The Slavic Accents of Aethicus Ister?

Speaking of Scythians…

The Cosmography of Aethicus Ister is a rambling work of frequent digressions and unexpected tangents.  It was written probably in the first half of the 8th century but may have been written slightly earlier.  The author calls himself Hieronymous (or Jerome) and claims to be describing the travels of “Aethicus the Istrian” around Europe and beyond.

No Slavs – under that name – appear in this Cosmography but certain “Slavic” accents do pop up in most unexpected ways.  We list (some of) them here (generally following the Michael Herren translation).

Vinnosi of Germania

The book lists the Vinnosus as one of the peoples of Germania that stretches from the Rhine to the mythical Riphaean mountains (Urals?).  Although it is not clear whether the Vinnosus refers to the Winidi/Veneti, the placement of that people between the Danus and the Rifeos seems to suggests the very swath of land (from the Elbe to the Urals) that – at the time of the writing of the book – would already have been largely occupied by a people we, today, call Slavs, i.e., the Veneti/Wends.  Here is that list from Chapter 29:

“Likewise, too, the Vafri, Friconti, Murrini, Alapes, Turks, Alani, Meotae, Huns, Frisians, Danes, Vinnidi, Riphaeans, and Olches, whom the folk in those parts call orci, very filthy peoples leading the most foul life – worse than all the kingdoms of the world – without a god, or law, or rituals.  Moreover, all the districts of those lands are called Germania, because the <peoples> are immense in body and are monstrous races, hardened by the most savage folkways; moreover, they are indomitable, bearing cold and hardship better an all <other> peoples.  He claims that there are one hundred districts between the inhabitable and uninhabitable <regions> front he River Rhine to Ocean, numerous islands, and the Meotidan Swamps.”

Sic et Vafros, Fricontas, Murrinos, Alapes, Turchus, Alanus, Meotas, Chugnos, Frigis, Danus, Vinnosus, Rifeos, Olches quos uulgus in illis regionibus ‘Orcus’ appellant, gentes spurcissimas ac uita inmundissima degentes ultra omnia regna terrarum, sine deo, sine lege uel caerimonias.  Name et illarum regionum pagi omnes Germania est appellata, eo quod <gentes. sint inmania corpora inmanesque nationes, seuissimis moribus duratae; adeo indomiti, frigore et rigore ferentes ultra omnes gentes.  Centum pagos dicit esse inter <plagas> habitabiles et inhabitabiles a Reno fluuio usque oceanum, insolas plurimas et Meotidas paludes.

Jason and Paron

The fact that Piorun or Perun was worshipped in the Eastern Slavic lands from Novgorod to Kiev is attested numerous times (whether this was just the invading Rus’ Thor or Lithuanian Perkunas is another matter altogether on which much ink has been spilled and we will not get into that here).  We also know that in the historic West of Slavdom, the Slavs worshipped Svantevit, Svarozic, Gerovit and the like.  In the “middle”, in Poland, Bohemia and Moravia the names of the Gods were yet different.  Here we have Jassa,  Lada, Nia, Devanna and the like.

The diversity of worship has led some researchers to conclude that Slavs did not have one overarching pantheon.  This is probably true (which BTW also indicates how unlikely the Slavs’ late spread from a hypothetical small area really is).

But Aethicus Ister puts some names together that we haven’t seen together before (or at least not in the same way) when it bring Jason and Paron (calling him “Pluto” which would make Paron/Perun to be the same as the Polish Nia) into one story in Chapter 97:

“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.  The carnelian is found there, a stone superior to marble and more beautiful in its variety; nevertheless, it is not counted among the precious stones.  Chios is an outstanding island of the Cyclades, where indeed lovely and most excellent mastic is found.”

Naxon et Melos et ipsae insolae Cicladum insolaque Melon rotundissima adeo et fertilis, ubi Iason et Plutonem uel Paronem et Pharium editos.  Ibi inuenitur sarda lapis marmoribus praestantior et uariate pulchrior, tamen inter gemmas non reputatur.  Cion insola Clicladum optima, nimpe ubi pretiosus mastix et ualde probatissimus inuenitur. 

This fragment actually comes from Isidore’s Etymologies where we read at 14.6.27-29 where Iasion (not Jason) is the grandfather of Pareantus:

“27. The island of Naxos is named after Dionysius [the god of wine], as if it were Dionaxos, because it surpasses all others in the fertility of its vines.  It lies eighteen [Roman] miles from Delos.  Once upon a time Jupiter is said to have proceeded from there to fight the Titans.  28. Melos is the roundest island among all of the Cyclades; wherefrom its name is derived [malum, Latin for “round fruit”].  29. History says that Iasion had two sons, Philomelus and Plutus, and that Philomelus gathered Pareantus, who gave his name to the island and the city of Paros; first it was called Minoia then Paros.  Vergil writes of it [Aeneid 3.126]: ‘And snow-white Paros,’ for it produces the whitest marble, but when considered as a gemstone, the cheapest.”

Thus Aethicus (or Jerome really) substituted Jason for Iasion and Paron for Pareantus (note that the word “parent” may have the same etymology).  The connection between Jason and Jasion is something that is worth exploring.  But the form Paron also seems to indicate that the writer – the mysterious Jerome may have found it a convenient one.  Note too that these two names may refer to one God – thus, in Heinrich Gottlob Gräve‘s 1839 work Volkssagen und volksthümliche Denkmale der Lausitz we see a Deity under the name Ossopirno (as a lightning entity – compare this to the famous passage from Procopius) – though also Perkun (as a thunder (and lightning) entity) as well as Perdoito (as a wind entity):

Later in the text Jerome brings up a similar name where he says at Chapter 45:

“Lydia first produced inventors of ships.  The magician Pyrronius built a raft in Lydia in ancient times so that he might have knowledge of all the purple garments and all the beautiful things that are contained in the islands of the Mediterranean.  Whence too, Lydia [has] all the brilliant, great and outstanding purple-dyers as [does] Cyprus and the Cyclades, [who] are regarded as outstanding even now.  Other peoples and nations in the region [have] rafts joined together by beams and poles.”

Naium inuentores primum Lidia protulit.  Pyrronius magus antiquissimo tempore ratem in Lidia fabricauit, donec sciret purpora et omnia pulcherrima quae in insolas maris Magni habentur.  Vnde et omnis Lidia purporarias magnas et inclitas sicut Ciprus et Ciclades [quae] usque nunc praeclaras habetur.  [Habent] et ratiaras aliae gentes et in circuitum nationes ex tignis asserebusque connexum.

Lydia is a portion of Anatolia.  It’s close to Lycia, of course.  A type of boat called pirones also appears in Chapter 57 (aside from vagiones):

“…Indeed, the Albanians, Maeoti, and Mazeti, people from the Ganges, and Turks all use these boats, and call them pirones in their barbarian tongue.  These are more useful than corsairs; nevertheless, they are found nowhere in the Mediterranean…”

…Nam Albani, Meoti, Mazeti, Gangines, Tulchi has naues utuntur et was pirones in barbarica lingua appelant.  Vtiliores enim quam dromones; eas attamen in Mediterraneo mare nusquam reperiuntur…

Another people mentioned are the Murinos/Murinus somewhere about Parthia.  Whether these were “Moors” or, more likely, “sea-people” (compare the Morini of France perhaps mentioned above as Murrinos) is uncertain.

Jerome the Scythian and His Ozechy

Jerome who writes about Aethicus the Istrian but calls himself a Scythian (Nationi Scitica) does not say more about his background.  By his time “Istria” would certainly have been held by Slavs and Scythia was a term for all the lands north of the Danube with the exception of Germania.  Where, however, the border between the earlier Scythia and the later Germania lay cannot be determined because, as noted before, the people who wrote of these things had neither the knowledge nor, more importantly, any authority to enforce an international standard as to the answers to such questions.  Was the writer a Slav?  Probably not.  Was he acquainted with the “Scythian” tongues? Perhaps.

Curiously, Jerome concludes his book with a puzzling alphabet shown below.  For each letter he shows a representative word that begins with that letter.  Whether the omega‘s – “o’s” – sample word – ozechy – really refers to “nuts”. we leave to the readers. 

Perhaps it was this that much later may have become one of the bases for the assertion that the Glagolitic alphabet was invented by Saint Jerome (circa 347 – 420) as argued by Angelo Rocca in 1591.

Jerome had been born on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia and is classified as “Illyrian.”

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December 15, 2016

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