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Dossier : Serments et paroles efficaces

Dossier : Serments et paroles efficaces

Oaths, Vows, and the Gods: Religious Attempts to Stabilize Language

Bruce Lincoln

Résumé

Comme Antoine Meillet l’a montré, il y a un siècle, les langues indo-iraniennes anciennes posaient en principe un rapport intime entre des actes de paroles comme les contrats et les traités (*mei-tro- au neutre) et le dieu qui les fait observer à ceux qui se sont engagés (*Mei-tro- au masculin). Imaginer ces promesses solennelles comme investies d’une nature sacrée et d’une capacité divine de punir ses violateurs les a rendues plus sûres et plus efficaces, en opposition à la faillibilité de la parole normale. Cet article suggère qu’on peut observer une sacralisation comparable dans les représentations du serment (horkos) dans l’épopée grecque et ailleurs dans l’antiquité. De plus, les constructions de ce type nous offrent un modèle pour comprendre les moyens par lesquels la religion répond à des inquiétudes existentielles en fournissant des points d’ancrage sûrs, bien que fictifs, dans un sacré imaginé comme échappant aux vicissitudes de la condition humaine.

As Antoine Meillet demonstrated a century ago, ancient Indo-Iranian languages posited a close relation between solemnly binding speech acts like treaties, contracts, etc. (*mei-tro- in the neuter) and the deity who enforced them (*Mei-tro- in the masculine). Investing verbal pledges with sacred status and imagining them as divinely self-enforcing rendered them more secure and effective, in contrast to the fallibility of normal speech. This paper argues that a similar sacralization can be observed in the way the oath (horkos) figures in the Hesiodic and Homeric epic and elsewhere in antiquity. Such constructions also provide of how religion more generally addresses existential anxieties by providing fictive points of anchorage in a sacred imagined to escape the vagaries of the human.

Entrées d'index

Mots clés :

serment, vœux, langage

Keywords :

oath, vows, language

Texte intégral

I

  • 1 Max Müller’s 1856 essay entitled «Comparative Mythology» is often taken as a starting point. The fi (...)
  • 2 Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, La cité antique: étude sur le culte, le droit, les institutions de (...)

1Although the creation myth usually advanced for the comparative study of religion casts Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900) in the role of founding ancestor1, a good case can be made for others, including Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges (1830-1889)2, and personally, I am most comfortable with a variant that acknowledges mixed ancestry. Although one can describe our discipline’s mongrel status in various fashions — pointing, for instance, to the mix of historicizing and ahistorical impulses, alternating engagement with popular and academic audiences, focal interests that shift between classical antiquity and the mystic east — for the moment, I would emphasize the interaction of a philological orientation, as favored by Max Müller (however maladroit was his practice), and the sociocultural approach introduced by Fustel.

2As all in this group surely know, Fustel insisted that religious concerns permeated all aspects of Greco-Roman life, and he showed how the ancient hearth was simultaneously the geometric and affective center of any inhabited space, the instrument of mediation between the residents and their ancestors, and also the local instantiation of a great deity (Hestia or Vesta, respectively). In his text, the hearth thus became the iconic example of religion’s multifaceted nature and all-pervasive sustaining importance. Membership in a household or family meant participation in the rites of its hearth and all that this entailed, for the social and the religious were thoroughly intermingled and mutually constitutive.

  • 3 Durkheim acknowledged the influence of W. Robertson Smith’s Lectures on the Religion of the Semites(...)

3That Fustel was the teacher of Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) is also well-known, and it was largely through Fustel’s influence that Durkheim and his students came to focus on the social import of religion: more precisely, on the way humans regularly regard, experience, and reproduce the social groups they form, not only as moral communities, but by construing them as something sacred. For it was Fustel, along with W. Robertson Smith (1846-94)3, who suggested to Durkheim how the sacred aura that envelops such multivalent symbolic constructs as the ancient hearth, the Australian totem, or the victim in sacrifice was crucial to their functioning as «représentations collectives».

II

  • 4 Along these lines, it is possible to read Durkheim’s opus magnum, Les formes élémentaires de la vie (...)
  • 5 Antoine Meillet, «Le dieu indo-iranien Mitra», Journal asiatique 10, 1907, p. 143-159. Meillet’s ap (...)
  • 6 Marcel Mauss’s unfinished dissertation on «La prière et les rites oraux», a fragmentary manuscript (...)
  • 7 Particularly egregious is Nietzsche’s attempt to connect Latin malus to Greek melas, Genealogy of M (...)

4Durkheimian interest in religion as the most common and most potent instrument of social integration extended to the level of the polis (where sacrifice and civic cult functioned much like the hearth at the oikos-level), and also to that of the modern nation-state, but for the most part this was its outer limit4. The great exception is a short article written in 1907 by a marginal member of the École sociologique: Antoine Meillet (1866-1936), better known as Ferdinand de Saussure’s student and successor, one of the 20th Century’s most brilliant linguists5. It is, in fact, with this essay that the sociological and philological approaches to the study of religion earlier associated with Fustel and Max Müller first powerfully came together6 (although similar claims might be made for Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals were its strictly philological moments less marked by racism and incompetence)7.

  • 8 A. Meillet, «Le dieu indo-iranien Mitra», p. 146. For a summary of subsequent philological discussi (...)

5Most immediately, Meillet concerned himself with the Indo-Iranian god *Mitra, for whom he offered a radically innovative analysis and interpretation. Having observed that *mitra- occurs as both a common and a proper noun, Meillet showed that the common noun (which in its Vedic attestation is in the neuter) denoted a certain class of verbal instruments or speech acts — above all, contracts, but also treaties, compacts, etc. — that bind people one to another, either as individuals or in groups. The associated proper noun, always in the masculine, is the proper name of the deity who enforces such agreements, wreaking terrible vengeance on anyone who would give such a pledge with dishonest purpose or transgress it after the fact. As he put it, «De même l’indo-iranien Mitra- est le contrat, la puissance mystique du contrat, et une personne; et les trois notions s’interchangent constamment»8. The intimate relation among the solemn speech-act and the deity who embodies and enforces it is at issue throughout the Avestan hymn to Mithra, as in the following passage.

  • 9 Yašt 10.45:
    Mi
    θrəm jaγauruuåŋhəm …
    yeŋhe ašta rātaiiō
    vīspāhu paiti barəzāhu
    vīspāhu vaē
    δaiiāhu
    spasō åŋ
    (...)

We worship the god Treaty/Contract/Solemn pledge (Miθra)…
Whose eight helpers
Sit in all heights,
In all watchposts,
Watchers of the contract (
spasō… miθrahe),
Watching for a treaty/contract/solemn pledge-violator (
miθrō. drujəm),
Seing and noting
Those who first violate a treaty/contract/solemn pledge (
miθrəm družinti)
Protecting the paths of those who are
Victimized by treaty/contract/solemn pledge-violators (
miθrō. drujō),
By liars who strike at truth and at the righteous.
9

6What these Indo-Iranian data more broadly reveal is, first, that attempts to build groups at some higher level of social integration than currently exists are likely to involve and depend upon acts of speech that commit previously estranged people to maintain certain ideal attitudes and behaviors toward one another (peace, fair trade, mutual respect, etc.) both now and in the future, as the basis for their union or reconciliation. Although it is somewhat artificial to do so, one can distinguish two elements in such pledges. The first involves a transition from the extant nature of sentiments, dispositions, actions, etc. to a more ideal state; the second involves the extension of that ideal from the present into an open-ended future. Needless to say, both of these are extremely difficult to accomplish.

7Militating against the success of such pledges, however, is the sorry fact that people can lie and words can mislead, even when intentions are honorable. Or, to put it differently, insofar as language is human, like humans, it remains ever fallible. This brings us to the second aspect of Meillet’s analysis — the move that connects the neuter substantive «contract, treaty» to the masculine god «Contract, Treaty» — which shows how attempts to stabilize volatile relations through solemn, binding acts of speech are immeasurably facilitated when the relevant speech acts are themselves stabilized by an ideology that constitutes them as sacrosanct and divine, which is to say: infallible, inviolable, and supernaturally self-enforcing.

III

  • 10 Positive vows are those that commit one to undertake the actions that are named: a vow to recover l (...)

8Such an understanding opens up novel perspectives on a wide range of phenomena whose importance is attested in all ancient societies and persists into the modern era. These include oaths, whether individual or collective, in legal, military, political, commercial, and other contexts; vows, whether finite or life-long in duration, positive or negative in nature10, in marital, priestly, and other situations, or within such relations as those of patron and client, student and teacher, master and disciple; and treaties, whether international, tribal, or local. Countless examples can be cited, but let me begin with a few observations about the place of the oath in Greek epic.

  • 11 Oath (Horkos) is represented as a child of Eris at Theogony 226-231, and thus a descendant in the l (...)
  • 12 This is established for human oaths at Works and Days 231-232 and 282-285; for oaths taken by the g (...)
  • 13 Works and Days 190-194.
  • 14 Theogony 389-401. The importance of this episode has been discussed by Jenny Strauss Clay, Hesiod’s (...)
  • 15 Theogony 782-785:
    When strife and conflict arise among the immortals,
    And someone who dwells on Olymp
    (...)
  • 16 Theogony 397-401:
    Undecaying Styx came first to Olympus
    Together with her children, through the plans
    (...)

9I will not dwell on the pains that Hesiod takes to establish the divine nature of oaths11, their capacities for self-enforcement12, nor on the way he treats the diminished power of oaths in the iron age as a cardinal index of moral decadence13. Rather, let us note the central importance of oaths in the construction of a new social and political order, as conveyed by the episode where Zeus installed Styx as oath of the gods in his very first act upon gaining the kingship14. Not only did the establishment of this «great oath» provide the means to resolve all future conflict among the gods (as the text makes explicit)15, it is also specified that, as a result, Styx’s children — Zeal, Victory, Force, and Violence — came to dwell beside Zeus forever16. The logic is subtle, but clear, it being asserted that only through oath (represented as their mother) are such entities domesticated. Zeus, having gained control over oaths, thus obtains the instrument through which the violence, force, and zeal of others can be brought under control. In ways, he gains something comparable to what one would now call a state monopoly on the legitimate use of force. More properly, however, it is a monopoly on the use of that speech (constituted as divine) which is capable of suppressing all use of force that the state considers illegitimate. As such, it is a key piece in Zeus’s consolidation of his new order against all future challenge.

  • 17 Odyssey XXIV, 545-548:

10Hesiod’s analysis of the oath as the foremost instrument of conflict resolution and regime stabilization suggests why the Odyssey ends, as it does, with an oath that binds Ithacan society back together after the trauma of internecine slaughter. The oaths mentioned in the poem’s very last lines were enjoined by Athene, who took human form to impose this resolution on a conflict that otherwise could never be healed17. At issue was whether Odysseus, in killing the suitors, had also abrogated all social and moral bonds that connected him and his household to the suitors’survivors — or, to put it differently, whether a city split into two warring factions could be reintegrated under the victor, now viewed as a butcher by many of his subjects. The text seems to suggest that the oath makes possible such miraculous reconstruction of the social order, but crucial to the oath’s operation is its divine nature, which depends on Athene and beyond her on Zeus, whose plan she executes. For, as Zeus explained to Hera some lines earlier,

  • 18 Odyssey XXIV, 481-486:

Do as you like, but I will tell you what is fitting.
When lordly Odysseus has made the suitors pay,
Let them swear trustworthy oaths and let him ever be king.
We will establish forgetfulness of the killing
Of children and relatives, and let them love one another
As before, and let there be wealth and peace in abundance
18.

  • 19 Iliad III, 67-75. The terms of this agreement are repeated almost verbatim at III, 88-94 (when Hekt (...)

11The argument of Odyssey XXIV clearly suggests that an oath backed by the gods was considered sufficient to effect miraculous transition from the bloodiest carnage to the most idyllic peace, which raises the question of what an oath could have done for the conflict of Greeks and Trojans. That question is answered in the action of Iliad III-IV, following on Paris’s suggestion that the warring parties swear trustworthy oaths of friendship, after which he would fight Menelaos for possession of Helen and all others could return home to live in peace thereafter19. Stage management of the oath ceremony is complex and deserves more careful treatment than is possible here (see the essays of Faraone and Carastro in this volume), but it concludes with Trojans and Greeks alike repeatedly calling down curses (the verb is in the iterative) on any oath-violator.

  • 20 Iliad III, 297-301:
    ὧδε δέ τις εἴπεσκενΑχαιῶν τε Τρώων τε·
    «
    Ζεῦ κύδιστε μέγιστε, καὶ ἀθάνατοι θεοὶ (...)

Some one of the Achaeans or Trojans kept saying thus:
«Zeus, most glorious, most great, and you other immortal gods –
Whichever party first violates the oaths,
Let their brains flow to the ground like this wine,
Theirs and those of their children, and may their wives be subjugated by others»
20.

  • 21 Iliad IV, 62-67, with repetition at IV, 70-72.
  • 22 Athene’s disguise is mentioned at Iliad IV, 85-88, after which the text recounts how she persuaded (...)

12The duel, however, proved inconclusive, as Aphrodite rescued Paris from death at Menelaos’s hands, creating an ambiguous situation in which Greeks and Trojans were sworn to preserve the peace, for all that no crucial issues had been settled. Problems unsolvable at the human level regularly shift to the gods, and as Book IV opens, the Olympians consider what is to be done, a question that is settled when Hera prevails on Zeus to let Athene lure the Trojans into violating the oath.21 Disguised as a human, just as she was in Odyssey XXIV (when her purpose was to institute, not to break an oath), Athene accomplishes this task.22 With that, all attempts at peace are rendered futile and the fate of Troy is sealed, for the Trojans have become oath-breakers and the gods who witnessed and secured their oath are enjoined to work their destruction. Agamemnon announces this, directly he sees his brother wounded.

  • 23 Iliad IV, 157-168:
    ὥς σἔβαλον Τρῶες, κατὰ δὅρκια πιστὰ πάτησαν.
    οὐ μέν πως ἅλιον πέλει ὅρκιον αἷμ (...)

Thus the Trojans struck you and they trampled underfoot the trustworthy oaths.
But in no way does an oath turn out to be vain, nor the blood of lambs,
Libations of unmixed wine, and the joining of right hands, in which we have put trust.
For even if the Olympian does not fulfill it right away,
He fulfills it at last and they pay greatly,
With their heads and their wives and children.
For this I know well in my heart and spirit:
The day will come when sacred Ilios shall be destroyed,
And Priam and Priam’s people, he of the great ash spear.
Zeus, son of Kronos, seated aloft and dwelling in aether
Himself will shake his dark aegis at them all,
Resentful of this trickery. These things will not be unfulfilled
23.

13The ideology resembles that of the Odyssey (and that of the Avestan Hymn to Mithra): Oaths can accomplish extraordinary results, precisely because they are backed by gods who punish their violators and reward those faithful to them. In the Iliad, however, the point is taken further: once solemnly and sincerely sworn, oaths can be effective even without the gods. Indeed, in this case, the oath breaks down when capricious deities induce foolish mortals to break their commitments, thereby leading them to disaster.

IV

  • 24 Livy I, 59, 1; Dionysius Halicarnasseus, IV, 70.
  • 25 Livy II, 1, 9; Plutarch, Publicola 2; Appian, Bellum Civile II, 119.
  • 26 Following Mommsen, most scholars have understood the narrative of Lucius Junius Brutus’s oath, as d (...)
  • 27 For lurid accounts of the oaths taken by Catiline and his confederates, see Plutarch, Cicero 10, 3; (...)
  • 28 Antoine Meillet et Émile Benveniste, Grammaire du vieux perse, Paris, 1931, p. 63-64 and 153; Rolan (...)

14Rich data are also available from Rome, where — it may be recalled — the Republic was said to have been initiated with an oath sworn by Lucius Junius Brutus on the blood of Lucretia to drive out the tyrant kings24. That oath, moreover, provided a mythic model for the oaths that were repeated each year when new consuls took office25, not to speak of its influence on Brutus’s descendant and the others who conspired against Caesar26. The latter case also reminds us that although oaths may be both necessary and sufficient for the founding of a new social, political, and moral order, those who take such oaths and undertake such action may be viewed from multiple perspectives. Should they succeed, as a fruit of victory they will be able to impose their understanding of themselves as liberators, patriots, tyrannicides, and founding heroes. Should they fail, the view of those they unsuccessfully challenged is likely to prevail, and they — like Catiline, for instance — will forever be condemned as conspirators or, to use the Latin terminology, conjurati, those who have sworn oaths together, such oaths now being construed as the instrument and index of plotting and sedition (conjuratio)27. The same ideas and semantics are also evident in Achaemenid Iran, where the term denoting rebels was hamiçiya, literally «those who have made a compact (Old Persian miça- < Indo-Iranian *mitra-) together»28.

15Other sorts of suspicions, which focus less on the political intent of oath-swearers than on the nature of the supernatural powers by which they swear (and the nature of one’s relation to those powers), produced a different, but equally pejorative sense attached to the act of conjuring, which makes it the mark of black magic. And then there is the great theme of skill-at-the-oath, which celebrates the capacity to find loopholes in even the most carefully constructed, divinely guaranteed pledge: a case where language, once stabilized, is systematically destabilized once again, as morality, law, and society itself are all destabilized with it.

  • 29 The more recent works come largely from Italian experts on Roman law and include: Antonello Calore,(...)

16In the space available, it is hardly possible to pursue any of these examples or issues in depth, nor can I do more than mention the rich evidence from medieval Europe, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere. Even were there infinite time, neither I nor anyone else would have the competence to consider all this material or to begin generalizing from it. Which is why I suggest this is a suitable theme for the collaborative effort of the Chicago-Paris Workshop on Ancient Religions. Indeed, ritualized speech acts of this sort played a role of fundamental importance in virtually all ancient societies, serving to secure human relations from the most intimate face-to-face dealings to those of international diplomacy. There is some literature on the subject, but much of this is dated and theoretically obsolete29. Here again, Meillet’s piece is a remarkable exception, suggesting, as it does, that the speech acts that secure human bonds and commitments must themselves be rendered secure, there being no stronger way to accomplish this than by constituting them as sacred. In antiquity the oath, vow, and treaty mark that point where religion, language, law, society, politics, and morality converge; indeed, we still sanctify, solemnize, and thereby attempt to secure precisely those speech-acts we construe as most consequential, e.g. marital vows, courtroom oaths, and those sworn by candidates ascending to high state office.

17The topic of oaths and vows thus offers a rich topic for our collective investigation. Indeed, I am inclined to think understanding their relation to language can provide a useful model for theorizing religion more broadly, insofar as oaths — like religious constructs of whatever sort — address existential anxieties (here, the extent to which language is open to ambiguity, miscomprehension, and outright deceit) by anchoring the phenomena in question to a reassuringly stable, secure, and noble — if imaginary — realm of the sacred beyond all flaws and vagaries of the human.

Notes

1 Max Müller’s 1856 essay entitled «Comparative Mythology» is often taken as a starting point. The first book in which he spoke of a «Science of Religions» was Chips from a German Workshop, Vol. 1: Essays on the Science of Religion, London, 1867, in which the «Comparative Mythology» essay was republished as the first chapter. For a recent and largely sympathetic discussion of his role in the formation of a discipline, see Lourens van den Bosch, Friedrich Max Müller: A Life Devoted to Humanities, Leiden, 2002.

2 Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, La cité antique: étude sur le culte, le droit, les institutions de la Grèce et de Rome, Paris, 1864. On Fustel, the discussion of Arnaldo Momigliano, «The Ancient City of Fustel de Coulanges», in Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography, Middletown, Connecticut, 1977, p. 325-343, remains useful, but see now François Hartog, Le XIXe siècle et l’histoire: le cas Fustel de Coulanges, Paris, 1988.

3 Durkheim acknowledged the influence of W. Robertson Smith’s Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, London, 1889, in turning his attention to religion, but the background for this had long since been supplied by his studies under Fustel. The first of the Durkheimians to read and be influenced by Smith was Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) and the influence first manifested itself in the «Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice», which appeared in Année sociologique 2, 1899. Durkheim followed a bit later, in the essay he co-authored with Mauss, «De quelques formes primitives de classification. Contribution à l’étude des représentations collectives», Année sociologique 6, 1903.

4 Along these lines, it is possible to read Durkheim’s opus magnum, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, Paris, 1912, as a meditation on ancient religions and modern nationalism, with the Australian corroboree and the Fête de la Fédération of 1790 as complementary examples of much the same social sentiments and processes in very different historical contexts.

5 Antoine Meillet, «Le dieu indo-iranien Mitra», Journal asiatique 10, 1907, p. 143-159. Meillet’s approach, and this article in particular, were deeply influential on his own students, Émile Benveniste (1902-76) and Georges D umézil (1898-1986), and on Hermann Güntert’s monumental work, Der arische Weltkönig und Heiland, Halle, 1923. Its specific conclusions are still highly respected by most students of Indo-Iranian religions, but its broad theoretical implications have never received the attention they deserved. Although much appreciated as a linguist, Meillet’s contributions to other disciplines (including sociology, psychology, and history of religions) have received little attention. See further Sylvain Auroux, Antoine Meillet et la linguistique de son temps, Saint-Denis, 1988.

6 Marcel Mauss’s unfinished dissertation on «La prière et les rites oraux», a fragmentary manuscript of which he submitted to Éditions Félix Alcan in 1909, but never published, postdates Meillet’s article by only a few years. This text was surely influenced by Meillet, with whom Mauss studied in 1899-1902. Regarding the nature of their relations, see M. Mauss, «In Memoriam Antoine Meillet (1866-1936)», in Œuvres, vol. 3: Cohésions socials et divisions de la sociologie, Paris, 1969, p. 548-553. The same may also be true of Mauss’s magnum opus, the Essai sur le don (1926), and one wonders whether it was Meillet’s article that first called his supremely gifted student’s attention to the phenomenon of gift exchange, since the etymology Meillet offered for *mitra- derived it from the Indo-Iranian (and more broadly Indo-European) root *mei-, «échanger» (for the philological detail, see «Le dieu indo-iranien Mitra», p. 144-145).

7 Particularly egregious is Nietzsche’s attempt to connect Latin malus to Greek melas, Genealogy of Morals, First Essay § 5 as part of an Aryan/pre-Aryan contrast.

8 A. Meillet, «Le dieu indo-iranien Mitra», p. 146. For a summary of subsequent philological discussions, all of which depend on Meillet’s article, see Manfred Mayrhofer, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoariisches, vol. 2, Heidelberg, 1986, p. 354-355.

9 Yašt 10.45:
Mi
θrəm jaγauruuåŋhəm …
yeŋhe ašta rātaiiō
vīspāhu paiti barəzāhu
vīspāhu vaē
δaiiāhu
spasō åŋhāire mi
θrahe
mi
θrō. drujəm hišpōsəmna
ave aipi dai
δiiantō
ave aipi hišmarəntō
yōi paurva mi
θrəm družinti
avaēšąm pa
θō påntō
yim isənti mi
θrō. drujō
hai
θīm. ašava. janasča drvantō.

10 Positive vows are those that commit one to undertake the actions that are named: a vow to recover lost territory, for instance. Negative vows involve pledges to refrain from the acts in question, as in a vow of chastity. The distinction is somewhat arbitrary, since the same action can be coded in different ways, as when chastity is understood as the positive action of cultivating bodily purity, rather than the negative act of refusing sex. Mixed forms also exist, as when one swears not to do X (negative vow) until one has accomplished Y (positive vow).

11 Oath (Horkos) is represented as a child of Eris at Theogony 226-231, and thus a descendant in the line of Night.

12 This is established for human oaths at Works and Days 231-232 and 282-285; for oaths taken by the gods, at Theogony 793-807. Note in the latter case that the oath renders perjurers breathless (νήυτμος) for a year (Theogony 795) and restores them to the speaking-places (εἰρέας) of the immortals only after another nine years (Theogony 804). A failure of true and binding speech is thus punished first by a loss of the material preconditions of all speech, then by a loss of the right to speak in privileged and authorizing places.

13 Works and Days 190-194.

14 Theogony 389-401. The importance of this episode has been discussed by Jenny Strauss Clay, Hesiod’s Cosmos, Cambridge, 2003, p. 7, 22 and 132.

15 Theogony 782-785:
When strife and conflict arise among the immortals,
And someone who dwells on Olympus lies,
Zeus sends Iris to carry from afar the water of many names
In a golden vessel for the great oath of the gods.
ὁππότ᾽ ἔρις καὶ νεῖκος ἐν ἀθανάτοισιν ὄρηται,
καί ῥ᾽ ὅς τις ψεύδηται Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἐχόντων,
Ζεὺς δέ τε Ἶριν ἔπεμψε θεῶν μέγαν ὅρκον ἐνεῖκαι
τηλόθεν ἐν χρυσέῃ προχόῳ πολυώνυμον ὕδωρ

16 Theogony 397-401:
Undecaying Styx came first to Olympus
Together with her children, through the plans of her own father.
Zeus honored her and prodigious gifts he gave,
For he placed her among the gods, to be their great oath
And her children to be dwelling with him forever.
ἦλθε δ᾽ ἄρα πρώτη Στὺξ ἄφθιτος Οὔλυμπόνδε
σὺν σφοῖσιν παίδεσσι φίλου διὰ μήδεα πατρός ·
τὴν δὲ Ζεὺς τίμησε, περισσὰ δὲ δῶρα ἔδωκεν.
αὐτὴν μὲν γὰρ ἔθηκε θεῶν μέγαν ἔμμεναι ὅρκον,
παῖδας δ᾽ ἤματα πάντα ἑοῦ μεταναιέτας εἶναι.
Cf.
Theogony 383-388:
Styx, daughter of Okeanos, having mingled with Pallas,
Bore Zeal and fair-ankled Victory in the halls,
And she gave birth to Power and Force, conspicuous offspring.
Of them there is no home far from Zeus, nor any seat,
Nor path, except wherever the god leads them,
But they ever sit down beside deep-sounding Zeus.
Στὺξ δ᾽ ἔτεκ᾽ Ὠκεανοῦ θυγάτηρ Πάλλαντι μιγεῖσα
Ζῆλον καὶ Νίκην καλλίσφυρον ἐν μεγάροισι
καὶ Κράτος ἠδὲ Βίην ἀριδείκετα γείνατο τέκνα.
τῶν οὐκ ἔστ᾽ ἀπάνευθε Διὸς δόμος, οὐδέ τις ἕδρη,
οὐδ᾽ ὁδός, ὅππη μὴ κείνοις θεὸς ἡγεμονεύει,
ἀλλ᾽ αἰεὶ πὰρ Ζηνὶ βαρυκτύπῳ ἑδριόωνται.

17 Odyssey XXIV, 545-548:

Thus spoke Athene, and he obeyed and rejoiced in spirit.
And she established oaths between the two sides for time to come,
Did Pallas Athene, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus,
Having taken the form of Mentor in body and voice.
Ὣς φάτ’ ’Αθηναίη, δἐπείθετο, χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ.
ὅρκια δαὖ κατόπισθε μετἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκεν
ΠαλλὰςΑθηναίη, κούρη Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο,
Μέντορι εἰδομένη ἠμὲν δέμας ἠδὲ καὶ αὐδήν.

18 Odyssey XXIV, 481-486:

«ἔρξον ὅπως ἐθέλεις· ἐρέω δέ τοι ὡς ἐπέοικεν.
ἐπεὶ δὴ μνηστῆρας ἐτίσατο δῖοςΟδυσσεύς,
ὅρκια πιστὰ ταμόντες μὲν βασιλευέτω αἰεί,
ἡμεῖς δαὖ παίδων τε κασιγνήτων τε φόνοιο
ἔκλησιν θέωμεν· τοὶ δἀλλήλους φιλεόντων
ὡς τὸ πάρος, πλοῦτος δὲ καὶ εἰρήνη ἅλις ἔστω».

19 Iliad III, 67-75. The terms of this agreement are repeated almost verbatim at III, 88-94 (when Hektor relays the offer to the Greeks) and III, 253-258 (when the herald Idaios relays it to Priam).

20 Iliad III, 297-301:
ὧδε δέ τις εἴπεσκενΑχαιῶν τε Τρώων τε·
«
Ζεῦ κύδιστε μέγιστε, καὶ ἀθάνατοι θεοὶ ἄλλοι,
ὁππότεροι πρότεροι ὑπὲρ ὅρκια πημήνειαν,
ὧδέ σφἐγκέφαλος χαμάδις ῥέοι ὡς ὅδε οἶνος,
αὐτῶν καὶ τεκέων, ἄλοχοι δἄλλοισι δαμεῖεν».

21 Iliad IV, 62-67, with repetition at IV, 70-72.

22 Athene’s disguise is mentioned at Iliad IV, 85-88, after which the text recounts how she persuaded Pandaros to shoot Menelaos, thereby violating the oath.

23 Iliad IV, 157-168:
ὥς σἔβαλον Τρῶες, κατὰ δὅρκια πιστὰ πάτησαν.
οὐ μέν πως ἅλιον πέλει ὅρκιον αἷμά τε ἀρνῶν
σπονδαί τἄκρητοι καὶ δεξιαί, ᾗς ἐπέπιθμεν.
εἴ περ γάρ τε καὶ αὐτίκ’ ’Ολύμπιος οὐκ ἐτέλεσσεν,
ἔκ τε καὶ ὀψὲ τελεῖ, σύν τε μεγάλῳ ἀπέτισαν,
σὺν σφῇσιν κεφαλῇσι γυναιξί τε καὶ τεκέεσσιν.
εὖ γὰρ ἐγὼ τόδε οἶδα κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν ·
ἔσσεται ἦμαρ ὅτἄν ποτὀλώλῃ Ἴλιος ἱρὴ
καὶ Πρίαμος καὶ λαὸς ἐϋμμελίω Πριάμοιο,
Ζεὺς δέ σφι Κρονίδης ὑψίζυγος, αἰθέρι ναίων,
αὐτὸς ἐπισσείῃσιν ἐρεμνὴν αἰγίδα πᾶσι
τῆσδἀπάτης κοτέων· τὰ μὲν ἔσσεται οὐκ ἀτέλεστα.
Cf.
Iliad IV, 234-239.

24 Livy I, 59, 1; Dionysius Halicarnasseus, IV, 70.

25 Livy II, 1, 9; Plutarch, Publicola 2; Appian, Bellum Civile II, 119.

26 Following Mommsen, most scholars have understood the narrative of Lucius Junius Brutus’s oath, as developed by Livy and others, to have been influenced by the behavior of the tyrannicides after the assassination of Caesar (cf., for instance, Cicero, Philippic II, 28 sq.), but it is probably most accurate to speak of reciprocal influence between events and narratives, past and present.

27 For lurid accounts of the oaths taken by Catiline and his confederates, see Plutarch, Cicero 10, 3; Dio Cassius, XXXVII, 30, 3; and Sallust, De Conjuratione Catilinae 22.

28 Antoine Meillet et Émile Benveniste, Grammaire du vieux perse, Paris, 1931, p. 63-64 and 153; Roland G. Kent, Old Persian, New Haven, 1953, p. 31 and 213.

29 The more recent works come largely from Italian experts on Roman law and include: Antonello Calore, Per Iovem lapidem, alle origini del giuramento: sulla presenza del «sacro» nell’esperienza giuridica romana, Milan, 2000; Ferdinando Zuccotti, Il giuramento nel mondo giuridico e religioso antico: Elementi per uno studio comparatistico, Milan, 2000; Manuela Giordano, La parola efficace: Maledizioni, giuramenti e benedizioni nella Grecia arcaica, Pisa, 1999; Nestore Pirillo, Il vincolo del giuramento e il tribunale della coscienza, Bologna, 1997; Marie-France Auzepay et Guillaume Saint-Guillaint (éd.), Oralité et lien social au moyen age: occident, Byzance, Islam, Paris, 2009; Françoise Laurent (éd.), Serment, promesse, et engagement: rituels et modalités au Moyen Âge, Montpellier, 2008; Doris Pechtel (ed.), Fest und Eid: Instrumente der Herrschaftsicherung im Alten Orient, Würzburg, 2008; Francis Joannès et Sophie Lafont (éd.), Jurer et maudire: pratiques politiques et usages juridiques du serment dans le Proche-Orient ancien, Paris, 1996; Peter Blickle (ed.), Der Fluch und der Eid: die metaphysische Begründung gesellschaftlichen Zusammenlebens und politischer Ordnung in der ständischen Gesellschaft, Berlin, 1993; Tony Cartledge, Vows in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, Sheffield, 1992; Joseph Plescia, The Oath and Perjury in Ancient Greece, Tallahassee, 1970. Within the older literature, see, inter alia, Friedrich von Thudichum, Geschichte des Eides, Tübingen, 1911 (reprinted Aalen, 1968); Samuel Mercer, The Oath in Babylonian and Assyrian Literature, Munich, 1911; Richard Lasch, Der Eid: seine Entstehung und Beziehung zu Glaube und Brauch der Naturvölker, Stuttgart, 1908; Rudolf Hirzel, Der Eid: ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte, Leipzig, 1902; Julius Happel, Der Eid im Alten Testament: vom Standpunkte der vergleichenden Religionsgeschichte, Leipzig, 1893; A.A. Danz, Der sacrale Schutz im römischen Rechtsverkehr. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Entwicklung des Rechts bei den Römern, Jena, 1857; Ernst von Lasaulx, Der Eid bei den Römern, Würzburg, 1844. Of particular value are two essays by Émile Benveniste, included in Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes, 2 vols., Paris, 1969: «Ius et le serment à Rome» (vol. II, p. 111-122) and «Le serment en Grèce» (vol. II, p. 163-175).

Auteur

University of Chicago

© Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2012

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