Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Berber fable in Middle Atlas Tamazight

“the tale of the jackal, the lion and the hyena”

Although North Africa has been part of the Muslim world for over a millennium, amidst the vast linguistic ocean of Arabic there are some considerable islands of  Berber speaking communities to be found. From the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Siwa oasis in Egypt and as far north as the Mediterannean and as far south as Burkina Faso Berber languages are spoken. Berber speakers have been native to North Africa for several millennia at least and the language survived the presence of Phoenician, Roman,Vandal and Byzantine rulers, before the Umayyad dynasty conquered Maghrebi North Africa in the late 7th c. CE. In the colonial period (late 19th, early 20th c. CE) a substantial part of North Africa was administered by French colonial rulers, leaving French as an official language in Morocco and Algeria. But also Berber stood its ground and nowadays presumably some 10 million people speak a Berber language, or as many Berber speakers would call it Tamazight. Although the unifying term ‘Berber’ might suggest some sort of linguistic unity, the diversity amongst the Berber languages is best compared to the diversity amongst the Germanic or Romance languages (Kossmann 2012).

I have started learning Middle Atlas Berber with the help and instruction of Marijn van Putten (Leiden University) and I am positively mesmerized by the exotic nature and beauty of the language. As a seasoned Indo-Europeanist, wrestling through the alien syntax and morphology of a non-IE language takes some getting used to, but overall I think I am catching on. In this post I would like to share a Berber fable that I translated. This fable is to be found in Harry Stroomer’s edition of Arsène Roux Textes Berbères du Maroc central: textes originaux en transcription (Stroomer ed.: 2007). Arsène Roux collected these stories and fairy tales in the 1920’s and 1930’s when Morocco was a French protectorat. He collected and annotated these stories for educational purposes, to be used at the Institut des hautes etudes Marocaines. The language in which these stories were written is called Tamazight [θamaziɣθ], but since this simply means “Berber language” it is more aptly called Middle Atlas Berber. As a Northern Berber language it shared in the socalled Northern Berber spirantization which turned lax stops into fricatives. Dental stops became interdental fricatives and velar stops became prepalatal fricatives.

Northern Berber Spirantization

*b > b [β]

*t > t [θ]

*d > d [ð]

*g > ḡ [ʝ] (> y )

*k > k [ç] (> š).

Arsène Roux used a very phonetic orthography that also reflected the colouring effects of emphatic consonants. In the text that I will cite below I have adapted the text into a more phonemic transcription, connecting better to recent publications in Berberology. The allophonic colourings of the vowels under influence of the emphatic consonants are all rendered by the underlying unpharangylized phoneme, e.g. Roux ṭå = mine ṭa, Roux –än = Mine –an.

                Roux    Mine

                e              ə

                j               ž

                ɛ              ʕ

                ḫ             x

                ġ              ɣ

When compared to the form of the language laid down in Penchoen’s 1973 grammar, Tamazight of the Ayt Ndhir, some pecularities may be noted. The dialect that Roux wrote down underwent more advanced spirantization than the one Penchoen described, hence we find š for  k and y for . Below you will first find the original text with the translation and then a glossing of each sentence. The excessively used inn-as “he said to him” will only be glossed the first time. Following Penchoen I have called most grammatical morpheme “particles” which may lead to some terminology confusion. Just read “morpheme” for each grammatical morpheme that I called a “particle”. A final remark concerns the terms état libre and état annexion exclusively used in Berber linguistics. The état libre may be considered a kind of default accusative, while the état annexion is used after prepositions and as a subject marker. They will be abbreviated as EL and EA.

Once again, thanks to Marijn van Putten for guiding me through this text. For examples of his recent work, see his blogs http://phoenixblog.typepad.com and http://orientalberber.wordpress.com/. If you find any mistakes or typo’s or have remarks on the analysis, please remark to this post or send me an email. Apparently, due to some import effects of Worpress not all text makeup from my word document survived into the final blogpost (this goes for the spirantization stripes and emphatic consonants, especially the emphatic spirantized d). I do not know how to remedy this. if you have any suggestions or questions, please tell me!

64. Ləḥdiyt-wuššən d-izəm d-məžžɣyuly

Inn-aš: Iqqima wuššən alliy-t-inɣa laẓ, day iddu ar-ittšuš i-ʕari, alliy idəṛ xəf izəm, yaf-t-inn ar-t-ittawi yiṭṣṭṣ i-ʕari. Inn-as: “A-ʕəmmi izəm, idd-is-k-nɣant wallən?” Inn-as: “nɣant-i” Inn-as: “ad-aš nəʕtəx asafar.” Inn-as: “Mani-y-illa?” Inn-as: “Illa gg-wul n-məžžɣyuly, ḥaš-aš.” Inn-as: “I-ma-yi-t-id ittawiyn?” Inn-as: “Ad-aš-t-id awix nəkk!” Iddu ɣər məžžɣyuly, ḥaš-aš, inn-as: “Ma-š-yaɣən lla ttsḥizunt zəgg-uḍaṛ?” Inn-as: “A-uddi  iʕəṛṛəm-iyi!” Inn-as: “ʕiyyənx-aš aḍbib.” Inn-as: “Iwa kkər-ax ad-ɣuṛ-s nmun!” Ddun-d alliy-d iwḍən izəm. Nitni iwḍən izəm, inn-as wuššən i-məžžɣyul: “Silliy s-aḍbib, ẓẓayən-as šwiʸ iməžžann.” Nətta isilliʸ ɣuṛ-s, iggʷəd-as irwəl, day itfuṛ-t-wuššən, inn-as: “Inddmad əy-tərwəlt, aḍar-ənnəš ira ad-ižžiʸ. bar is təggwədd i-uryaz iran ad-aš iyy asafar?” Alliy-t-id irura, iṣṣiwəḍ-as-t-id i-izəm, inn-as: “Ad-ur-ttəggwəd i-uryaz is-iran ad-aš iyy asafar!” day iwwət-t izəm, irdəl-t. Inn-as wuššən: “Aǧǧ-i-nəkk at-t-azux!” d(a)-ar-t-ittazu wuššən. Alliy-t-yazu day ičč ul-n-məžžɣyuly.

The tale of the jackal, the lion and the hyena

He said to you: Once upon a time there was a jackal who was afflicted by hunger. Then he went roaming in the desert untill he fell upon a lion, he found him there sleeping in the desert. He said to him: “O uncle lion, do your eyes hurt?” the lion said to him: “My eyes do hurt”. The jackal said to the lion: “Shall I show you medicine?” the lion said to him: “Where is it?” the jackal said to him: “It is in the heart of the hyena, pardon the word.” The lion said to him: “Who will bring it to me?” The jackal said: “I will bring it to you”. He went to the hyena, pardon the word, and he said to him: “What has happened to you that you limp on a foot?” the hyena said to him: “o friend, I am in pain!” the jackal said to him: “I will point you to a doctor” the hyena said to him: “So stand up to us and we will travel to him together!” They reached the lion and the jackal said to the hyena: “Come close to the doctor, he is a little hard of hearing.” And he (the hyena) came closer to him (the lion), but he was scared of him and fled, and the jackal followed him (the hyena) and said to him (the hyena): you fled immediately (when) he (the lion) wants  to cure your foot. It isn’t the case that you flee for the person who wants to bring medicine to you?” Then the hyena returned to the jackal and the jackal brought the hyena to the lion and said to him: “You should not be afraid of the person who wants to do medicine to you!” Then the lion hit him (the hyena) and brought him down. And the jackal said: “Leave him to me and I will flay him. Than the jackal flayed him. When he had flayed him he ate the heart of the hyena himself.

64. Ləḥdiyt-wuššən d-izəm d-məžžɣyulʸ

Inn-aš: Iqqima wuššən alliy-t-inɣa laẓ 

He said to you: Once upon a time there was a jackal who was afflicted by hunger

  • Inn-aš “he said to you” Ini perf.3.sg.m. aš dat.pron. 2.sg.m verbal satellite
  • Iqqima “to stay, to be” qqim perf.3.sg.m. wuššən “jackal” EA
  • alliy-t-inɣa “when he afflicted him” alliy- “when” –t“him” acc.pron.3.sg.m. –inɣa “he afflicted” nəɣ perf.3.sg.m.
  • laẓ “hunger” EA subject

day iddu ar-ittšuš i-ʕari

then he went roaming in the desert

  • day “then”
  • iddu “he went” ddu aor.3.sg.m.
  • ar-ittšuš “roaming” ar continuative particle (+ impf.) ittšuš impf. 3.sg.m. tt- + ss +šəṭ “to cause to glide” tt- impf.pref. ss- caus.pref.
  • i-ʕari  “in the desert” i- prep. “in” ʕari  “desert” EA

alliy id̠̣əṛəṛ xəf izəm, yaf-t-inn ar-t-ittawi yiṭṣ i-ʕari.

untill he fell upon a lion, he found him there sleeping in the desert.

  • alliy “when”
  • id̠̣əṛ “he fell” d̠̣əṛ aor. 3.sg.m.
  • xəf “on, about”
  • izəm “lion” EA
  • yaf-t-inn “he found him there” yaf- “he found” af aor. 3.sg.m., –t“him” acc.pron.3.sg.m., –inn “thither” orientation particle “thither”
  •  ar-t-ittawi yiṭṣ “sleeping” ar continuative particle, –t“him” acc.pron.3.sg.m., ittawi “carries” awəy “to carry” impf. 3.sg.m.  yiṭṣ “sleep”

Inn-as: “A-ʕəmmi izəm, idd-is-knɣant wallən?”

He said to him: “O uncle lion, do your eyes hurt?”

  • Inn-as“he said to him” Ini “to say” perf.3.sg.m., as “to him” dat.pron. 3.sg.m verbal satellite
  • A-ʕəmmi izəm “o uncle lion” a- vocative particle, ʕəmmi “paternal uncle”  izəm “lion” EL
  • idd-is-knɣant “do they hurt to you” idd- question particle, –is- “to” prep., –k “you” acc.pron. 2.sg.m. (sandhi-variant –kinstead of –š-), –nɣant “they afflict” nəɣ perf. 3.pl.f.
  • wallən “eyes” EA subject

Inn-as: “nɣant-i” Inn-as: “Ad-aš nəʕtəx asafar.”

The lion said to him: “My eyes do hurt”. The jackal said to the lion: “Shall I show you medicine?”

  • nɣant“they afflict” nəɣ perf. 3.pl.f., –i “me” acc.pron. 1.sg.
  • Ad-aš nəʕtəx “shall I show you”, adprojective particle (future), –“to you” dat.pron. 2.sg.m verbal satellite, nəʕtəx  “I show” nəʕt aor. 1.sg.
  • Asafar “medicine” EL object

Inn-as: “Mani-y-illa?” Inn-as: “Illa gg-wul n-məžžɣyulʸ, ḥaš-aš.”

the lion said to him: “Where is it?” the jackal said to him: “It is in the heart of the hyena, pardon the word.”

  • Mani-y-illa “where is it”  mani- “where”, –y- transitional glide, -illa “is it” ili perf.3.sg.m.
  •  gg-wul n-məžžɣyulʸ “in the heart of the hyena” gg-wul < *i(y)-wul (sandhi-effect) i- “in” prep., n- “of” genitive particle,  məžžɣyulʸ “hyena” EA
  • ḥaš-aš “pardon the word”, ḥaša- “absolutely not, never” –“to you” dat.pron. 2.sg.m verbal satellite,  expression used by taboo-subjects, can be translated more litterally as “loin de toi”.

Inn-as: “I-m-ay-i-t-id ittawiyn?” Inn-as: “Ad-aš-t-id awix nəkk!”

The lion said to him: “Who will bring it to me?” The jackal said: “I will bring it to you”.

  • I-m-ay-i-t-id ittawiyn “who will bring it to me” ma- “who” question particle, –ay- “that” relative pronoun, -i- “to” prep., t“it” acc.pron. 3.sg.m., –id  “hither” orientation particle
  • Ad-aš-t-id awix nəkk “(I) will bring it to you” Adprojective particle (future), –– “to you” dat.pron. 2.sg.m., –t“it” acc.pron. 3.sg.m., –id  “hither” orientation particle. nəkk “I” independent pers.pron. (appositive).

Iddu ɣər məžžɣyulʸ, ḥaš-aš, inn-as: “Ma-š-yaɣən lla ttsḥizunt zəgg-uḍaṛ?”

He went to the hyena, pardon the word, and he said to him: “What has happened to you that you limp on a foot?”

  • iddu “he went” ddu aor.3.sg.m.
  • ɣər “to, toward” prep.
  • Ma-š-yaɣən “what has happened to you”, ma- “what” question particle,  -(a)š- “to you” dat.pron. 2.sg.m,  –yaɣən “has happened” relative subject participle (aor.)
  • lla ttsḥizunt  “that you limp” lla- extensive particle (durative),  ttsḥizunt “you limp” sḥizun < *tt + ss + ḥzən “to be afflicted” impf. 2.sg.
  • zəgg-uḍaṛ “on a foot” < *zəy-uḍaṛ, zəy “from” prep.,  uḍaṛ EA

Inn-as: “A-uddi,  iʕəṛṛəm-iyi!” Inn-as: “ʕiyyənx-aš aḍbib.”

the hyena said to him: “o friend, I am in pain!” the jackal said to him”I will point you to a doctor”

  • A-uddi “o friend,” a- vocative particle, –uddi “friend” EL
  • iʕəṛṛəm-iyi “I am in pain,” iʕəṛṛəm “to have pain” ʕəṛṛəm aor. 3.sg.m., –iyi- “to me” acc.pronoun. 1.sg.
  • ʕiyyənx-aš “I will point you,” ʕiyyənx “I will point” ʕiyyən aor. 1.sg., –“to you” dat.pron. 2.sg.m verbal satellite.
  • aḍbib “doctor” EL

Inn-as: “Iwa kkər-ax ad-ɣuṛ-s nmun!”

He said to him: “So stand up to us and we will travel to him together!”

  • iwa “so” continuity particle
  • kkər-ax “stand up” kkər < *nkər “to stand up, to set to” imp. 2.sg., ax “to us” dat.pronoun. 1.pl.
  • ad-ɣuṛ-s  “to him,” adprojective particle, ɣuṛ “to” prep., –s “him” dat.pron. 3.sg.
  • nmun “we travel together” mun “to accompany, to be together” aor. 1.pl.

Ddun-d alliy-d iwḍən izəm.

They went untill they reached the lion

  • ddun- “they went” ddu “to go” aor.3.pl.m., –d hitherorientation particle
  • alliy-“untill” alliy “when, untill” temporal particle, –d hitherorientation particle
  • iwḍən “they reached” awəḍ “to arrive” pf. 3.pl.m.
  • izəm “lion” EL

Nitni iwḍən izəm, inn-as wuššən i-məžžɣyul:

They reached the lion, and the jackal said to the hyena:

  • Nitni “they” indepedent personal pron.
  • iwḍən “they reached” awəḍ “to arrive” pf. 3.pl.m.
  • wuššən “jackal” EA
  • i-məžžɣyul “to the hyena” i- “to” prep., məžžɣyul “hyena” EA

“Sillis aḍbib, ẓẓayən-as šwiʸ iməžžann.”

“Come close to the doctor, he is a little hard of hearing.”

  • Silliʸ “come close” silləy < *ss + illəy “to make room, to come close,” imper. 2.sg., –s “to him” dat.pron. 3.sg.
  • aḍbib “doctor” EL
  • ẓẓayən-as “they are heavy to him” ẓẓay aor. 3.pl.m.,
  • as “to him” dat.pron. 3.sg.m verbal satellite.
  • šwiʸ “a little”
  • iməžžann “ears” amezzuɣ pl. EA

Nətta isilliʸ ɣuṛ-s, iggʷəd-as irwəl, day itfuṛ-t-wuššən, inn-as:

He came closer to him, but he was afraid and fled, so the jackal followed him and said:

  • nətta “he” independent personal pron.
  • isilliʸ “he comes closes” silləy “to make room, to come close” aor. 3.sg.m.
  • ɣuṛ-s “to him,” ɣuṛ- “to” prep., –s “him” acc.pron. 3.sg.
  • irwəl “he ran away” ərwəl “to run, to flee” aor. 3.sg.m.
  • day “so, then”  continuity particle
  • itfuṛ-t-wuššən “the jackal followed him,” itfuṛ– “he followed” tfuṛ “to follow, to chase” aor. 3.sg.m., t“him” acc.pronoun. 3.sg.m., wuššən “jackal” EL
  • iggʷəd-as “he was afraid of him” ggʷəd < *wwəd   “to be afraid” aor. 3.sg.m., as “to him” dat.pron. 3.sg.m verbal satellite

“Inddmad əy-tərwəlt, aḍar-ənnəš ira ad-ižžiʸ.

“You fled immediately, (when) he wanted to cure your foot”

  • inddmad “immediately” dialectal form of idmadd.
  • əy-tərwəlt “you fled” əy- < *aḡ demonstr.pron. in cleft sentences, tərwəlt < * tərwəld, ərwəl, “to flee” aor. 3.sg.m.
  • aḍar-ənnəš “your foot” EL direct object, aḍar “foot”, ənnəš “your” poss.pron. 3.sg.
  • ira “he wants” iri “to want” aor. 3.sg.m.
  •  ad-ižžiʸ “he will cure”, ad projective particle (future), ižžiʸ “he cures” žžəy “to cure” aor. 3.sg.m.

bar is təggʷədd i-uryaz iran ad-aš iyy asafar?”

It isnt the case that you are afraid for the person who wants to bring medicine to you?”

  • bar conjunction “isn’t it the case, perhaps that”
  • is question particle
  • təggʷədd  “you are afraid” ggʷəd < *wwəd   “to be afraid” aor. 2.sg.
  • i-uryaz “to the man” i “to” prep., uryaz “man” EA
  • iran “who wants” iri “to want” relative subject participle sg.
  • ad-aš “to you” adprojective particle, –“to you” dat.pron. 2.sg.m. verbal satellite.
  • Iyy “he puts, does” y- < *ḡ- “to do, to put” aor. 3.sg.m.
  • Asafar “medicine” EL

Alliy-t-id irura, iṣṣiwəḍ-as-t-id i-izəm, inn-as:

Then the hyena returned to the jackal and the jackal brought the hyena to the lion and said to him:

  • Alliy-t-id “then to him” alliy- “then” temporal particle, t“him” acc.pronoun. 3.sg.m., -id “hither” orientation particle
  • Irura “he returned” rar “to return” perf. 3.sg.m.
  • iṣṣiwəḍ-as-t-id “he brought him to him” iṣṣiwəḍ “to cause to arrive” ṣṣiwəḍ < *ss + awəḍ aor. 3.sg.m., as “to him” dat.pron. 3.sg.m verbal satellite, , t“him” acc.pronoun. 3.sg.m., -id “hither” orientation particle
  • i-izəm “to the lion” i- “to” prep., -izəm “lion” EA

“Ad-ur-ttəggʷəd i-uryaz is-iran ad-aš iyy asafar!”

“You should not be afraid of the person who wants to do medicine to you!”

  • Ad-ur-ttəggʷəd “You should not be afraid” Adprojective particle, -ur- “not” negative particle, ttəggʷəd “You are not afraid” ggʷəd < *wwəd “to be afraid” impf. 2.sg.
  • i-uryaz “to the man” i- “to” prep., uryaz “man” EA
  • is-iran “who wants” is- “who” relat.pron., –iran “wanting” iri “to want” pf. relative subject participle.
  • ad-aš “to you” adprojective particle, –“to you” dat.pron. 2.sg.m. verbal satellite.
  • Iyy “he puts, does” y- < *ḡ – “to do, to put” aor. 3.sg.m.
  • Asafar “medicine” EL

day iwwət-t izəm, irdəl-t.

Then the lion hit him and brought him down.

  • day “then” continuity particle
  • iwwət-t “he hit him” iwwət < *iwwət “he hit” (sandhi-induced despirantization) wwət ( also gʷət) “to hit, to strike” aor. 3.sg.m., t < *t “him” acc.pronoun. 3.sg.m.
  • izəm EA
  • irdəl-t “he brought him down” irdəl- “he brought down” ərdəl “to fall, to make fall” aor. 3.sg.m., –t “him” acc.pronoun. 3.sg.m.

Inn-as wuššən: “Aǧǧ-i-nəkk at-t-azux!”

Then the jackal said to him: “Leave him to me and I will flay him.”

  • Aǧǧ-i-nəkk “leave to me” Aǧǧ- “leave”  imper. 2.sg., –i- “to” prep.,  –nəkk “me” independent pron. 1.sg.
  • at-t-azux “I will flay him” at- < *ad projective particle (future) (sandhi-induced despirantization), –t- < t“him” acc.pronoun. 3.sg.m., –azux “I flay” azu “to flay” aor. 1.sg.

d(a)-ar-t-ittazu wuššən.

and the jackal flayed him.

  • d“and” prep. “with” used as conjunct., –ar- continuative particle,  t“him” acc.pron. 3.sg.m., –ittazu “he flayed” azu “to flay” impf. 3.sg.m.
  • wuššən “jackal” EA

Alliy-t-yazu day ičč ul-n-məžžɣyulʸ

When he had flayed him he ate the heart of the hyena (himself).

  • Alliy-t-yazu “when he had flayed him,” alliy- “when” temporal particle, t“him” acc.pron. 3.sg.m., –yazu “he flayed” azu “to flay”aor. 3.sg.m.
  •  day “then” continuative particle
  •  Ičč “he ate” čč- “to eat” aor. 3.sg.m.
  • ul-n-məžžɣyulʸ “the heart of the hyena,” ul- “heart’ EL, –n- “of” genitive particle, məžžɣyulʸ “hyena”

Bibligraphy
Arsène Roux, Textes Berbères du Maroc central (textes originaux en transcription) Tome 1: récits, contes et légendes berbères dans le parles des Beni-Mtir et choix de versions berbères (parlers du Maroc central), Harry Stroomer ed., Berber Studies 18 (Cologne 2007).

Thomas G. Penchoen, Tamazight of the Ayt Ndhir, Wolf Leslau and Thomas G. Penchoen eds., Afroasiatic dialects I (Los Angeles 1973).

On Rainbows, sex change and marrying a sky god

Relations of Pre-Islamic Berber fertility conceptions with Indo-European mythology 

The appearance of a rainbow in the sky has fired mans imagination to many mythical beliefs. For example, the medieval Scandinavians believed the gods walked across the mythical rainbow bifrǫst (PGmc. < *biƀarastō “trembling road”), which they conceived of as a road to heaven guarded from the giants by the god Heimdall.[1] Folk beliefs surrounding rainbows have proven remarkably resilient to the monoculturizing aspirations of christianity and islam. In premodern Europe, many sub-christian conceptions about the nature of rainbows survived the prescriptivism of the church. The conception concerning a pot of gold falling to the individual who makes it to the end of the rainbow is still widely known, even nowadays in 21st century Europe. Other conceptions have withered; Grimm reported that in 18th c. Serbia people attributed gender changing powers to rainbows, every boy was turned into a girl when he passed under a rainbow (Grimm 1875: 610).[2]

Also in Maghrib Africa some non-Islamic conceptions have survived the cultural steamroller of an institutionalized monotheistic religion, in this case Islam. In Morocco the rainbow is an omen signalling happiness and the much desired rains (Becker 2003: 111). In Middle Atlas Berber the word for rainbow is Tisəlit n-unẓar [3], which means “the bride of the rain” (mariée de la pluie), In Maghrebi Arabic we find ʿārūs s-sḥāb, ʿāṛūst əs-sta (Rabat), l-əʿṛōsa d-əš-šta (Northern Ibala area), laʿṛūsa dyāl əš-šta and ʿāṛūst əs-sma (Cherchell Algeria)“bride of the heaven,” which are all calques from Berber (Behnstedt 2010: 416).[4] The rainbow simultaneously symbolizes the fertility of women and the fertility of the land, with the interrelationship reinforced by female rainmaking rituals. The name “bride of the rain” may originally have been connected to the colourfulness of Berber bridal gowns and the other way around living Berber tradition connects the colourfulness of the wedding dresses with the colours of the rainbow.

However, another connection might be proposed. In ancient Greece the rainbow was called ἶρις, (gen. ἶριδος), a word that could also mean the halo of the moon.[5] The Greeks also believed that rainbows signified coming rain. The deification of the rainbow as the goddess Ἶρις, the divine offspring of Thaumas and Elektra, is therefore interesting since our rainbow goddess is married to Ζέφυρος, the god of the favourable west wind and the foreboder of spring and good weather[6]. Even when Ζέφυρος is called stormy (Gk. δυσαής) and noisy (Gk. κελαδεινός), he fulfills the favourable role of kindling Patroklos’ pyre (Illias II, 200-220). That the word Ζέφυρος may have been connected to primitive Greek conceptions of fertility is suggested by its etymology. The most accepted etymology connects the word to the PIE root *h3i̯ebh“futuere” (cf. Skt. yábhati “copulate”), which is plausible provided we accept the soundlaw PIE *Hi̯- > Gk. *ζ-, i.e. PIE *h3i̯ebh-u-ros > Gk. ζέφυρος (Beekes 2009: 499). We may therefore interpret the theonym as originally alluding to the virility of the West Wind.

In ancient Rome the rainbow was also associated with coming rains, although the rainbow itself was not deified and was simply called arcus caelestis. A bawdy scene in Plautus’ Curculio relates the Roman belief that rainbows sucked up terrestrial waters that later came down in the form of rain, which is confirmed by later Roman authors like Plinius (Arnott 1995: 191). The Romans also believed that rainbows signified the blessing of Juno, a goddess associated with fertility rites (e.g. the lupercalia), indicating a similar connection between rainbows and fertility as in North Africa.

What I am hinting at is the possibility that the mythological “marriage” of rainbows as omens of rain and fertility with a personification of “virile, masculine weather” may have been a shared conception on either side of the Mediterranean. We may note that Ἶρις as the rainbow goddess was clad in an extremely colourful dress for the colours of her dress matched the colours of the rainbow (Parisinou 2005: 34). The same analogy is made of the rainbow and wedding dresses in Berber culture[7]. That the conception of the rainbow as such might be more wide-spread is also suggested by the 18th c. Bavarian folk belief that a deity identified by the farmers as the virgin Mary brings fertile rains (Quitzman 1860: 132). Interestingly this female deity, who might be identified as the Germanic goddess *siƀō (OIc. sif) does so, clad in a colourfull dress who’s seam is perceived by the mortals as a rainbow.

In Scandinavian mythology the goddess Sif, goddess of fertile rains, is married to the thunder god Þor. Here we find the same pairing of “raingoddess” with “virile weather” or even “virile sky god”. In this regard we should also note that the ancient Aryans attributed the rainbow to the god Indra, the dyaus pitar (father of the sky). Although this evidence might suggest an Indo-European basis for the “marriage” between “rainbows” and “sky gods” we might also be dealing with a mythological motive that is not exclusive to any part of the world. A good illustration of the “universality” of the motive can be found accross the Atlantic where the Iroquois guardian of heaven, Hino “the thunderer”, is said to be married to the rainbow. Nevertheless, the Berber image of the rainbow as “the bride of the rain(god)” might very well have originated in the Indo-European cultural sphere, having crossed the Mediterranean as so many cultural items have.

Bibliography

Arnott, Geoffrey W., “The opening of Plautus’ Curculio: Comic business and mime”, in: Plautus und die Tradition des Stegreifspiels, Lore Benz e.a. eds. (Tübingen 1995) 185-192.

Becker, Cynthia, “Gender, Identity and Morroccan weddings”, in: Wedding dress across cultures, Helen Bradly Foster et Donald Clay Johnson eds. (Oxford 2003)

Beekes, Robert S.P., Etymological dictionary of Greek, 2 vols, Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series 10/1-2 (Leiden 2009).

Behnstedt, Peter et Manfred Woidich, Wortatlas der Arabische Dialekte; band I: Mensch, Natur, Flora und Fauna (Leiden 2010).

Grimm, Jacob, Deutsche Mythologie (Berlin 1875-77).

Lee, Raymond L. et Alistair B. Fraser, The Rainbow Bridge; rainbows in art, myth and science (Pennsylvania 2001).

Parisinou, Eva, “Brightness Personified; light and divine image in ancient Greece” in: Personification in the Greek world; from antiquity to Byzantium, Emma Stafford et Judith Herrin eds. (London 2005) 29-44.

Quitzman, Anton, Die heidnische Religion der Baiuwaren; erster faktischer Beweis für die Abstammung dieses Volkes (Heidelberg 1860).


[1] On the other side of the globe, the aborigines of Australia believe the rainbow is a manifestation of a bisexual (or female) rainbow serpent.

[2] Apparently this belief was widespread in European cultures, not only found in Serbia but also in the folklores of Early Modern France, Germany, Albania (Lee et Frasier 2001). In the north of Olténie people apparently believed that anyone who hopped under a rainbow was granted a sex change. (see Handbuch des Deutschen Aberglaubens II 753).

[3] The rainbow is also called taməġra n-wuššən in Tamazight which means “the wedding of the jackal”.

[4] See Behnstedt 2004.

[5] Gk. ἶρις (< PGk. *ϝιρις) is often etymologically connected to the PIE root *u̯eh1i- “to bend” and can formally be compared with OIc. vírr “twisted ornament”.

[6] In Roman mythology the attribution of favourable weather to the god of the west wind is also clear from its name, i.e. favonius.

[7] However, the image of the rainbow as a woman clad in colourful cloths is not restricted to the mediterranean. The Arab poet Ibn al-Rūmi (869 CE) who lived and worked in Bagdad also likenes the rainbow as a maiden clothed in a gaily-coloured dress.