Category Archives: East Slavs

Ausserordentlich Viele Koinkidinks

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Speaking of Grimm, it is unfortunate that his Deutsche Mythologie has not been translated into a Slavic language (as far as we know).  There are lots of interesting tidbits throughout that book…

For example:

Most adults are aware that light travels faster than sound.  The difference is actually quite significant.  The speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second whereas sound will travel only 1,125 feet in that same second.  It is for this reason that when you see lightning, you then expect to hear thunder.  In fact, you can calculate how far lightning struck from you merely by counting the number of seconds that pass when you hear the thunder sound that follows it.

What does that have to do with Grimm and Slavs?

Well, there is an interesting passage in Procopius that says something like:

“For they believe that one God, the maker of lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims…”

For years, it was assumed that this was a reference to the Russian Perun.*  And yet, as we know the Polish Piorun, the East Slav Perun or Lithuanian Perkunas refer to thunder not lightning.  Is the same God the maker of lightning?

* note: the cattle reference suggested Veles to some but, to the extent that there even was any Veles, it seems odd to sacrifice “cattle” to the alleged “cattle god”. Veles can, on the other hand, be another name for Piorun.

We might say yes if we look at expressions such as “Jasny piorun”, “jasny grom” and others…  And yet these expressions seem like conflations of two independent atmospheric phenomena.

The distinction of these two phenomena is hinted at in the 8th century work of Cosmography of Aethicus Ister where we learn that:

“Naxos and Melos and these islands are islands of the Cyclades, and the very round Isle of Melon as well, which is ver fertile; Jason, Pluto or Paron, and Pharius were born there.”

Naxon et Melos et ipsae insolae Cicladum insolaque Melon rotundissima adeo et fertilis, ubi Iason et Plutonem uel Paronem et Pharium editos.  

Here Paron is equated with Pluto but “Iason” remains separate.

So what does this have to do with Grimm, again?

Well, we’ve previously noted the strange fact that Odin simply means “one” in Russian/Ukrainian (Polish jeden – eden?).

Did Grimm know that?  He was a competent anthropologist, well-learned in Teutonic, Gallic and Slavic beliefs.

And so right at the beginning of the very first edition of his book, he mentions some Slavic Gods.

Among those, looking for similarities and differences between Slavic and Germanic Gods, he notices a God from the Slavic region of Krain (Italian Carniola) in today’s Slovenia (mentioned in a local dictionary).  That God’s name is Torik or Tork.  Grimm looks at the name and expresses his belief that this (war!) God has nothing to do with either the Germanic Tyr nor Thor.

So far so good…

But Grimm then provides an explanation of the Slavic God’s name, the implication of which he does not appear to grasp.

“There is an extraordinary great overlap in Germanic and Slavic superstitions”

He says that the Slavic God’s name simply comes from vtorik, that is the “other” or “second”.  He says this is because the Slavic Torik was a war God and the name was a simple translation of the  name Mars.  Mars or Martis was and is Tuesday (incidentally, Tyr’s day) which was the second day of the Slavic week.  So the Slavs started to call their Mars by using their translated name of the “second” day of the week which day was dedicated to the god Mars.

This may or may not be true, of course.

A much more interesting question, however, is why is Thor called Thor or Tyr called Tyr?

And here is the real brain twister.  How is it that two Germanic Gods’ names Odin and his “son” Thor correspond to Slavic numerals of one and two.  Note also that vtori can mean the returning, repeated.

And why is Odin called Odin, again?  What is the Germanic etymology here?

Moreover, is not the God of Lightning, the “first” God?  You see lightening first before you hear the corresponding thunder.  Lighting is, well, bright.  Brightness corresponds to the name of the God Jasion (the Polish Jaś), the God of the “year” or Jahr or spring (Slavic v-esna or v-iosna) also the God of agriculture rebirth (notice the adventure with Demeter – Dea – meter – the Mother Goddess but also the Earth Goddess).

First, comes Jasion (“lightning”) and then comes Peron (“thunder”).

“Father” and “Son”.

Odin and Vtor

Odin and Thor.

Was then Zeus Thor who struck his father Jasion in an act of not simply “divine punishment” but usurpation?

Incidentally, Jasion is also mentioned in Sacra Moraviae Historia  where He is referred to as “Chasson/sive Jassen”.

It is also noteworthy that “Chasson” was the name of one of the Slavic leaders in Book 2 of the Miracles of Saint Demetrius.

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July 22, 2017

Marwazī’s Account

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Here is an 1130 (?) account of the Arab court physician Sharaf al-Zamān Ṭāhir Marwazī or Marvazī (circa 1056/57– circa 1130) on the Slavs based on the 1942 Vladimir Minorsky translation (adapted by Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone along with most of the below notes).   Marwazī was (as the short version of the name suggests) a native of Merw (Persian: Marv), Khorasan in Persia (in today’s Turkmenistan).  His known work is Nature of Animals (Kitāb Ṭabāʾiʿ al-Ḥayawān al-Baḥrī wa-al-Barrī) which, presciently, includes as its first section a chapter on humans.  There he discusses the [Volga] Bulgars and Slavs and the Rus (the first portion of that discussion is a copy of Ibn Rusta).  Here are those excerpts.

The Bulgars and the Far North

“In the northern direction lies the country of Bulghar; it lies between the west and the  north, inclining towards th ePole, and is three months distant from Khwarazm.  These [people] have two cities, one called Suvar and the other called Bulghar; between the two cities is a distance of two days’ journey, along the bank of a river and through very dense forests, in which they fortify themselves against their enemies.  The trees are mostly khadang [birch?], but there are also hazels.  They are Muslims, and make war on the infidel Turks, raiding them, because they are surrounded by infidels.  There are in their forests fur bearing animals, such as grey squirrels, sable and so on.  The latitude of their territory is very considerable, so much so that in summer their day is extremely long and their night extremely short, so shot tin fact that the interval between twilight and dawn is not sufficient for cooking a pot [of meat].”

“At a distance of twenty days from them, towards the Pole, is a land called Isu [Wisu], and beyond this a people called Yura; these are a savage people, living in forests and mixing with other men, for they fear that they may be harmed by them.  The people of Bulghar journey to them, taking wares, such as clothes, salt and other things, in contrivances drawn by dogs over the heaped snows, which [never] clear away.  It is impossible for a man to go vover these snows, unless he binds on to his feet the thigh bones of oxen, and takes in his hands a pair of javelins which he thrusts backwards into the snow, so that his feet slide forward over the surface of the ice; with a favorable wind [?] he will travel a great distance by the day.  The people of Yura trade by means of signs and dumb show, for they are wild and afraid of [other] men.  Form them are imported excellent sable and other fine furs; they hunt these animals, feeding on their flesh and wearing their skins.”

“Beyond these are a coast-dweling people who travel far over the sea, without any [definite] purposes and intention; they merely do this in order to boast of reaching [such and such a remote] locality.  They are a most ignorant and stupid tribe, and their ignorance is shown by the following.  They sail in ships, and whenever two [of their] boats meet, the sailors lash the two together, and then they draw their swords and fight.  This is their form of greeting.  They come from the same town, perhaps from the same quarter, and there is no kind of enmity or rivalry between them; it is merely that this is their custom.  When one of the parties is victorious, they [then] steer the two ships together.  In this sea is the fish whose tooth is used in hafting knives, swords and suchlike.*  Beyond them is a Black Land which cannot be crossed.  As for the sea route, the voyager sailing towards the Pole reaches a part where there is no night in the summer and no day in the winter; the sun rotates visibly over the land for six months, circling the horizon like the revolution of a millstone; the whole year consists of one day and one night.”

* note: “Narwhal and walrus horn, called khutu, was much prized for its durability and was the preferred material for knife handles.”

The Slavs

“The Slavs are a numerous people, and between their territories and the territories of the Pečenegs is a distance of ten days, along steppes and pathless country which thick trees and [abounding] in springs.  They inhabit these forests.  They have no vines, but possess much honey.  They tend swine, and burn their dead, for they worship fire.  They grow mostly millet, and have a drink prepared from honey.  They have different kinds of pipes, including one two cubits long.  Their lute is flat and has eight strings but no peg-bx, while its pegs are level.  They have no great wealth.  Their weapons are javelins and spears, and they have fine bucklers.  Their head chieftain is called suit, and he has a deputy called shrih.*  The king has [riding] beasts and on their milk he feeds.  The town in which he resides is called Khazrat, where they hold a market for three days in every month.  Among them the cold is so severe that they dig deep underground dwellings which they cover with wood, and heat with the steam [produced by the burning of] dung and firewood.  There they remain during their winter season.  In the winter the Majghari [Magyars] raid them, and as a result of their mutual railings they have many slaves.”

* note: “suwit… shrih: suwit: must represent the first element in the name Svetopolk; shrih (sh.rih in the manuscript) has not been satisfactorily explained.”

The Rus

“The Rus live in an island in the sea, its extent being a distance of three days in either direction.  It has words an forests, and is surrounded by a lake.  They are very numerous, and look to the sword to provide them with a livelihood and profession.  When one of their menfolk dies, leaving daughters and sons, they hand his property to the daughters, giving the sons only a sword for they say: ‘Your father won his property by the sword; do you[r best and] imitate him and follow him in this.'”

“And in this way their education was effected, until they became Christians during the year 912*  When they entered [the fold of] Christianity, the faith blunted their swords, the door of their livelihood was closed to them, they returned to hardship and poverty, and their livelihood shrank.  Tgeb tget desired to become Muslims, that it might be lawful for them to makre raids and holy war, and so make a living by retrying to some of their former practices.  They therefore sent messengers to the ruler of Khwarazm, four ins men of their king; for they had an independent king called Vlaidmir, just as the king of the Turks is called khagan and the king of the Bulghars yiltawar.**  Their messengers came to Khwarazm and delivered their message, The Khwarazmshah was delighted at their eagerness to become Muslims, and sent someone to them to teach them the religious laws of Islam.  So they were converted.”

“They are strong and powerful men, and go on foot into far regions in order to raid; they also sail boats on the Khazar Sea [Caspian], seizing ships and plundering goods.  They sail to Constantinople win the Sea of Pontus, in spite of the chains in the gulf.***  Once they sailed into the Sea of Khazar and became master of Bardha’a for a time.  Their valor and courage are well-known, so that any one of them is equal to a number of any other nation.  If they had horses and were riders, they would be a great scourge to mankind.”

* note: “Vladimir converted in 988; probably a copyist’s mistake.”
** note: “The text reads b.t.ltw, Ibn Falan’s yiltawar, the title of the Bulghar king.  It is clear from this passage that Marwazi thought ‘Vladimir’ was a title, not a personal name.”
*** note: chains laid by the Byzantines to prevent ships passing.

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June 11, 2017