Saturday, 28 April 2018

To get white

In my post about Russian steam baths called "banya" I postulated that this type of steam bath is the origin of the Finnish and Scandinavian saunas.

Now here is something else interesting about these Slavic steam baths: their name.

In Slavic languages, the word "banya" or "banja" as a noun can mean a steam bath, mineral water spa, bathroom, bathtub, and as a verb "banjati se" it means washing of ones body in general.

The etymology of the word banja is very interesting.

"Banja" (act of bathing, bathing place)
From Proto-Slavic "*banja" (bath)
From Vulgar Latin "*bānea", "*banniu" (bath)
From Latin "balneum", "balineum" (bath, bathing place)
From Ancient Greek "βαλανεῖον", "balanion" meaning "bath, bathing room"

The Wiktionary has this to say about the etymology of the Ancient Greek root "βαλανεῖον", "balanion" meaning "bath, bathing room":

"Etymology uncertain. Attempts have been made to connect with βάλανος (balanos, “acorn”), but are semantically unconvincing. Probably Pre-Greek."

So the root for Slavic word "banja" is Vulgar Latin "bānea" which has root in Latin "balneum" which has root in Old Greek "balaneîon" which has no etymology in Greek. Which "Pre-Greek" language does this word, which was first attested in 5th BC Attic dialect of Ancient Greek, come from?

Let me see if I can solve this mystery.


When I was a kid, I was constantly dirty. Me and my brother spent every moment we could out in the fields, forests, swamps, building sites, farmyards, caves... and were usually covered from head to toe in dirt. Which means that every evening we had to wash ourselves from head to toe too. And this is how my mother explained to us what washing is and when and how to wash:

"When do we wash? We wash when we get dirty. How do we know that we are dirty? We know that we are dirty when our skin is not white any more, when it gets dark from mud, or blood or some other kind of dirt. Why do we wash? We wash to remove dirt from our bodies, from our skin and hair. And when do we stop washing? When all the dirt is removed. And how do we know that all the dirt is removed? We know that all the dirt is removed when our skin is white..."

Indoeuropean languages are languages of Indoeruopean people. And Indoeuropean people are white people (R1a, R1b, I1, I2). And for white people, washing is equivalent to "getting white". Clean = White. 

In Serbian "bel", "beli" means white. The word comes from Proto-Slavic "bělъ" meaning "white". From Proto-Indo-European root noun "*bʰēlHs" or "*bʰel-" ‎(“white surface or stain”). Cognates include Lithuanian bãlas, báltas ‎(“white”), Latvian bãls ‎("pale") and balts ‎("white"), Albanian bal, balo (dog or goat with a white spot on the forehead), Old Armenian բալ ‎(bal, “fog”), Sanskrit भाल ‎(bhāla, “splendour”).

These Latvian cognates are very interesting.

The word "balts" meaning "white" comes from an unattested verb "*balt" ‎(“to become white”) of which "balts" originally was the past participle form. Now in South Slavic languages "belit, beliti, belet, beleti" means "to make white, to become white, to fade". So the "unattested" root verb exists in Slavic languages, showing that the Latvian words are most probably borrowing from Slavic languages.

The word "bals" meaning "pale" was originally a parallel form to an older adjective "*bals" which disappeared but left related terms like the verbs "balot, balēt" to bleach, to fade,"balināt" to whiten, to blanch. In South Slavic languages "bel se, beli se" means it's white, it shines (because it's white), "belet, beleti" means to whiten, to fade. So again I believe that these words are borrowings from Slavic languages.

These Latvian words show that white and pale originally meant one and the same thing.

This is someone with "pale" skin, often seen in Northern Europe.


For all intents and purposes you can call this skin white. And in Latvian "baltā rase"‎ means white (= Caucasian) race. In South Slavic languages this would be "bela, belata rasa".

Latvians have also preserved the original meaning of the word "bel" (white) that we are interested in in this article, which is "bel" (white) = clean.

"uzvilkt sestdienā baltu veļu"‎ ― to wear white linen (clean clothes) on Saturday

Now as I already said, when I was a kid and when I got dirty, I was sent to wash myself. After finishing the washing, I would come out of the bath to the comments from my mother that I was now "beautiful".

This link between being clean, being white and being beautiful is very strong in Serbian (and in general Slavic) culture.

In Serbian folk poetry, beauty is always associated with white skin. Someone beautiful has "belo lice" (white face) and "belo grlo" (white neck). 



And now let's have a look at the Ancient Greek word "βαλανεῖον", "balanion" meaning "bath, bathing room" which is supposed to be the root of the Slavic word "banja" meaning "bath, bathing".  

The Wiktionary says that the word "βαλανεῖον" has "uncertain etymology" and that the word is "probably Pre-Greek".

Now in my post about Slavic wash houses called "banja" I talked about the fact that the early Greek records mock the Slavs as "the people who wash in banjas every day".

An early description of the banya comes from the East Slavic Primary Chronicle of 1113. According to the Chronicle, or as it was called by its authors, The Tale of Bygone Years, the Apostle Andrew visited the territories that were later to become Russia and Ukraine during his visit to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea. The belief was held that Andrew crossed through East Slavic lands from the mouth of the Dnieper River, past the hills on which Kiev would later be founded, and went as far north as the ancient city of Novgorod. He had this to say about the Slavic bathing customs:

"Wondrous to relate," said he, "I saw the land of the Slavs, and while I was among them, I noticed their wooden bathhouses. They warm them to extreme heat, then undress, and after anointing themselves with tallow, they take young reeds and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water, and thus are revived. They think nothing of doing this every day, and actually inflict such voluntary torture on themselves. They make of the act not a mere washing but a veritable torment."

And what happens when the people who belong to the white Indoeuropean race, like Slavs, wash themselves? They get white. And in Slavic Indoeuropean languages the word for white is "bel". So the process of washing is the process of getting white. So is it possible that the wash house, bath, bathing room was originally seen as the place where you "get clean, get white"? And is it possible then that the word used for such place would have word for white in it? Like "bel" meaning white and "bele(a)n" meaning "made white". I believe so. 

So the Ancient Greek βαλανεῖον meaning "bath, bathing room, place of bathing" can be broken into: 

βαλαν + εῖον 

βαλαν (bele(a)n) - Pre-Greek, PIE, Slavic verb meaning "made white, whitening". Modern Serbian beljen.
εῖον (eîon) - Ancient-Greek ending meaning "the place of"

Together they give the meaning "the place of whitening, the place of cleaning, the place of washing, bathing"...

So how did this word enter Ancien Greek? 

What do you think about this?

O and by the way. Today's Greek word for bath, bathroom is "λουτρό" (loutro). The word comes from Ancient Greek "λουτρόν" (loutrón) meaning "bath, bathing-place, water used for bathing". 

This Ancient-Greek word is said to come from Proto-Indo-European "*lówh₃trom" meaning "that which is used for washing", which in turn comes from Proto-Indo-European "*lewh₃-" meaning "to wash, bathe"... 

Now here is something interesting. Apparently this PIE root has descendants in:

Albanian: laj
Ancient Greek: λούω (loúō), λουτρόν (loutrón)
Italic: *lawaō
Latin: lavō, lābrum (possibly)
Celtic: *lowatrom 
Germanic: *lauþrą, *laugō
Old Armenian: լոգանամ (loganam), լուանամ (luanam)

All meaning "to wash, to bath"

There are no cognates in Slavic languages. 

However in Slavic languages we find the word "lev" meaning "pouring". Which is what we do when we wash. The verb "levati" means "to pour" and the word "levanica" means "libation". And guess what? The Ancient-Greek word λουτρόν (loutrón) which means "bath, bathing-place, water used for bathing" also means "(poetic) libation to the dead"...

Eeee....

Friday, 13 April 2018

Lion killing snake



I came across this very interesting object on edgarlowen.com auction site:

9764. ROMANESQUE MARBLE SCULPTURE. France or Northern Italy, Romanesque period, c. 11th-13th century. A free standing triangular sculpture, likely from an early church, with a man with unkept hair, most likely Jesus, grasping the head of a lion which in turn holds a serpent in its mouth. Clearly a highly symbolic piece though the exact meaning is somewhat obscure. 5.5 x 10.5 x 19 inches. Excellent condition, all original with no repair or restoration. Extremely rare and a very remarkable piece of early Christian iconography.

Though not certain, the symbology of this piece most likely refers to Psalm 91:11-13 "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet." which is traditionally taken to refer to the defeat of Satan (represented by the serpent and the lion) by Jesus. The passage led to the Late Antique and Early Medieval iconography of Christ treading on the beasts, where beasts were most often depicted as lion and snake, both of which represented the devil, as explained by Cassiodorus and Bede in their commentaries on Psalm 91.  

The earliest and one of the most beautiful example of the depiction of the "Christ treading on the beasts" scene can be found in the "Basilica of San Vitale" in Ravenna which was built by Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547 AD.


In my post "You will trample the great lion and the serpent" I wrote that this scene could actually have a secret meaning linked to the solar cult, which Christianity was trying to replace at the time when this scene started to appear. 

Summer starts on the 6th of May, Day of Jarilo, Beltine. Jarilo represents the sun's heat, symbolized by the snake and the dragon. Funnily Jarilo was Christianized into St George, the Dragon killer :) In Serbia, St Jeremija who is celebrated at the beginning of May is known as the Snake Saint. His day (1st of May according to the Julian calendar, 14th of May according to the Gregorian calendar) is the time when people perform magic ceremonies for protection from snakes...Interesting both names Jarilo and J(a)eremija have the root "jar" meaning "bright heat".

Summer ends on the 2nd of August, Day of Perun, Lughnasadh. Day of Perun falls in the middle of the Leo (Lion) zodiac sign. 



So summer is the period between the Day of Jarilo (Snake) and the Day of Perun (Lion). And in the middle of the summer is Day of Svetovid, the Summer solstice. The point when Sun in the northern hemisphere reaches its highest point above the horizon. 

Now have a look at "Christ treading on the beasts" scene again: 

Christ standing with his legs spread, with one leg on the snake (the beginning of the summer) and the other leg on the lion (the end of the summer). His head, with the solar halo is right at the point of the summer solstice, when Sun god is the most high...

If you make the Most High your dwelling...you will trample the great lion and the serpent...

You will be in the summer on the northern hemisphere...



How look at the above artefact again.


Christ is gone, and instead we see a head with what looks like dreadlocks. I believe that this head is the head of Helios, the old Titan Sun God. On Ancient Greek coins, he is portrayed in three different ways:

A man with dreadlocks hair and long sun rays



A man with dreadlocks hair and short sun rays



A man with dreadlocks hair and no sun rays



The sun's heat increases all the way through the summer until we reach the hottest point of the summer, the 2nd of August. This point marks the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn, the end of the heating and the beginning of the cooling of the northern hemisphere. I talked about this in my post "Two crosses".

The 2nd of August, is when Serbs celebrate Sveti Ilija (St Elijah) who is Christian version of Helios.

This is Helios



This is Elijah



As I already said, the sun's heat is represented by a snake. And the 2nd of August, the end of summer, the end the heating of the northern hemisphere, falls in the middle of the zodiac sign Leo, lion. 

The Serbian folk tradition says that every year at the end of the summer, St Elijah gets so angry that he wants to "burn the whole world down". But he never does, because right on the day of St Elijah, the summer ends, the lion kills the snake and the autumn begins...

Very interesting, right?