolic), corresponds to Vedic iṣiraḥ, and such is the exactness of the correspondence that it has never been contested despite the difficulties of sense.
The Vedic adjective iṣiraḥ expresses a quality which is predicated of certain divinities, of mythological characters, and of religious notions. The translation varies, but they all connect up in one way or another with the idea of “vigor” and “vivacity.” The equivalents proposed rest on the derivation of iṣiraḥ from the root iṣ(i)- ‘to be lively, ardent, vigorous’. Such is the presumable sense, rather a vague one it must be admitted, like many of the epithets of gods in the Vedic hymns. The consequence is that the equation of iṣira– with hierós, although it is formally irreproachable, cannot form the base for the analysis of hierós in Greek. On the contrary, the sense established by the internal analysis of hierós might well enable us to give a better definition of iṣiraḥ. [6] The epithet iṣiraḥ is added to the word for “wind”: iṣiro vātaḥ ‘the swift’ or ‘gusty wind’. The sense is not very different when iṣiraḥ is applied to aśva– ‘horse’: áśvaiḥ mánojavebhir iṣiraíḥ ‘with swift horses as impetuous as thought’, or to Indra in his quality as a dancer: nr̥tav iṣiro babhūtha ‘O dancer, you have been impetuous, agile’; it could be also said of ketu– ‘flag, standard’: iṣiram ketum, probably “waving flag.”
But it also qualifies other notions, e.g. the voice: vācam anamīvām iṣirām ‘a voice without flaw, powerful’; beverages such as soma or the milk of the heavenly cows; the sense is then “which refreshes” and “which makes vigorous.”
Still other categories can be qualified by this epithet: e.g. the spirit or mind and its modalities in the person making the sacrifice. We find the expression iṣiram manaḥ, a phrase all the more striking because it corresponds exactly to the Greek hieròn ménos: iṣirṇéa te manasā sutasya bhakṣīmahi Rig Veda VIII, 48, 7, “May we partake of you, Ο soma, with an inspired, ardent spirit.” [7]
From the morphological point of view the formation of iṣira– is clear. It is an adjective derived from iṣayati ‘he makes lively, strong’, a denominative verb from the feminine iṣ– ‘a beverage used in offering which strengthens and refreshes’. Despite the difficulty of finding satisfactory equivalents, we may conclude that iṣira– had some general sense like “lively, vigorous, alert” when applied to gods. It quite frequently happens that similar notions develop into that of the “sacred.” To cite only one example, the Irish noibsacer, sanctus’ from *noibo-, is in ablaut relationship with *neibo– which has yielded the substantive nīab ‘vital force’. [8]
Such are the preliminary data provided by a comparative study for the examination of the word hierós. What is the meaning of hierós? If we take immediately the sense which is imposed by each passage we find such a diversity of meaning that some scholars have proposed distinguishing three different words hierós in Homer. In the epic language hierós is in fact applied to things and beings which do not appear to have anything to do with the sacred. This opinion is found in Boisacq’s etymological dictionary: he lists hierós (1) meaning “holy,” (2) meaning “strong” and (3) meaning “lively.” Today this distinction is regarded as artificial, and everyone is agreed on the unity of the sense. But how has it evolved? As the point of departure the sense of “strong” is posited, then “filled with strength by some divine influence” and then, secondarily, “holy, sacred.” Is it necessary to accept this evolutionary chain? It would be as well to make sure. Let us therefore undertake a review of the uses of the word.
In the first place hierós accompanies designations of cult such as bōmós ‘altar’, hekatómbē ‘sacrifice’. It is also used with names of towns such as Troy, with place names such as citadel (ptolíethron, Od. 1,2), the walls of Troy (krḗdemna, Il. 16, 100), Thebes and its walls, Pergamum, Euboia, and the course of the Alpheus. We must conclude that hierós is an epithet of veneration.
Let us now look at some of the more peculiar combinations, which are also the most instructive. The judges sit hierôi enì kúklōi, Il. 18,504, “in the hierós circle.” Even if they are not “sacred” in themselves, the judges are regarded as inspired by Zeus. When Hera, in a solemn oath, invokes the hierḕ kephalḗ of Zeus, which she calls to witness, the word can be interpreted immediately.
But why should a chariot be called hierós (Il. 17,464)? The passage must be read as a whole. The translation by “strong, powerful” is inappropriate. What is concerned is a chariot which was immobilized, since the horses refused to advance (cf. 441, 451, 456): then Zeus inspires the horses and impels them to take away the chariot of Automedon. This is why the chariot is called hierós. It is so in these particular circumstances; it is not the natural epithet for a chariot.
It is for the same reason, and here it is still clearer, that the scales in which Zeus weighs the chances of the two countries engaged in the struggle is called hirá (Il. 16, 658). The same epithet is bestowed on the threshing floor (Il. 5, 499), but here too the context is instructive: “Just as the wind carries the chaff about the hieraí threshing floors…when fair-haired Demeter separates the grain from the chaff …” It is the association of the threshing floor and the operation of winnowing with the divinity which protects them which here prompts the use of hierós.
What is the meaning of hieròn ē̂mar in a formula which is often repeated: “When it was dawn and the sacred day” (Il. 8, 66); why “sacred”? Again the whole passage must be read. It is a significant day, the day when Zeus contemplates from the summit of Ida the preparations for the battle at the approaches to Troy, after he has forbidden the gods to intervene. In all the examples of hieròn ē̂mar, we find that it is in relation to some such circumstance.
Hierós is also the qualification of an army (Od. 24,81): is it a “sacred” or a “strong” army? Once again we examine the context: the subject is the honors rendered to Achilles: “we have put your bones with those of Patroclus and the hierós army has raised a great and noble mound,” Here again what we have is a circumstantial, and not a natural epithet, one which qualifies the army as it performs the pious rite.
These uses are not prompted by an effort at variety but by the context in which they are embedded.
In hierḕ elaíē ‘the hierós olive tree’ (Od. 13, 372), we could easily have a traditional epithet for a tree which was consecrated by many legends. However, the context is not irrelevant: under this olive tree Athena and Odysseus are sitting and, apart from this particular circumstance, we do not find a repetition of this expression.
When a valley is qualified by hierós (Od. 10, 275), this is because we are near the abode of Circe where Odysseus meets with a god in disguise. If the epithet is applied to Sunion, to “the sacred cape of Athens” (Od. 3, 278), this is because it is already considered as such, since the temple of Athena is found there.
There remains a strange and unique use in which hierós is applied to a fish (Il. 16, 407): Patroclus lifts an enemy warrior with the point of his spear just like a man who sitting on a rock pulls a hierós fish out of the sea. A sacred fish? A lively fish? The adjective appears rather to mean “leaping, thrashing”: it describes the movements of the fish struggling at the end of the line. This is only passage in which hierós preserves something of the meaning which comparison would lead us to posit.
The expression hieròn ménos with a personal name, e.g. Od. 8, 421 hieròn ménos Alkinóoio, is not more than a bit of padding, a metrical convenience. We could not read into it the value hierós once had when it was still in living use.
In this survey we do not think that any important use of hierós has been omitted, and everywhere, whether with names of places or rivers (the rivers are divine), with names of persons or objects, with names of divine or human things or names of elements, we have found the same value: everywhere hierós belongs to the domain of the “sacred,” whether this quality is attached to the notion by a natural connection or is associated with it by circumstance. Without this meaning the term tà hierá would not have been used to denote the sacrificial act.
In geographical proximity to Greek, but outside Greek and even outside Indo-European itself, we find a series of words which are close in form to hierós and to the prototype which is reconstructed for it and also belong to the same semantic sphere. These are the adjectives which, in the Italic languages and in Etruscan, relate to the gods and to the divine.
Aesar is an Etrusco-Latin word cited by Suetonius to explain the name Caesar; he says that it is the Etruscan word meaning “god.” We find it in various forms in some Italic languages which are Indo-European and which had close contacts with Etruscan, such as the Oscan aisusissacrificiis’, the Volscian esaristromsacrificium’, and the Umbrian esonodivinus’ or ‘sacrificalis’.
On the other hand, in Etruscan itself, the adjective aisuna, aisna, eisna (according to place and date) means “divine” or has reference to the sacrifice. Obviously, this Italic root has a certain resemblance to that of hierós and iṣiraḥ, and some linguists have been inclined to interpret this as the proof of a (largely prehistoric) relationship between Etruscan and Indo-European. Kretschmer regarded it as a relic of a proto-Indo-European stratum in the Mediterranean basin.
Here, in connection with our limited theme, there is no call to discuss a thesis of such breadth. However, one difference between the two series of forms should be pointed out. The root *ais– appears to mean “god,” [9] and this fact alone suggests that it can have nothing in common with that of hierós ‘sacred’ and Skt. iṣiraḥ, the primary sense of which is entirely different, as we have seen. There is no term for “god” which, whether in Greek or elsewhere, can be attached to the family of hierós. These are two distinct ideas. The adjective meaning “divine” in Greek is theîos, which is never confused with hierós ‘sacred’; nor in Latin is divinus ever confused with sacer.
We are now in a position to discern that in Greek the “sacred” had a special value which did not coincide with that of the Latin sacer. The sense of sacer is brought out by its opposition to profanus ‘outside the fanum’. [10] The domain of the sacer is a domain separated by the very arrangement of the places. Making sacer consisted in making a kind of entrenchment, of putting something outside the human domain by attribution to the divine. In hierós, on the other hand, on the evidence of the Homeric examples analyzed above, we find a property, which is sometimes permanent and sometimes incidental, which can result from an infusion of the divine, from some divine circumstance or intervention.
In Greek we do not find this contamination with the “sacred” which is equivalent to a pollution and can expose the sacer man to death.

Greek—hósios, hosíē

Very close in sense to hierós is the adjective hósios, which also related to the “sacred,” but with quite different senses. The dictionary of Liddell and Scott states that hósios first means “hallowed, i.e. sanctioned or allowed by the law of God or of nature.” “The sense of hósios often depends on its relation on the one hand to díkaios (sanctioned by human law), on the other to hierós (sacred to the gods).”
Here we have a term of paradoxical meaning. Hósios could thus be applied just as well to what is sacred as to what is profane. We can escape from this apparent contradiction by an exact delimitation of the field of application of this adjective: the term hósios is applied to what is prescribed and permitted by divine law, but with reference to human relations. Consequently, an expression like díkaios kaì hósios, díkaia kaì hósia signifies “what is fixed as a rule in human relations by men and by gods.” The duties called hósia, like those designated by díkaia, are duties towards men; some are prescribed by a human law and others by a divine law.
We may now turn to the second series of uses of the expression hierà kaì hósia. Despite appearances, the sense of hósios does not change. The opposition bears on another point: on the one hand tà hierá, sacred things, what properly belongs to the gods, on the other tà hósia, what is permitted to men. The domain of hierós, reserved to the gods, is opposed to the domain of hósios which is conceded to man by the gods. Thus the proper sense of hósios always stays the same: what is prescribed or permitted to men by the gods. But this opposition of hieros ‘forbidden to men’, and hósios ‘permitted to men’ is later reduced to an opposition hierós ‘sacred’: hósios ‘profane’ which permits a usage such as the following: kosmeîn tḕn pólin kaì toîs hieroîs kaì toîs hosíos ‘to adorn the city with both sacred and profane monuments’ (Isocrates VII, 66).
This interpretation of hósios is imposed by an examination of the examples from the classical period, but it is also implicit in the oldest uses. However, the latter concern not the adjective hósios, but the Ionic substantive hosíē, which presents the word in the feminine form. In fact hosíē is the only form which occurs in Homer: twice in the Odyssey and five times in the Hymns. Each of these examples helps to determine the definition of hósios.
The two examples from the Odyssey consist of the negative formula oukh’ hosíē: e.g. 16, 423 oukh’ hosíē kakà rháptein allḗloisin. The sense is “It is not permitted by divine law to weave evil designs against one another.” All the same, at the moment when the female slave is preparing to utter a cry of triumph over the slaughtered suitors, Odysseus reprimands her and commands her to observe discretion; it is wrong to show jubilation at the sight of slain men: “that is not permitted by divine law (oukh’ hosíē)” (22, 412). Thus the term hosíē is applied to the law imposed on the society of men by the gods. The sense of hosíē thus conforms with what we have attributed to hósios: what is prescribed or permitted by the gods to men.
Apparently quite different are the five examples of hosíē in the Homeric Hymns. Here classical scholars regard hosíē as “the service or worship owed by man to God, rites, offerings, etc.” This would be the exact opposite of what emerged everywhere else. We must check therefore to see if this sense is necessary here.
(1) Hermes, after having roasted two cows, “divides the flesh into twelve parts, which he distributes by lot, while giving to each the value of a perfect offering. Then the glorious Hermes felt a desire to partake of the sacred meats” (Hymn to Hermes, I, 130). The expression translated by the last two words is hosíē kreáōn, the literal meaning of which is “the rite of the flesh-offering” (Liddell-Scott). But what follows makes this translation suspect: “their sweet fragrance provoked him immortal though he was. But even so his valiant heart did not persuade him, despite his sore longing, to pass them down his sacred throat (hierē̂s katà deirē̂s).” Here the poet clearly contrasts hosíē with hierós. The young god feels the desire to make a hosíē of the meats, but it is impossible to “pass them down his sacred throat.” The text leaves no room for doubt: a god cannot do something that is a hosíē because the operation so named would do violence to the quality of hierós which is inherent in his divine status. We must conclude from this that hosíē is the strict opposite of hierós. It does not mean “offering” or “rite” but rather the contrary: it is the act which makes the “sacred” accessible, which transforms flesh consecrated to the gods into food which men may consume (but this is something which Hermes, being a god, cannot allow himself), in other words it is an act of deconsecration. In the context cited hosíē kreáōn is to be understood as “the deconsecrated consumption of the meats,” and it cannot be understood in any other way. We find here in hosíē the same sense which has been posited for hósios ‘granted by the gods to men’, but adapted to the special circumstances of the offering of food.
(2) In line 173 of the same Hymn Hermes says to his mother: “As regards honor (timḗ), I want to enter into the same hosíē as Apollo. If my father (Zeus) does not grant me this, well, I shall try—and I can do it—and be the Prince of Brigands.” Here too hosíē is translated as “sacred privilege, worship”: “I will enter into (enjoyment of) the same worship as A.” (Liddell-Scott). But this does not fit into the situation. We must recall how Hermes, while still an infant, became aware of his vocation. He is the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. His mother lives a life of seclusion in a cave, avoiding the society of the Immortals (l. 5), to which evidently she is not admitted. Zeus comes to see her secretly at night, unknown to his wife Hera and the other gods. This semi-clandestine situation deprives Hermes of his divine privileges. Hermes revolts against this; he wants to be fully a god, and does not accept the situation in which he and his mother alone of the Immortals receive neither gifts nor food [11] and they squat in a dark cave instead of lording it in opulence like the other gods (ll. 167ff.). It is not “worship” that he desires but the enjoyment of the same honors (timḗ) and the same privileges in the way of food (hosíē) as Apollo. In this he will find the revenge of the base-born, the compensation for a life of humiliation and frustration. The choice of timḗ and hosíē for the good things he aspires to reveals the condition in which Hermes sees himself as compared with the other gods: inferior in privileges, reduced to the position of humans who consume the meat offered to the gods after it has been deconsecrated.
(3) Hermes uses the word hosíē on another occasion in the flattering words which he addresses to Apollo: “You have a seat of honor among the Immortals, son of Zeus, you are valiant and strong, the wise Zeus holds you dear, this is only right, and has granted you wondrous gifts” (469ff.). The expression ek pásēs hosíēs “in all justice” (translated above as “as is only right”) also defines this hosíē as a concession by a higher god to one who is necessarily his inferior in rank.
(4) Two other examples are found in the Hymns. One unfortunately occurs adjacent to a textual lacuna. Demeter, sorely afflicted by the death of her daughter, remains inconsolable. Her follower Metaneira offers her a cup of wine, which she refuses because wine is forbidden to her; she asks only for a certain beverage. The servant prepares it and offers it to her. Demeter accepts it hosíēs héneken, which has been translated “to found the rite” (Hymn to Demeter, 211). It would be better understood as “in conformity with what is permitted by divine law.” The following line is missing.
(5) We find a last example in the Hymn to Apollo, l. 237: hṑs hosíē egéneto “the rites were established” (Liddell-Scott). Here, too, the translation must be revised. The subject is a custom practiced at Onchestos, in a sacred wood dedicated to Poseidon. A chariot is taken there harnessed to horses that the driver allows to proceed of their free will while he follows on foot. If the horses run away and break the chariot against the trees, he takes charge of the horses but leaves the chariot propped up (against the temple). The god is then invoked and the chariot is left in his care. Insofar as this old custom can be interpreted, the clause “thus in the beginning was the hosíē” refers to something permitted or granted by the god. We should compare a provision of the sacred law of Cyrene: tô̄n hiarô̄n hosía pantí ‘everybody shall have free access (hosía) to the sacred places’. The hosía of Onchestos apparently consists in the fact that the driver is authorized to take away the horses while leaving only the chariot on the ground sacred to Poseidon.
Such seems to be the interpretation required by the Homeric examples of hosíē. It squares with the uses of the adjective hósios, which always has the meaning ‘“permitted by divine law (to men).” There was all the more need for reaching this precise definition from analysis of the texts because we have no etymology which could guide us in our search for the original sense.


We now turn to hágios. [12] The family comprises a verb and two adjectives: házomai, hágios, and hagnós. These are the three terms which we must consider. There is a marked difference between the use of these terms as regards both style and date. The verb házomai is Homeric and remains poetical, whereas hágios is not and first appears in Ionic, in Herodotus. On the other hand, hagnós, an Homeric epithet, is primarily a poetical word.
The verb házomai in Homer is constructed like a verb of fearing: házeto mḕ Nuktìapothúmia érdoi ‘he was afraid lest he should do things displeasing to Night’ (Il. 14, 261). We may compare two successive passages, in one of which the verb of fearing is deídō: “Have confidence in me, do not fear (mḗte deídithi) Ares” (Il. 5,827) and, a few lines further on, házomai: “do not fear (mēď házeo) Ares” (l. 830).
It is also in this relation to a divinity that we must interpret the oldest example (Il. 1, 21). Chryses comes to beg the Atreidae to give back his daughter, and he offers them a ransom in exchange. He adjures them to “fear (hazómenoi)” Apollo, the son of Zeus. His intention is to evoke in them the respectful fear of the god. Similarly, it is said (Od. 9, 200) that the priest of Apollo, his son, and his wife were spared because of “respectful fear” (hazómenoi). The verb denotes the respect felt towards a god or a divine personage; but it is a negative respect which consists in not giving offense. As Williger has pointed out, there is a striking analogy between házomai and sébomai which is also to be observed in the parallelism of the derived adjectives hagnós and semnós (*sebnos).
To these examples from Homer it would be possible to add many others from tragedy which would confirm them. It seemed better to start with the verb to determine a first definition of the sense because the adjective hagnós by itself yields nothing of any great precision. It is used with names of goddesses, Artemis and Persephone, and once with heortḗ ‘feast’ (Od. 21, 258-59). In tragedy hagnós is applied to the domain of a god, and to the áduton ‘shrine’ of the god. It is also the epithet for the Earth (hagnḕ ároura, Aesch. Septem, 753), but in a bold metaphor where what is meant is the mother’s womb. Everywhere hagnós evokes the idea of a “forbidden” territory or a place which is defended by respect for a god. From this comes the use in tragedy to denote a person who is “ritually pure, in a state required for a ceremony.” This is a new sense, for hagnós is the quality not merely of a construction, a domain, a sacrificial animal, but also a pure virgin, and this accords with the sense of házomai.
There remains the third term, hágios. It is first found in Ionic prose, in Herodotus, as an epithet for a “temple” in general, but also of a particular temple, that of Heracles. It is not found in the tragedians. Aristophanes applies it to the mysteries. The historians, following Herodotus, make hágios the constant epithet of temples. In Pausanias hágios implies that the temple is defended against every kind of pollution by the threat of divine punishment. But Pausanias also imitates Herodotus. Finally, in Strabo hágios remains the frequent epithet of a place or an object considered sacred. Thus the uses are of great consistency, and they show that from the beginning it was differentiated from hagnós. We must now approach the difficult question of the etymology of hágios and házomai.
The traditional etymology connects házomai with Skt. yaj– ‘sacrifice’. This is given in all the etymological dictionaries. It was however contested by Kretschmer and, more fully, by Meillet, [13] who proposed to connect it instead with the Latin sacer. If this were so, we should have a Greek stem *sag– alternating with *sak– of Latin sacer.
Even if we accepted the proposal to posit the double form *sak-/ *sag-, it would be necessary to point out that the Greek word which corresponds in sense to sacer is not hágios but hierós. Thus sacerdos is equivalent to hiereús; sacra via to hierà hodós; sacrilegus (sacrilegium) to hierósulos; Sacriportus to Hieròs Limḗn. The facts of translation, whether from Latin into Greek or vice versa, attest the same sense: the expression sacrosanctus is rendered as hieròs kaì ásulos; corresponding to sacer morbus we have hierà nósos; sacrapublica et privata is translated in Dionysius of Halicarnassus as tà hierà koinà kaì ídia; os sacrum corresponds to hieròn ostéon and hieròn pneûma to sacer spiritus (Seneca).
We thus encounter a major difficulty in establishing hágios as the correspondent of sacer. These convey two entirely different religious notions. The relationship between hierós and hágios in Greek seems to be roughly equivalent to that between sacer and sanctus in Latin. Sacer and hierós ‘sacred’ or ‘divine’, are used of a person or a thing consecrated to the gods, whereas hágios, like sanctus, indicates that the object is defended against all violation, a negative concept, and not, positively, what it is charged with the divine presence, which is the specific sense of hierós.
This brings us back to the classical comparison of hágios with the Skt. yaj-. Phonetically there is no difficulty, the two forms going back to an ancient *yeg-. But the sense calls for some comment. Yaj– in Vedic refers to the act of sacrifice, the operation whereby an element is transferred from the world of men to the world of the gods. In this way communication is established between the human and the divine world; it is by this act that the gods are fed. The very fact that the Sanskrit verb denotes a specific and positive act makes it very different in sense from the negative notion conveyed by the Greek házomai, which consists in the abstention from all intrusion, from all offence.
In fact the semantic gap is rather less than might appear. The Avestan correspondent of Skt. yaj-, yaz-, does not mean simply “to sacrifice” but “to revere the gods,” which is also the meaning of OPers. yad-; it is applied to worship in general and not simply to sacrifice. Among the derivatives there is one of particular importance which in the Veda became a constant epithet of the gods and in the Avesta the name itself for “god”: Skt. yajata, Av. yazata, literally “he who is worthy of worship.” There are grounds for believing that Vedic has specialized in the ritual sense of “sacrifice” a verb of wider meaning, “colere” rather than “sacrificare.” This may explain why yaj– is constructed with the name of the god in the accusative and the name of the offering in the instrumental: “to worship a god with something.” If the verb meant “to sacrifice” we should rather expect the construction with the dative of the name of the deity.
If we now reread the speech of Chryses to Agamemnon (Il. I, 20-21): “release my daughter and accept the ransom, thus giving evidence of your respect for Apollo (hazómenoin Apóllōna),” which would not be forcing the sense of the passage too much, this would not be so very different from the uses found in the Veda and Avesta. It is not a negative attitude which is required towards the god but a positive act of worship and reverence. Thus nothing compels us to abandon the traditional etymology, even if the sense is not as close as could be desired in view of the importance of the notion.
The review of these terms has brought out both their antiquity and the etymological disparity between them. Each of them has its own history and makes its own contribution to our knowledge. But we do not attain to a common term for the notion of the sacred.
Moreover, we establish that a number of languages possess two expressions, which are distinct in each language, which are complementary and reveal two aspects of the sacred. In Greek hierós and hágios, in Latin sacer and sanctus, in Avestan spǝnta and yaoždāta. [14]
But we are not in a position to construct a single model on the basis of these coupled terms. They function only within a given language, and the relations established between the members of the pairs are not on the same plane; or else the notions expressed are the same but the terms are different. In Av. spǝnta and Gr. hierós, under etymologically different expressions we can discern the same idea, that of a power which is full of ardor and swollen with fecundity. To this there corresponds in Gothic hails, the notion of integrity, of perfect accomplishment: a force which protects the object or being from all diminution and makes it invulnerable. Latin sacer, on the contrary, conveys simply a sense of something set apart and hedged round, an august and awful quality of divine origin, which separates it from all human relations.
There is a difference of quite another kind between the natural quality indicated by the Avestan spǝnta and the state of yaoždāta. In the neuter yaoš, bound up with the Iranian form of the Indo-European *dhē-, we find the idea of rigid conformity to a norm: “to make suitable for a religious operation, to put an object in a position to satisfy all the rites.” This is the result of an operation which confers ritual purity.
We have seen the etymological relationship between Latin sacer and sanctus, but the formation of sanctus, which is new, underlines the secondary character of this creation. It would seem that this Indo-European notion has undergone innovation in Latin, precisely because, in the Indo-European period, there was no single term denoting both aspects of the sacred. But even at that early date there existed the two notions which each language expressed in its own way.
Finally hierós and hágios show clearly the positive and negative aspects of the notion: on the one hand, what is animated by a sacred power and force; on the other hand, what is forbidden and placed out of bounds to human beings.
This is how these two qualities are distributed in the vocabulary of each language and illustrate the two aspects of the same notion: what is filled with divine power and what is forbidden to human contact.


[ back ] 1. Linguistique historique et linguistique générale, I, Paris, 1921, 323ff.
[ back ] 2. Cf. Book Five, Chapter Three
[ back ] 3. Hubert and Mauss, “Essai sur la nature et les fonctions du sacrifice” in M. Mauss, Oeuvres, vol. I, Paris, Ed. de Minuit, 1968, 193-307.
[ back ] 4. For sanctus, reference may be made to a study which is still valuable for its documentation: the dissertation by Link, De vocis sanctus usu pagano, Königsberg, 1910.
[ back ] 5. Specht, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung, 65, 1938, 137.
[ back ] 6. A study by J. Duchesne-Guillemin, Mélanges Boisacq, I, 325ff. contributes some new points apropos of iṣiraḥ in relation to hierós; cf. L. Renou, Etudes védiques et paninéennes, IV, p. 40 and A. Pagliaro, Saggi di critica semantica, 1953. p. 89ff.
[ back ] 7. L. Renou, Etudes Védiques, IX, 1961, p. 69 translates: “D’une âme fervente nous souhaitons avoir part à toi, (soma) pressé” with a note justifying this rendering of iṣira-, p. 123.
[ back ] 8. This connection was established by Meillet, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, X, 309ff.
[ back ] 9. From the stem aisar we may derive the Celto-Germanic *isarno– ‘iron’ (Germ. Eisen), which designates this metal as “divine” (see Celtica III, 1955, 279fF.).
[ back ] 10. On the sense of profanus and profanare see Hommages à G. Dumézil (Collection Latomus, 45, 1960, 468ff).
[ back ] 11. We adopt the reading ápastoi ‘deprived of food’ which is that of a number of manuscripts and which agrees with adṓretoi ‘deprived of gifts’, rejecting álistoi ‘not prayed to’, which is given by one manuscript and is a hapax. The whole Hymn shows Hermes as a claimant of material privileges; he is eager for roast meats, he steals cows, he threatens to plunder the rich treasury of Apollo (l. 178). He shows no interest in prayers.
[ back ] 12. We have used the extremely detailed study by Williger, Hagios. Untersuchungen zur Terminologie des Heiligen, 1922. See also P. Chantraine and O. Masson, Festschrift A. Debrunner, 1954, pp. 85ff., who connect hágios with ágos ‘pollution’ and refer to the ambivalence of the “sacred.”
[ back ] 13. Kretschmer, Glotta, 10, 155ff.; Meillet, Bull. de la Soc. de Linguistique de Paris, 21, 126ff., and Dict. Etym. de la langue latine s.v. sacer, sanctus.
[ back ] 14. For the interpretation of yaoždā-, see above in Book Five, Chapter Three.