Lewis Richard Farnell.

Greek hero cults and ideas of immortality; the Gifford lectures delivered in the University of St. Andrews in the year 1920 online

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Indigitamenta. We owe the statement of this system to

"* Acn. 2. 141.


the Christian Fathers, Arnobius and Augustine, who
reproduce Varro, and Varro appears to have drawn from
the pontifical books. As regards the absolute authenticity
of this record, I cannot express an opinion : it may be that
some of these appellatives in the Indigitamenta are only
thin disguises of well-known concrete gods, such as Faunus
and Jupiter , as a late American scholar, J. B. Carter, has
endeavoured to prove in a treatise ' de deorum Romanorum
cognominibus '. But, if we accept the main account of
Varro as authentic, we may well sympathize with St.
Augustine's humorous protest against the abnormal ' religi-
osity ' of the Romans that seemed to leave nothing to
unaided human initiative. And it is very difficult to find
the right expression by which to designate this system in
terms of the ordinary nomenclature of anthropology. It
cannot be called fetichism, still less pantheism. If it
really was to the Roman as it appears to us, we may be
tempted to regard it as a very abstract and spiritual form
of animism. If it be a right account of animism that it
endows inanimate and material objects with quasi-human
consciousness and emotions, and sometimes with a super-
human power and volition which suggests worship, we may
perhaps extend the term to cover a religious system that
imagines an immanent semi-conscious or sub-conscious
divine potency to reside in passing acts and states of man
or fleeting operations of nature.

This leads us to the next consideration, which is of still
greater importance. Are these ' Sonder-Gotter ' conceived
as personal gods ? Usener does not always speak quite
clearly on this point ; he maintains, on the one hand, that
a few of them can be proved to have had a personal reality
for the ItaHans, yet his tendency is to distinguish this Roman
system, which he finds also in Greece and Lithuania, from
the polytheistic belief in personal gods. If this distinction
on the ground of personality is justified, it is vital ; because
in tracing the evolution of religion, and in classifying recorded
or existing forms, the most far-reaching principle of classifica-
tion is the distinction between the anthropomorphic and


non-anthropomorphic forms of belief, the personal and the
impersonal or half-personal objects of reverence.

Supposing, then, that the above-given account of the
Sonder-Gotter is correct, have we the right to regard them
as belonging always and everywhere to that more primitive
stage of belief which preceded pol3^theism and led up to it ?
Looking first at the minute specialization of divine functions
on which the system is based, we cannot regard this as
a decisive test of primitiveness. Such specialization may
indeed be found among early races, nor am I inclined to
believe in the neo-totemistic dogma ' one clan one totem-
god '. Some of Usener's Lithuanian parallels may be
accurate illustrations of the species that he is formulating,
though I do not recognize the value of all of them ; certainly
' the Fly-Buzzer God ', a Lithuanian form of Mviaypos, the
' God of the Besom ', the ' God that makes the grass green ',
the ' God who makes the beer sour ', are deities with
a distinctly Roman flavour about them. Having tried to
go farther afield I have been able to find only a few exact
parallels. Dorsey, in his Study of Sioux Cults, mentions
the Indian's invocation of his hunting-trap and all the
various parts of it, and his prayers to the tent-pole, which
are quite after the fashion and spirit of the Roman Indigita-
menta. Traces of the same system seem to appear in the
religion of the Kenyahs, a tribe on the Baram river in
Borneo, described by Messrs. Hose and McDougall ^ :
' Balli Atap (Atap = roof) is the spirit or god that protects
the household from harm of all sorts ', and reminds us of the
"Hpcas 'ETTtreyto? at Athens ; and in the prayers of certain
heathen tribes in Russia we may detect the same ' Indigita-
menta ' style ''. But I imagine we should find this rigorous
apportionment of special functions, this minute articulation
of the divine world, at least as frequently in the latter days
of a well-organized polytheism, of which it is often a mere
by-product. While many of the personal gods in Greece
expanded their individualities and widened their range of

* Joitrn. Anthrop. Inst. 1901, pp. 174-175.
i" Archiv f. Religionswiss. 1906, p. 284.


functions, many were, obliged to contract and to specialize.
Ares and Pan were once more manifold gods than they
afterwards became ; and the same is true of Aphrodite and
Eros, and in some degree of Artemis. And such personal
deities as Eros and Asklepios beget such transparent and
limited personages as Himeros and Pothos, laso Akesis,
Panakeia : while Nikjj, Unda), Ne/xeo-i?, most absolute ' Sonder-
Gdtter', are late products of polytheism, and the first two,
if not the third also, are probably emanations of concrete
and personal deities.

The specialization of functions, then, is not a test that
helps us to distinguish the ' Sonder-Gotter ' system from
personal polytheism, or to assign the former of necessity
to a more primitive stage. But the greater or less degree
of anthropomorphism in these strange Greek, Roman, and
Lithuanian forms, if we could appreciate it, would be a much
more important clue. And it is in dealing with this question
that Usener's work appears least satisfactory.

It is obvious, as Mr. Warde Fowler and other writers
on Roman religion have often pointed out, that it was far
less anthropomorphic than the Greek, that it presented
less concrete individualities to the imagination. The chief
deities of the Italic tribes were personal and anthropo-
morphic in so far as they were distinct in sex and were
worshipped occasionally with idols ; but the high powers
of the Roman religion seem to stand apart, each for himself
or herself, in a cold aloofness. Little or no myth is told of
them, rarely a legend of marriage or affiliation. Were, then,
Inuus, Occator, Dea Panda, Deus Lactans, Dea Mena, and
all the crowd of deities of procreation, nutrition, and birth,
invested with a personality very much vaguer and thinner
than were Vesta and Minerva ? And, if so, are they to be
regarded as the survivals of an older stratum of religion, or
rather as the late development of a certain logical tendency
in Roman religious thought ? The record is late, and gives
us little more than a bare list of names ; and no clue is
offered by any tradition or any reported ritual. Nor is this
a place to attempt the solution of the Roman problem.
2460 G


As regards the Lithuanian evidence, the exposition of it
by Usener fails to show the different degrees of strength
with which the various functional agencies in his list were
personified, or to distinguish between the more concrete
and the vaguer forms. It is very interesting in itself, but
I do not think it solves this particular problem of Greek

We can now confine our attention exclusively to the Greek
evidence. We have every reason to believe that the Hellenic
perception of divinity had become concrete and precise
at a very early period ^ ; even if theriomorphism occasionally
prevailed, the clear outlines of the divine personality need
not have been much impaired ; there is nothing necessarily
vague or nebulous about a horse-headed Demeter. More-
over, the chief divine personalities had at an early period
become anthropomorphic. The view is quite tenable that
many of the anthropomorphic deities were already the
common possession of the Greek tribes before the migration
into Hellas. The extreme antiquity and obscurity of most
of their personal names would itself support this view. And
the impulse in Greek religion towards the creation of clearly
outlined personal forms was a devouring impulse that might
well have obliterated the traces of a previous more amorphous
animistic system. Yet such traces may be found, and in
other directions more clearly perhaps than in the domain
of the ' Sonder-Gotter '. The worship of the stone, the
pillar, the tree-trunk, even the axe, is proved of the pre-
historic period, and it survived in the historic. It is sufficient
to observe here that such aniconic cults are compatible
and often contemporaneous with an anthropomorphic and
personal conception of the divinity, though they may have
arisen under the influence of animism, fetichism, or from
mere ' teratology ' ^\ Thus the ' Mycenaeans ' possessed

* Usener himself admits this, Goiter namen, p. 302.

'' Statements about the animistic worship of stones and trees are often
deceptive ; the words of Miss Alice Fletcher in the Peabody Museum Reports,
vol. 3, p. 276, ' Careful inquiry fails to show that the Indian actually
worships the objects that are set up or mentioned by him in his ceremonies.
The earth, the four winds, the sun, moon and stars, the stones, the water.


human and personal gods, though their ayaA/xara were the
pillar, the tree, or the axe : as witness we have the sacrificial
scene on a Mycenaean gem, possessed and published by
Sir Arthur Evans, where a god is seen hovering above
his own pillar, having been evoked by the prayers or the
ritual. But the Arcadian cults of Zeus Kcpawos, Zcvs KaTrirwras,
in which Zeus was actually identified with the thunder and
the meteor-stone, and the fetich-worship of the sceptre of
Agamemnon at Chaironeia, seem to belong to some primitive
stratum of pre-anthropomorphic religion. We must believe
in the existence of this stratum in the buried soil of the
Hellenic or pre-Hellenic religions as a vera causa that might
explain certain anomalies among the religious facts of the
historic period.

But it is very doubtful if we need invoke the aid of this
hypothesis to explain the facts upon which Usener has
built his theory ; and there are some that it would fail
altogether to explain. There is one important point that
we must insist on at the outset. A god is not necessarily
nameless because he is not named or is usually addressed
by a simple appellative. There are many reasons for
concealing the proper name. One is the superstitious fear
that the enemy may come to possess it, and work evil
through the magical power that the possession may give
him. For the same reason many savages conceal their own
true name and the names of their friends ; and this is
occasionally found even in civilized communities ; as, for
instance, it was improper to mention the personal name of
the babovxos at Athens on account of his sacred character.
Again, it was ill-omened to use the name of the deities of
the nether world, because of their associations with death.
Thus arose euphemisms for the name of Hades ; and the
designation of the god and goddess of the lower world as
6 0€o's and rj 0ea, which came into vogue at Eleusis in the fifth

the various animals, are all exponents of a mysterious life and power
encompassing the Indian and filling him with vague apprehension and
desire to propitiate. . . . These various objects are stopping-places of the
god,' may serve as a correction of hastily gathered impressions.

G 2


century b. c, may be due to the same motive, and need not
be supposed to have descended from a system of nameless
deities of dateless antiquity. A similar feeling prompted
the habit of passing the graves of the dead, and especially
of the dead hero, in silence ; and from this practice the
buried hero at Oropos received the name 2iyi]\o's. And as
many heroes came thus to be designated simply as 6 "Hpcos, the
personal names could easily pass out of recollection. What
was superstition in one age becomes merely respectful
reserve in another ; and the modern man rarely speaks of
God by any personal name, but most frequently by some
vaguer title such as 'the Deity'. At Boulis, near Phokis,
the chief god was always addressed merely by the worshipful
title of Meyio-ros, and never by any proper name, according
to Pausanias ^ : but there is no reason to suppose that they
had not advanced as far in the evolution of anthropomorphic
and concrete divinities as their neighbours, or to gainsay
the view of Pausanias, that Meytoro? was none other than Zeus
himself ^.

We may next observe that many of the divine appellatives
that Usener presses into the support of his theory are
no signs of any earlier and distinct religious stage at all,
but are as anthropomorphic in their connotation as any
individual proper name, and many have a generally descrip-
tive and no functional sense whatever, and therefore are by
no means to be compared with the Roman Indigitamenta.
For instance, we find in him the strange suggestion (which
is almost a reductio ad ahsurdum of his theory) that Demeter
Eavdr] derived her appellative from an old god called "EavOos ',
the only person so named was a secular hero, and there is
no evidence of a divine personage so called except for those
who hold, like Usener, the almost obsolete and very narrow

'' It is particulaiiy in the Eastern Hellenized world, in various districts
of Asia Minor, especially Phrygia, that we mark the tendency gaining
force in the later period to designate the divinity by a vague descriptive
name of reverential import, such as ' the Highest God ' : two newly-
discovered inscriptions of the Roman period at Miletos show the existence
there of a cult of o a-yiwraTos 6(bs "Ttf/iaros Zcot??/), who was a god of divination
and served by a npo<pT}TT)s. — Arch. Anz. 1904, p. 9.


theory that all popular heroes of epic and legend were
the faded forms of forgotten gods. But let us grant a
god Eavdoi, or a goddess Eavdi], There is nothing ' functional '
about the adjective name ' fair-haired ', nothing vague : it has
more obvious anthropomorphic connotation than the names
Apollo, Athena, &c. It no more marks a distinct stage in
religious thought than two such formally different names
of individual men as ' White ' and ' Wright ' mark two
different stages in the development of our personal conscious-
ness concerning our fellows.

Still less relevant to the hypothesis of ' Sonder-Gotler ',
or a system of speciahzed functional divinities vaguely and
almost impersonally conceived, are such popular titles of
divinities as Storetpa, AiairoLva, BaaCXt]. Was there ever an
imaginable stage in Aryan religion when deities were brought
forth immaturely with nothing more concrete to cover them
than the vague ' function ' of ' Ladyship ', ' Queenship ',
' Saviour Power ' ? Surely such names are the natural
adjuncts of personal religion, and belong to the ceremonious-
ness of personal worship. Hwrctpa is here Kore, there
Artemis, elsewhere Athena ; it is certainly difficult to
imagine her before she was any one at all in particular. And
if we could, we still could not call her a ' Sonder-Gottin '
according to the definition. In many parts of the Mediter-
ranean, long before Christianity, a virgin-goddess Uofjdevo'i
was worshipped and known by no other name. Yet she
need not have been evolved to fulfil no other ' function '
than to be maidenly, but probably had in the people's
imagination as marked an individuality and as concrete
a character as the Holy Virgin in our own religion. We
should scarcely say that the proper name ' Mary ' and the
appellative ' Holy Virgin ' reveal two distinct stages of
religious thought. The goddess 'A/aioTTj, ' the Best ', may
have been worshipped at Athens, Metaponton, and Tanagra,
without a proper name, but may have been as personal an
individual as Artemis.

In fact, apart from the above considerations, the number
of deities and heroes in Greece who can be proved to have


existed in cult without a proper name is exceedingly small.
Usener endeavours to enlarge the stock by what appears
to be faulty logic ; by the suggested rule, for example,
that when two or more deities have the same epithet in
common we should conclude that the epithet had a separate
previous existence as the appellative of a ' Sonder-Gott '.
The cogency of this does not appear ; every personal deity
was liable to be called 'AXe^UaKos, every goddess or heroine
Ai-napdixTTv^ or BadvKoXiros. More than one Greek divinity was
called MeiAi'xtos, a term usually connoting the character of
the nether-god, and we have a cult-record of 6 MetAi'xios, as
we have of 6 Qeos alone. But this is no reason for supposing
that Zeus MeiAixtos^ became so by absorbing an older and
vaguer * numen ' called ' MetAi'xio!,- ' who had once half-
existed in shadowy independence ; for we note that MetAt'xto?
is a word of later formation within the same language
than ' Zeus '.

Again, his theory does not sufficiently appreciate the
the important fact, of which, however, he is cognizant, that
we can already discern the bright personal deities of Greek
polytheism throwing off their epithets as suns may throw
off satelhtes, the epithets then becoming the descriptive
names of subordinate divinities or heroines. Examples of
this process have often been given and discussed. It is
a tenable belief that Aphrodite threw off Peitho, Athena
Nike, Poseidon Aigeus ; the most transparent fraud of all
was the emanation of a useless and colourless hero Uvdios
from Apollo YlvdLo^. In Thera the people were especially
prone to call the high gods by their appropriate appellatives.
The inscriptions "" show an Apollo AeA^ti-ios styled AeA<^iVcos,
Zeus 'Ikco-ios I,TOLxaLos Uo\Lev9"OpKios invoked by these epithets
alone. The nether-world god becomes addressed as ' the
Rich One ', ' UKovtcov ', ' He of good counsel ', Ev^ouAev?, the
' Placable One ', ' MeiAi'xtos '. Adjectives are more affection-
ate and the people love them ; they are also a shorter style.
The process of detaching an epithet from a deity and
forming from it a new divine personality is found also in

" C. I. G., Ins. Mar. Aeg. 3, p. 80.


the Vedic religion. ' Rohita, originally an epithet of the
sun, figures in the A. V. as a separate deity in the capacity
of a creator.'-^

Bearing these facts in mind, we may now consider again
in detail the short list of ' functional ' and appellative
heroes, daimones, or gods, which was given at the beginning
of this chapter. We shall rarely find that they accord with
the definition of ' Sonder-Gotter ' or betray a pre-anthropo-
morphic imagination. The heroes of the drinking-bout
and festive meal, 'A/cparoTroTrjs, Aatnjs, AeL-nvev^, Kepdcov, and
McLTTm'y are functional, but being heroes are conceived as
personal and human ; and none can be said to savour of
prehistoric antiquity, but are obviously late creations. As
there was no high god that had charge of the banquet, Greek
polytheism, following its natural instinct, creates Aamj?
and AeiTTvevs, and obeying its overpowering bias towards
anthropomorphism and concrete forms conceives of them
as heroes ; and as it was necessary to invent a name it was
more natural to choose appellative descriptive names than
to coin irrelevant proper names. Nor is it inconceivable
that 'AKparoTTOTTjs was a distant descendant of Dionysos 'Aicpa-
To(t)6poi, who was known at Phigaleia. As regards Kepduiv
and MaTTm>, I venture this explanation : the guild of cooks,
like other guilds and like clans of kinsmen, would be tempted
to invent for themselves an eponymous ancestor ; so
fictitious heroes arise, whose names stamp them as the
patron-saints of the arts of cooking. We can similarly
explain Ke'pa/xo? as the eponymous hero of the potters' guild,
who gave his name to a deme of the Akamantid tribe. Nor
must we take these fictions too seriously.

'A/!x</)t8po/xo9 we may regard as a pure literary invention,
created to explain the 'kp.<^iop6p.La, as "Eparj has been supposed
to have been evolved to explain the 'Ep(rr](t)6pia. The ha(fj.(tiv
eiriStoTTj? of Sparta, a vague figure with a semi-functional
name, certainly seems to answer somewhat to the description
of a true ' Sonder-Gott ' ; but the record of Pausanias suggests
that his title is of late creation. The baCfioov ^TrovSatW on

* Macdonell, Vedic Ritual, p. 115.


the Akropolis at Athens may be regarded as another form
of the 'AyaOos Aaifxcdv, a late growth of the polytheistic period.
As regards such personages as BKavrri, "Hpws 'E-n-ireyto?, we
have no clue at all as to their character, period, or raisan d'etre.
More interesting are the figures of Evvoo-tos at Tanagra
and 'ExerAatos at Marathon, popular local heroes of the field
and crops, to whom certain vivid legends are attached
that place them on a different plane from the shadowy
figures of the Indigitamenta. The Marathonian tradition
is well known ; it is probably a pseudo-historic aetiological
story invented to explain a name and a half -forgotten cult,
and should not be regarded as proof that the latter originated
in the fifth century B.C. We have still more reason to
believe that the Tanagran Eunostos belonged to a very
early period of European belief, and the study of his legend
and the names associated with it reveals an old-world
agricultural story and ritual. Eunostos is the power that
gives ' a good return ' to the crops ^ ; and, if we may trust
the Etymologicum Magnum, he had a sister Evvoo-tos, a mill-
goddess, who looked after the measure of the barley, and
whose image stood in the mills. Plutarch tells us that the
holy grove of the Tanagran hero was strictly guarded
against the intrusion of women. We know this to have
been a taboo enforced in many ancient shrines ; but Plutarch,
drawing from a book by Diokles -mpl t&v rjpaxav and ultimately
from the Boeotian poetess Murtis, gives a curious story to
explain the fact. A maiden of the country wooes the virtuous
Eunostos in vain, and thereupon hangs herself in grief. To
requite her death one of her brothers slays Eunostos, whose
ghost then becomes a scourge to the territory until he is
pacified with cult and a shrine where no women might enter.
The rule was once infringed, with the result of earthquakes,
famine, and other prodigies, and Eunostos was seen hastening
to the sea to cleanse himself from the pollution. This genial
tale of despised love doubtless arose out of a quaint agri-
cultural or horticultural ritual. Eunostos is the hero of the
cornfield, who is slain like John Barleycorn is slain. His

^ Cf. the use of yuaros in Athenae. p. 6i8 C.


parents are 'EAievs of the marshes and ^klcls of the shade ;
the wicked brother is Bouko'Ao? ; the hapless maiden is "O^va,
the ' Pear-tree ', and these hanging-stories of personages,
whose names or legends convey an allusion to the fertility
of the trees and the crops, arose, as I have pointed out
before, from the old agrarian ritual of hanging images on
trees. We may then regard Eunostos and Echetlaios,
possibly, also 'Epey^ev'y. ' the ground-breaker ', as descendants
or survivals of a very old stratum of European agricultural
religion, when the personages of worship were simpler in
their structure and less individuaUzed than the high gods
of Greece ; yet as we know them these Greek heroes of the
field and the tree are of the same concrete life as that which
quickened the forms of Hermes and Dionysos. Going back
as far as we can, we have not yet found among them the
shadowy impalpable forms that seem to float before us in
the Indigitamenta. Km/itr7js, ' the bean-hero ', whose shrine
stood on the sacred way, may have had the same descent
and character as Evvoo-tos ; or he may be a late product,
a personage who grew up artificially within the area of the
Demeter-cult, at a time when the passion for hero-worship
liad reached the pitch that it had attained in the seventh
and sixth centuries, and culture-heroes were needed for
many departments of life ; he may also have been called
into existence because the culture of beans could not be
imputed to Demeter, who happened to loathe them. Telesi-
dromos, the hero of the Eleusinian race-course, is obviously
a late and transparent fiction, and we may beheve the same
of FMpoixoi of Delphoi. Again, we must reckon with the
possibility that the theory of Euhemeros may occasionally
have been true. .The. worship of real people of flesh and
~^k>od,.is a living force, as Sir Alfred Lyall has emphatically
pointed out, in India and China to this day. He records
the case of the very real Indian, Hurdeo Lala, becoming
after his death the ' functional ' god of cholera '■'. It would

Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellGreek hero cults and ideas of immortality; the Gifford lectures delivered in the University of St. Andrews in the year 1920 → online text (page 9 of 41)