Scythian Gods of Callimachus

An interesting fragment from Filippo Buonaccorsi‘s (1437 – 1496) “The Life of Zbigniew Oleśnicki” (Vita et mores Sbignei cardinals).  (Oleśnicki was the one who commissioned Jan Długosz’s (1415 – 1480) annals).  This Vita was never published and remains in manuscript form at the Jagiellonian Library.  

However, an edition of it came out published by Ludwik Finkel (also published as part of Monumenta Poloniae Historica volume 6).

The first portion of the book contains an interesting description of the Poles as well as an explanation of their pagan beliefs.  It is not clear where Buonaccorsi (aka “Callimachus”) got this information from.  However, he was describing Oleśnicki’s family and claimed that the family – whose coat of arms was “Dębno” – must have been established by a Scythian warrior Deombrotus.  Deombrotus having been a Scythian teacher of the Poles…  Thus, by extension, the learned Oleśnicki was descended from the first Polish Scythian wiseman.

From the Okulski armorial

The relevant parts state the following:

“The family Dembno likely got its surname from Deombrotus having distorted his name somewhat, though those who do not know such ancient history, conjecture that the name arose later from an oak tree of remarkable height…”

[Because a dąb (damb or demb) means “oak” – interestingly, see also the name of Mons Jasonius aka Mount Damavand but also Mount Dembavend in Moses Khorenatsi’s work!]

and further:

“[He, i.e., Deombrotus once he took over the Poles] instructed them to venerate Vesta whom the Scythians call Labiti, Ceres whom they call Apia and Jove/Jupiter who is known as Jasde among them.  The wisemen/mages thought that these gods are: fire, earth and air.  But over time the Poles corrupted the Scythian names and said Lada in place of LabitiMia in lieu of Apia [and] Iesse rather than Jasde.  He introduced too certain ways of divining from the leaves of a linden tree which, having divided such leaves into three parts, they wrap around their fingers…”

The “Scythian” gods are actually based on a passage from Herodotus:

“They worship only the following gods, namely, Vesta, whom they reverence beyond all the rest, Jupiter, and Tellus, whom they consider to be the wife of Jupiter; and after these Apollo, Celestial Venus, Hercules, and Mars. These gods are worshipped by the whole nation: the Royal Scythians offer sacrifice likewise to Neptune. In the Scythic tongue Vesta is called Tabiti, Jupiter (very properly, in my judgment) Papaeus, Tellus Apia, Apollo Oetosyrus, Celestial Venus Artimpasa, and Neptune Thamimasadas. They use no images, altars, or temples, except in the worship of Mars; but in his worship they do use them.”

Thus, Herodotus has Vesta named Tabiti – not, as Callimachus would have it, Labiti.  How Labiti may have become Lada, Callimachus does not say.  Further, while Tellus corresponds to Ceres and, as per Herodotus, Apia (i.e., Earth), it is not clear how Apia should then have become the Polish Nia.  Finally, Herodotus never mentions Jasde but rather Papaeus.

Neither Herodotus nor anyone else mentions Deombrotus the Scythian (Callimachus provides a genealogy for Deombrotus connecting him with some Herodotian Scythian figures).

And so here we are.

The above is Finkel’s print edition.  The below may be Finkel’s handwriting (it’s not the actual autograph).

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December 7, 2016

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