Nouvelle Mythologie Comparée / New Comparative Mythology n°3 (French Edition) (French) Paperback – March 1, 2017


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Metamorphosis amid myths, initiation rites and Romanian folk tales Ana R. Chelariu

My recent article could be downloaded in PDF format from the following link

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Winter solstice was the time of many important festivals in the European antiquity. People believed that in the shortest day of the year the sun dies and must be helped through rituals using the power of fire to revive the astral divinity, which in turn would give abundant crops, prosperity and wealth for men and animals.

The Romanian folklore, as well as the folklore of other European countries, is very rich in customs related to the winter solstice. Among a few of the most important Romanian rituals in the winter time specifically related to fire is the rolling of burning wheels down the hills which recreates the rolling of the sun in the sky, custom found in many European traditions, particularly German one. The interdiction to give away fire from one’s home on Christmas Eve is another custom, or that of young boys rummaging the fireplace to stir up the fire and increase its power, while singing the carols. (Vulcănescu 1987)  For the Christmas Eve dinner women must bake round breads, “colaci”, that symbolize the sun, or in the shape of hands in some other parts of the country, perhaps symbolizing the hands of Crăciun’s wife, as in the very popular folktale: when Virgin Mary was looking for a place to give birth, she knocks at the house where Crăciun “Father Christmas’ and his wife Crăciuneasa are living; because young Mary was having a child out of the wedlock Crăciun is not willing to offer her hospitality.  In spite of her husband’s interdiction, Crăciuneasa houses Virgin Mary in the stable and helps her give birth to Baby Jesus. That angers Crăciun, who cuts off his wife’s hands; Virgin Mary will perform a miracle and Crăciuneasa will have new golden hands. Researchers consider the golden hands as part of an ancient cult of the sun (Muşu 1982).  The motif of mutilated hands is well represented in the Indo-European tradition, as for example the German god Tyr losing his hand to Fenriswolf, just as Crăciuneasa loses her hands to help the Virgin Mary. In the end, Crăciun becomes the first Christian. His conversion may be considered a proof of his condition as a pre-Christian deity.

A general custom in many European households is for people on the Eve of Christmas to bring inside the house a log or stamp named the Christmas log, mostly of oak, known in English as the Yule log, named in Romanian “butucul crăciunului”. This oak log was kept burning until spring in the belief that the weaken sun needs help to raise and shine the next day. As Frazer writes “…it is no very far-fetched conjecture to suppose that the Yule log, which figures so prominently in the popular celebration of Christmas, was originally designed to help the laboring sun of midwinter to rekindle his seemingly expiring light.” (Frazer 1922: 746) The Romanian folk researchers of the 19th Century found the custom of the burning oak on the Christmas Eve well represented in many areas of the country. The same custom was found in the Megleno-Romanian homes, where on Eve Christmas a log named ‘boadnic’ was brought in to burn until the January holiday of ‘baptism’ bobotează, when its ashes were spread at the roots of fruit trees to assure their fertility. In the French tradition this log is called ‘chalendal, chalendaou, calignaou, calnos’, (Ionescu 1978) to which we can add the Romanian călindău, another name used to designate the Christmas log. The custom is also well known among the surrounding Slavic groups, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Russians, Serbian-Slovaks, and is very popular in the North-West part of Europe. The same with the Romanians in all these areas the Christmas oak log was ceremoniously brought into the house on Christmas Eve and burnt incessantly for as long as possible.

In most of these traditions the log, representing the weak sun, was kept until spring when its powers of light and fertility were increased, and when its ashes were spread on the fields before plowing, or mixed with the food that was given to the animals and the poultry, all in the belief that this will make them healthier and more productive. This custom stays witness to the sacred role of oak in the Indo-European mythology: “The worship of the oak tree or of the oak god appears to have been shared by all the branches of the Aryan stock in Europe. Both Greeks and Italians associated the tree with their highest god, Zeus or Jupiter, the divinity of the sky, the rain, and the thunder. Perhaps the oldest and certainly one of the most famous sanctuaries in Greece was that of Dodona, where Zeus was revered in the oracular oak” (Frazer 1971: 184)

It is well known that ancient Celts did not perform any of their rituals without oak leaves, and their image of God was a tall oak. For Germans the holy tree was the oak, symbolizing their main god Donar or Thunar, as the Scandinavian Thor, all words with the meaning of ‘thunder’. The Slavic god of thunder Perun like the Lithuanian god of thunder and lightning, Perkunas or Perkun, were honored by sacred endless burning fires. In Lithuania men sacrificed to the oak-tree, while women sacrificed to the lime-tree, perhaps because they considered the oak a male spirit. In Germany and Scandinavia the oak tree was the center of the world, a source of luck and protection, celebrated as late as the 19th century. It was believed that gods used to assemble beneath the World Tree or the World Pillar, thus people sacrificed at its roots. Since the name for the World Tree was Yggdrasil and one of the many names of Odin, or Wodan, was Yggr, the usual interpretation for this name is ‘the horse of Yggr.” (Davidson 1988: 170)

It is a well-known fact that Indo-Europeans used the sacred oak-wood to light their sacred fires for their ceremonies, and that they related the oak to the power of thunder. In the Romanian folklore and that of the Balkans the trees cult survived well into the 20th Century. The Romanians revered evergreens and oaks, as is testified by a custom from 17th Century called ‘the judgment by the borders under the oaks’: the oak had the role of border delimitation but also that of a witness for settling property disputes. (Vulcănescu 1972) The sacred role of the oak in the Romanian tradition is proved again by the old shepherds’ custom according to which the shepherd settled court for the bare sheep under an oak.

The Romanian word for this log ‘butucul Crăciunului’, the Christmas log, also name for the Christmas holiday, Crăciun, has a controversial etymology, and subject of many disputes. The official solution for ‘Crăciun‘ etymology was through the Latin word “creatio, -onis” ‘creation’ (Densusianu O. 1929-1932; Rosetti 1971), a derivative from the verb ‘to create out of nothing’. Yet, this meaning does not agree to that of natalis, as it is used by all the Christians, ‘Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad’, or in Russian rozdestwo, Ukrainian rizdvo, all connoting the act of born not of created. To accept the Latin etymology one would have to look at the historical developments of Christianity on the Romanian territory and assume the existence of a formed clergy who would associate the Latin concept of ‘creatio’ already existing in the Daco-Roman language with that of ‘the birth of Christ’, even though in all the other Romance languages thebirth of Christ was associated with the notion of ‘birth‘, not with that of ‘creation’. Such association is contradicting the religious Christian belief in the divine birth of Christ from a woman, as in the religious formula născut iar nu făcut “born but not made/created”.  If the meaning of the word would be that of ‘creation’ why it will be also the appellative for the character from the story we mentioned above Crăciun, a mean old man who would not let the Virgin Marry into his house?

Another hypothesis was that the word has its root in the Slavic languages, hypothesis contradicted by the fact that “the geographic spread of the word Crăciun outside the Romanian territory includes only the immediate area adjacent to the Romanians” (Caraman 1931). Anca Irina Ionescu approaches the subject of borrowing ‘pagan’ cultic words from Balkan Latin into Slavic languages, such as calende, or Crăciun, “at a very early date”. (Ionescu 1978) This unspecified dating ‘at a very early date’, could not be before the 6thCentury AD, the established date of the beginning of the Slavic invasion into South-East Europe, a very important date in any discussion pertaining the Romanian language etymologies, and particularly that of Crăciun.  According to her assumptions we would have to agree that the notion of Crăciun, having its roots in the Latin ‘creatio- onis’, meaning also the ‘birth of Christ’ was already established in the Daco-Roman language and the Balkan Latin, from where the Slavs borrowed it. In fact, in the Slavic tradition the word Kracun, orKracunec, or Korocjun, does not represent the ‘birth of Christ’ but a period of time, as attested in the Novgorod Chronicle from 1143, where Kracun was the time starting from August 15th, or, in some cases, the winter solstice, or the day of the Saint Spiridon which falls on December 12, or on June 8 in the Bulgarian tradition. This proofs that the Romanian form Crăciun is the source for the Slavic forms, and not the other way around, as it is also proven by the Aromanian forms Crăciun, Caraciun, Meglenoromanian Cărciun. The Albanian linguist E. Cabej (1965: 101-115) believes that the Romanian form is coming from Albanian, and he offers a reconstructed form *kerçun, “log, stump”. He does specify though that the Albanian form never meant anything else but “log”, and it did not extend its meaning to such an important winter holiday. It seems somewhat difficult to believe that the population leaving on the entire Romanian territory borrowed this word from Albanian, and used it to name a very old and important winter ceremony, whereas the Albanians themselves kept it only to designate the “log, stamp”, while preferring a different set of words to name the Christmas Eve, nata e buzmit, “the log night.”

The above discussion can bring us to the conclusion that the initial meaning of the wordCrăciun does not relate to the Latin creatio, but rather, the initial meaning of this word was that of ‘oak, sacred oak’, as in the Latin quercus. In the Mediterranean region there is specie of oak, quercus coccifera, ‘kermes’ or ‘holly oak’, revered because it stays green all year round, with leaves resembling that of holly, a sacred plant in the pre-Christian Europe (Williamson 1986) and similar to the Romanian specie of oak, cer (sic). The Indo-European root for oak is reconstructed in Pokorny as: “*perku-s, oak, from here probably, force, vigor, the world tree, and the thunder god tree, Perkuuno-s” (Pokorny 822-23).  Related forms are the Irish ceirt (quiert) “apple tree”, (Proto-Celtic perkunia, later ercunia), Welsh perth, “bush, hedge” (assuming a Proto-Celtic form kwerkwti), Latin quercus, “oak”, with the Italian form quercia,“oak”.  Remarkably, we find in the Italian tradition names such as Madona della Quercia, Quercia della Vergine, other names for the Saint Mary, replacing probably the name of an oak forest divinity from the pre Christian era, reminiscing of a Roman fest in which a virgin personifying Junona, was dressed in flowers and carried in a cart next to her consort, an oak log, allegorical representation of Jupiter.

In the Balto-Slavic area this root is found in the Old Lithuanian Perkunas, the thunder god, Lettonian Perkuons thunder and the thunder god, Old Prussian percunis thunder, Old Russian Perun thunder god. An interesting connection was made with the Indo-European  root *ker, ‘ash’ *kr-em ‘burn’, which is cognate with the Romanian word scrum ‘ash’, thus helping to explain the metathesis  cer – cre in the word Crăciun and Cărciun in Meglenoromanian. One should keep in mind that the Indo-European populations practiced incineration of the dead, which was probably performed on oak wood, in the belief that the soul will go into the light of the sun.  Roman Jakobson, discussing some aspects of the Slavic divinities and the IE *perku- s, observes: “This root appears, for example in Latin and Germanic languages, as substitute for the noun ‘oak’, a preferred tree for storms and devoted to the thunder god; and in the Indo-European tradition the same root with a nasal suffix means ‘a hill covered with oak, an oak forest’, in Celto-Latin Hercynia (silva), Gothic fairguni,Slavic *pergynja, Old Slavic prgynja, Old Russian peregynja, Polish przeginia.” (Jakobson 1985)

Concluding, this sacred Yule log brought inside the house with veneration in the Eve of Christmas, and burned till spring, may have its roots in a solar cult of the most important god of the Indo-European mythological pantheon, the god of thunder and lightning, of sun and fire, be it Zeus, Jupiter, Diuspater, Wodan, Indra, Perkunas, and later Mithra, the powerful sun god celebrating his birthday on December 25th whose cult was spread in Eastern Europe by soldiers from the Roman legions. Interestingly, only in the Romanian folklore the character of Santa Claus Moş Crăciun was retained as the name of the winter festival, Crăciun, hence the name of the god’s log, yule log, while in mostly other cultures the name is Saint Nicholas.

Lastly, it could be only a simple coincidence that Moş Crăciun/Santa Claus always comes through the chimney?


Caraman, Petru. Substratul mitologic al sărbătorilor de iarnă la români şi slavi.Iaşi,1931.

Coman, Mihai.  Mitologie populara romaneasca, vol. I, Bucureşti 1986.

Mitologie popularǎ românească, vol II, Bucureşti 1988.

Frazer, James G. Sir. The Golden Bough, New York, 1971.

Ionescu, Anca I. Lingvistică şi mitologie, Bucureşti, 1978.

Jakobson, Roman. Selected Writings: Contributions to Comparative Mythology,Berlin, Y., 1985

Lehmann, W.  P. A Gothic Etymological Dictionary, Leiden-Brill, 1986.

Mallory, J. P. & Adam, D Q. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the

Proto-Indo-European World. New York: Oxford University Press. 2006.

Muşu, Gh. Din Mitologia Tracilor, Cartea Românească, 1982.

Niculiţǎ-Voronca, Elena: Datinele şi Credinţele Poporului Român, Ed. Saeculum, Bucureşti, (1903) 1998.

Olinescu, Marcel: Mitologie Românească, Casa Şcoalelor, 1944.

Pamfile, Tudor. Sărbătorile la români ; studiu etnografic. Pamfile, Tudor. Sărbătorile la

români, Bucureşti, 1910-1914,i 1997)

Pokorny, Julius. Indogermanisches etymologiscches Wörterbuch,  Francke Verlag Bern, 1959.

Rosetti, Al. Crăciun. Studii şi cercetări lingvistice XXII, 1, 1971: 3-5.

Vulcǎnescu, Romulus. Coloana Ceriului, Bucureşti, 1972.

 Mitologie Româneascǎ, Bucureşti, 1987.

Williamson, John. The Oak King, The Holly King and the Unicorn. New York, 1986.

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Metaphors and the Development of Mythical Language With Examples from Romanian Mythology; paper presented at the International Association of Comparative Mythology Conference, University of Tubingen, 2013


While metaphor is the subject of intense linguistic study, with some even consider-ing that language itself can be perceived as metaphorical, its role in mythical language is less discussed. The lack of research on the cultural and linguistic context formation of myth was sensed by Boris Oguibenine: “the fundamental aspect of the formation and survival of a linguistic and cultural community has apparently never been the object of serious research.” (1998, p. 5) Further, he recognizes that linguists attempting to reconstruct an old culture ideology encounter obstacles such as the fact that a culture “[…] is not presenting itself as a world of objects and concepts […] but as signs of objects and concepts in a discourse or in a set of discourses.” The complex issue of archaic mythical language becomes more challenging if we add in the recent studies on the subject of metaphor and its cognitive role in human thought formation.
Since symbol is generally regarded as the essential trope in mythical language, little attention has been given to metaphors and their role in myth formation. The distinction between metaphors and symbols comes from the certainty that metaphor is governed by rhetorical rules of the ‘con-text’ and it may turn out to be illogical if interpreted ad literam, whereas symbols seem to maintain their original more stable substantial nature, representations of the general in particular (Goethe), or, societal established codes participating in the process of creating metaphors. As a verbal or material form of expression in the mythic-ritual discourse the symbol could be controlled, whereas the metaphor, as an intense cognitive effort to navigate the mysteries of the abstract world, could escape control, leading the human mind to new abstract concepts, new revelations into the spiritual realms. Admitting that ‘the religious discourse is metaphoric’ we can say that metaphors act within the human thought process taking it into new spiritual experiences and forming ‘the mythic or religious consciousness’. Further, as myths deal in the world of the divine, and the divine realms are abstract concepts, they are, therefore, embedded into mind through conceptual metaphors within the context of mythical language. Thus, the prehistoric religion, that is myth, employed a metaphorical language.
The importance of the metaphor in mythical language was formulated by the philosopher Ernst Cassirer when he stated: “the intellectual link between language and myth is the metaphor”. (Cassirer 1953, p. 83) Further, he distinguishes be-tween the general metaphor as a conscious denotation of a thought which includes another by using a known vocabulary, and the radical metaphor as a condition of mythical and verbal expression, which operates not as a mutation into a different category, but as a creation of the category itself.
In recent times, researchers regard metaphor as an instrument of comprehension, not simply a figure of speech: metaphor manifests itself in speech, but it is a part of thinking, in the process of conceptualizing one mental realm through an-other. George Lakoff (1993) argues that metaphor is the major mechanism through which we understand an abstract concept and realize the process of abstract thinking.
Another researcher, Robert N. St. Clair (2000), distinguishes between the verbal metaphor and the visual metaphor, an important observation for the study of myth. He argues that we cannot understand an oral culture because we are using the instruments of the ‘literate’ culture. In our formal school systems, the focus falls on analysis, whereas in the oral culture, attention is given to understanding how things are related to one another. In the print or ‘literate’ culture, information is analyzed by using the verbal metaphor based on language, while oral culture uses the visual metaphor based on reorganizing the visual space. St. Clair’s ideas re-garding visual metaphors and their role in oral societies seem applicable to the study of mythology, as myth was precisely an expression of oral culture. Such distinction between two kinds of metaphors observed by Cassirer and St Clair reminds us of the Romanian philosopher and poet from the 1940’s, Lucian Blaga, who differentiates between the ‘image metaphor’ and the ‘revelation metaphor.’ (Blaga 1940, p. 358) Interestingly, in their effort to understand this figure of speech, these philosophers find a dual perception of the ways metaphors operate, one of which seems attached to religious perceptions, in fact revealing the strains encountered in understanding the mythical language with our literate conceptual system of thought.
Bernard Debatin (1995) finds that metaphor is a unity which opens up a perspective on an object while simultaneously describing it, and thus fulfilling a creative-cognitive function. Based on its particular power of synthesis, metaphor can bridge the gaps between experience and thought, between imagination and concept, making possible the linkage between new and prior experiences. Metaphor’s function of orientation and openness towards the world comes from the cultural heritage of images. The prior experiences or images could generate the absolute metaphor, could become a metaphoric system of orientation, visible and accessible to reasoning that are deeply rooted within the culture.
In an article on the conceptual metaphor theory as methodology in comparative religion Edward Slingerland (2004) states that if we need to know what people truly think about a concept we need to look at the metaphors used in relation to that concept. More so, conceptual metaphors as a primary tool for reasoning about self and the world need to be observed in the shared conceptual structure in which they are formed.
These conclusions may help reach a clearer understanding of myth, as an expression of the human psyche needs to know itself, its surroundings “through a metaphoric system of orientation”, and to establish the permanence of the shared cultural structures to which it belonged.
Once we agree on the function of metaphor as an essential component of abstract thought, the next step would be to unveil how such a conclusion may trans-late into understanding the myths we are familiar with. Would we be able, by using our contemporary bank of imagery, to penetrate the web of metaphors and actions by which mythical language conveys to us their archaic meaning? Following St. Clair’s suggestion that visual metaphor dominated the mental processes during the prehistoric oral tradition societies, we could start from the assumption that physical elements such as the earth, the sky, or the trees, for example, were transfigured into sacred realm through radical metaphors (Cassirer’s formula), and thus become the concept itself, the divinity. Metaphors and symbols formed together logical sets of facts that applied to other sets of facts within the context of myth creation. Thus, within the mythical story, a divinity was a metaphorical manifestation, anthropomorphic or otherwise, of the divine in action. To illustrate this thought, let us consider, for example, the Goddess Demeter, the Mother Earth: articulated in a metaphorical act, as in the saying, ‘Demeter feeds us all’, she becomes the metaphorical manifestation of the divine in action.
It could be said that myths are stories of the divine as metaphorical manifestations engaged in various acts. This view has validity as long as the social group recognizes such imagery in which the divinity functions. The group has to recognize not only the divinity in the metaphorical context of a myth, but also its actions and attributes.
Since the potential of metaphoric process to create new categories is so versatile, time and changes in the human understanding of the divine may alter such beliefs, and new meanings may develop. What once was perceived as a sacred story of divine actions addressing certain social values of a certain community may be transformed by new events, new revelations or leadership. The metaphors that were once connoting a particular divinity may lose their spiritual sacred value, as, for example, Demeter who in today’s understanding of the divine became irrelevant. Yet, there are cases in which a rather significant phenomenon takes place: a divinity may resurface under a different name, apparently as a new divinity, but retaining underneath the sacred powers and attributes of the old one. The mere observance of such a phenomenon could elude us. By borrowing a concept from physics we may call these metaphors, collapsed metaphors. To clarify, we shall refer to the famous Schrödinger’s Gedankenexperiment: a cat locked in a box can be considered simultaneously dead and alive, but as soon as we open the cover and ‘observe’ it, our previous reasoning ‘collapes’ and the cat is found either dead or alive. Similarly, we can say that mythical metaphors operating within their original ‘box’ – the mythical environment – become collapsed metaphors the moment we ‘observe’ them through our own cultural environment.
By losing their previous mythical milieu, metaphors can collapse into a new cultural reality, the reality of the new observer. What was once a metaphoric manifestation of a divinity may emerge either as apparently a new divinity or simply as a character in the story. For example, the Hindu dragon Vrtra, obstructor of the fertile rains, who is slayed by the hero Indra, or the German dragon, protector of the gold, who is slain by Sigurdr, or the Romanian balaur, who threatens the beautiful fairy, are all metaphorical manifestations of the danger facing the dragon slayer. Thus, we may entertain the possibility that the German dragon may be a collapsed metaphor of a dragon similar in function with Vrtra, the obstructor of the fertilizing waters, which resurfaced with a new meaning, that of obstructing the hero’s access to gold, changing its scope from that of obstructing the richness brought by the fertilizing waters into that of obstructing the richness and power associated with gold.
In Romanian mythology, a good example of a collpsed metaphor can be found in the myth of creation. The two main characters in this myth, Fîrtat and Nefîrtat, represent metaphoric manifestations of light/sky/water and earth/darkness that collapsed into God and Satan in recent folkloric data. To understand if this approach may have any value let us examine the myth.
The Romanian cosmogonic myth, recorded in collections from the start of the 20th Century, could be summarized in a few words: at the beginning there was nothing but water and darkness; on the top of the water some foam formed on which a butterfly and a worm appeared; the butterfly turned into a handsome young man, Fîrtat, shining light on everything aound him, and that was God. The worm turned into Nefîrtat, a lightless human form, and that was Satan. In another version God and Satan were walking above the waters. When they meet, God asked, “What is your name?” “Nefîrtate”, answered Satan, “and what is yours?” “Fîrtate”, said God. After a while, Nefîrtat complained that there was nothing to rest on, whereupon Fîrtat tells his companion to dive to the bottom of the water, and bring some mud to make a piece of land they could rest on. But he must bring mud only in his name, the name of Fîrtat. However, Nefîrtat, ignoring Fîrtat’s re-quest, dived into the water twice thinking to keep the mud only for himself, or at least to keep some for himself; each time he plunged into the waters the mud trick-led through his fingers, and he came out empty handed; only the third time, when Nefîrtat did not wish to keep clay for himself, the earth is created. (Niculiţǎ-Voronca 1998, p. 33)
The antagonistic duality of the divinities involved in this myth was considered by many as coming from the Bogomilic tradition. Mircea Eliade expressed his disagreement with this solution since the myth is not found in any Bogomilic text, or on Bosnian territory, the center for Bogomilism up to the 15th century, nor is it found in Serbia and Herzegovina. He also specifies that variants of this myth were found in the Ukraine, Russia and in the Baltic region, all areas which the Bogomil sect never reached. Mircea Eliade states that: “A priori, it is not impossible that certain ‘dualistic’ beliefs disseminated in the Balkans and the Carpatho-Danubian regions represent vestiges of religious beliefs from the Thraco-Scythian substratum.” (Eliade 1972, p. 92) It is probable that “in the folk strata in which the myth was current” there were images and symbols employed by the storyteller to impress the audience of the “mysterious structure of the divinity” (Eliade 1972). Together with other researchers, Mircea Eliade concludes that this is an extremely archaic narrative plot. A note should be made that in his analysis Eliade uses the names God and Satan for the two main characters, not their Romanian names, Fîrtat and Nefîrtat, as they appear in most of the folk collections.
From the perspective of the Indo-European mythological data the Romanian creation myth presents the mythical motif of the divine twins, under the names of Fîrtat and Nefîrtat, preserved as metaphoric manifestations of light/water in the character of Fîrtat, and land/darkness in that of Nefîrtat. They are similar and probably related to the Iranian Avirdada ‘lord of the waters’, and Amirdada, ‘lord of the trees’, relatives of the Indians Haurvatat and Ameretat, (Darmesteter 1875) and in the same class with the pair Mitra/Varuna, and Ohrmazd/Ahriman. These twin deities, representative of the Indo-European (IE) pantheon, are symbolizing waters and plants, implicitly dirt: one is luminous, the other dark, one is kind and just, the other terrible and unjust, one represents universal totality and vital force, the other immortality. Similarly, the Romanian twins display these recognizable traits: Fîrtat, who emerges from the primordial waters as a butterfly and then as a young man, is a luminous handsome deity, whereas Nefîrtat, the worm, a dark fig-ure, metaphorical manifestation of an earthly divinity, as Avirdada, a divinity of plants, is wild and quickly resorts to tricks. They are united in an inseparable rela-tion expressed by the symbolic images of worm and butterfly, metaphorically linked in an eternal circle of transformation. They immediately enter in conflict over the creation of the Earth: Nefîrtat refuses to give in to his counterpart, Fîrtat, symbolizing water and light without which plants could not grow. Fîrtat could not act alone, and only when Nefîrtat agrees and becomes the acting entity in this du-ality can creation occur. As metaphorical manifestations of water and soil, fertility and growth, the twin divinities must act together for the creation of the Earth. Fîrtat cannot create the earth alone, and Nefîrtat acting in his name alone loses mud through his fingers because he is Ne-Fîrtat, non-Life. This story sheds a glimpse of light on some important beliefs in the divine bi-unity, coincidentia op-positorum (Eliade 1972), perhaps an old Indo-European principle. As West states, “One may say that bipolarity (not trifunctionality) is the fundamental structuring principle of Indo-European thought” with its “ability to create negative compounds with the prefix *ṇ-…” (West 2007, pp. 100-101). Contrary to the general understanding that in the IE cosmogonic drama one twin kills the other in order for the world to be created, in this myth the creation happens only when the two divinities agree with each other, and enter into harmony. Perhaps as an archaic agrarian society, the Romanian understanding of creation reflects their basic be-liefs in harmony of nature.
There is no doubt that time and the fluidity of human thought acted upon the metaphors and symbols from myths and fairy tales brought to us by oral tradition. Out of their initial context, such metaphors collapse onto new social conditions and acquire new connotations: Fîrtat/Nefîrtat, the divine metaphorical manifestation from the Romanian myth, have lost their earlier agrarian significance of land and water, resurfacing as Christian deities, and becoming God and Satan. Under their newly acquired names, these divinities are a good example of collapsed metaphors: while they keep their imaginative force, they receive new connotations. Thus, we could recognize Fîrtat in the Christian God, associated with light, creator of the Earth, while Nefîrtat, the former partner in creation, is perceived as an un-derground divinity, guardian of Hell and its fires, the fallen angel. Nefîrtat, the trickster, a metaphor of the darkness and the ground, has collapsed and resurfaced in Satan, the devil, the fallen angel of the underground, a manifestation of evil.
Remarkably, the Christian storyteller solved the conflict between the old understanding of the myth and the new one in which the two characters received the Christian names, by adding a segment at the beginning of the story, a paragraph in which the two divinities introduce each other with their previous names, Fîrtat/Nefîrtat, but in the course of the story their new names God and Satan are used.
It may help our discussion to add that the old meaning of the word ‘fîrtat’ in Romanian language is that of ‘blood brother’, ‘frate de cruce’, literally translated ‘brother of the cross,’ mostly used among young men after they engaged in a ritual act of brotherhood, swearing loyalty and devotion to each other for the rest of their lives. In essence, this contract reminds us of Mitra, whose name means contract. In the contemporary Romanian language the word ‘Fîrtate’, a vocative form, lost its divine connotations. The phonetic similarity between the word ‘frate-brother’ and ‘Fîrtate’ determined the general consensus among linguists that these two words are in fact one, that Fîrtate originates in the Latin form ‘frater’. This explanation is problematic mainly because the Romanian myth, especially the diving theme, is not to be found in the Roman mythology, nor is there a god with a name similar to that of Fîrtat. We will have to assume that Dacians borrowed the Latin form ‘frater’ and used it for two separate concepts, one meaning ‘brother’, Rom. frate, the other phonetically modified in Fîrtat, to name a god of light, not to be found in the Roman mythology. Furthermore, in all the Indo-European languages, the word ‘brother’ the cluster bra/fra/pra remains constant, as in: Skt. bhratar, Av. bratar, Phrygyan braterais, Gr-Lat. frater, Old Ir. brathair, Got. brothar, Lit. broterelis, Old Sl. brati, Toch. pracar, pratri.
Perhaps a better explanation for the Romanian Fîrtat is PIE *wihxrós as in OIr fer ‘man’; Lat vir ‘man, husband’; OE wer ‘man, husband’ in the same family as Varuna, Tyr, Virinius, Fjorgynn, Avirdada, expressing the same meaning: life, wa-ter, fertility, man.
Other examples of such collapsed metaphors can be found in folk tales, as the Romanian trickster Păcală, together with the French Cadet Cruchon, the German Till Eullenspiegel, the Neapolitan Vardiello, or Giufa in Sicily, whom we may con-sider as ‘collapsed’ manifestations of the Indo-European tricksters, Hermes, Peku-lis, Loki, Bricriu, or Pusan.
The Indo-European Trickster played nasty pranks on the other gods, stirring them into action, thus conveying the divine information to mankind. His pranks were metaphorical manifestations of a divinity challenging the other gods, forcing them either to obey the ethical norms, or to create something new and useful, traits that bring him closer to Nefîrtat. In time, unlike Satan/Nefîrtat, he lost his mythical reality, and ‘collapsed’ in folk stories as a humorous character in conflict with the immoral behavior in the community, yet keeping the main characteristics of the god. As he belongs to the third function in the Dumezilian class system, he is an agrarian deity who governs wealth and fertility. Similarly, the Romanian folk Trickster Păcală, among the European Pooka, Peik, or Puck, all apparently related to the Lithuanian god Pekulis, is known as the one who punishes the unfaithful wife, the crooked, and the pervert.
The Romanian stories together with those from European folklore, could offer many examples of collapsed metaphors and new perspectives in the effort of understanding archaic myths. With their ability of traveling through time, collapsing from one social context into another, metaphors collapse and are assimilated in mythical language, as they re-invest themselves into new connotations, new mean-ings according to the new changes and requirements of the community.
These examples are only a modest attempt to address the mythic data from a different perspective, that of metaphors as ancient instruments of conceptualizing the divine, metaphors that collapse, resurfacing into new ones, in a perpetual cognitive effort of understanding the unknown.


Blaga, L 1940, Trilogia culturii; geneza metaforei si sensul culturii, Fundaţia Re-gala pentru literatură şi artă, Bucureşti.
Cassirer, E 1953, Language and Myth, Dover Publications, New York.
Chelariu, A 2003, Metafora Metaforei, Cartea românească, Bucureşti.
Debatin, B 1995, Die Rationalität der Metapher. Eine sprachphilosophische und kommunikationstheoretische Untersuchung, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.
Eliade, M 1972, Zalmoxis, the Vanishing God; Comparative Studies in the Reli-gions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Gimbutas, M 1958, Ancient Symbolism in Lithuanian Folk Art, American Folklore Society, Philadelphia.
Lakoff, G 1993, ‘The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor’, in A Ortony (ed), Meta-phor and Thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 202-251.
Niculiță-Voronca, E 1998, Datinele și Credințele Poporului Român, Ed. Saeculum, București.
Oguibénine, B 1998, Essays on Vedic and Indo-European Culture, Motilal Banar-sidass, New Delhi.
Pamfile, T 1913, Din vieaţa Poporului Român v. XVIII, Povestea lumii de demult după credinţele poporului rmȃn, Editura Academiei Române, Bucureşti.
Puhvel, J 1987, Comparative Mythology, John Hopkins Press, Baltimore & Lon-don.
Seineanu, L 1978, Basmele Romane, Editura Minerva, Bucureşti.
Slingerland, E 2004, ‘Conceptual Metaphor Theory as Methodology for Comapara-tive Religion’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 72, no. 10, pp. 1-31.
St. Clair, RN 2000, Visual Metaphor, Cultural Knowledge, and the New Rhetoric, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.
Vulcanescu, R 1987, Mitologia Română, Editura Academiei Române, Bucureşti.
West, ML 2007, Indo-European Poetry and Myth, Oxford University Press, Ox-ford.

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Intre mântuire și salvare

Dsși nu este intenția mea de a intra într-un domeniu care nu îmi aparține, teologia, în cazul acesta mai că nu am încotro dacă încerc să deslușesc etimologia cuvântului mântuire.
Noi toți creștinii suntem legațí de un concept important în credința noastră și anume ‘mântuirea’ înfăptuită prin Mâmtuitorul nostru Isus Hristos, și desigur am dori sa ne mântiuască bunul Dumnezeu de păcate, vrute și nevrute. Ni se amintește aceasta în fiacare slujbă, iar iarna auzim această rugă în cântecele colindatorilor ‘Și să crească / Să ne mântuiască’… Uneori, mai rar, spunem că ‘ne mântuim’ de o boală, dar cumva am preferat să spunem ‘am scăpat’ de o boală, sau, în unele regiuni se spune că ceva se mântuiește, adică se termină, se sfârșește, dar nu prea folosim cuvântul dacă vrem să spunem ‘m-am eliberat de ceva’, din închisoare, spre exemplu. Se spune ‘ne-a mântuit Dumnezeu’ când ‘scăpăm dintr-un necaz’, dar nu spunem ‘a fost mântuit de la înec’. În limba română se mai folosește cuvântul, probabil o formație de dată recentă, și când vrem să spunem că cineva face o treabă de mântuială, fără tragere de inimă, adică termină repede, sfârșește prea repede, fără răbdare.
În literatura religioasă se spune că Mântuirea este actul prin care Dumnezeu, prin intruparea, răstignirea, învierea și înălțarea Fiului Său, Iisus Hristos, restabilește omul în starea de comuniune personală cu El, dându-i acestuia șansa unei vieți răscumpăte de păcat, sau de a intra în rai. În limbă română acest cuvânt este folosit cel mai des cu sensul de izbăvire de la pedeapsa iadului şi moartea veşnică. Limba bisericească românească a folosit cuvântul mântuire ca să corespundă grecescului soteria găsit în Noul Testament cu sensul de salvare, eliberare, păstrare, siguranţă. Cărțile religioase românești folosesc și alte două cuvinte preluate din slavonă pentru a exprima noțiunea de scăpare de păcat: izbăvire, și ispăși cu sensul de ‘a plăti prin siferință’, regăsit în tradiția românească în numele sărbătorii Ispas, Inalțarea. De remarcat că în limba rusă spasiti are sensul de ‘a mântui’, intrând în română ca spăsit ‘pocăit’, dar nu mântuit. Cuvântul ‘mântuire’ este considerat de multi teologi români ca fiind de origine latină, format prin unirea dintre manes ‘sufletele morților’ și tueor, tueri ‘a păstra’, așadar, păstrarea sufletelor vii după moarte. O altă posibilitate oferită de teologii români este prin latinescul manus ‘mână’ și teneō ‘a ține’; ambele soluții etimologice par mai puțin acceptabile, părând a fi bazate mai mult pe idei religioase decât lingistice, și anume că mântuirea este mâna întinsă a lui Dumnezeu pentru iertatea păcatelor.
Alți teologi, printre care si Dumitru Staniloaie, cred că ‘mântuire’ s-ar fi format din latinescul mentes și tueor, tueri, deci o schimbare a minții, o înnoire a cugetului, care are legături cel puțin de sens cu grecescul μετά-νοεω ’a-și schimba gândul, a se pocăi’, găsit în următoarele contexte biblice:
Matthew 3:11 ὕδατι εἰς μετάνοιαν ὁ δὲ Tu cu apă pentru pocăință, dar El care va veni
Luke 5:32 ἁμαρτωλοὺς εἰς μετάνοιαν dar păcătoșii să se pocăiască
Luke 24:47 ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ μετάνοιαν εἰς ἄφεσιν și acea pocăință pentru iertare
Corinthians 7:10 θεὸν λύπη μετάνοιαν εἰς σωτηρίαν dă pocăință fără regret
Etimologia acestui cuvânt continuă să fie controversată. Dicționarele românești DEX, etc., consideră cuvântul ‘mântuire’ a fi un împrumut din limba maghiară și oferă ca sursă forma menteni ‘a (se) elibera, a (se) salva, a ieși dintr-un impas’. Însă consultând dicționarul etimologic maghiar al Academiei Ungare (1970) nu găsim forma infinitivală menteni ca atare, ci verbul ment cu sensul ‘a elibera, păzi, scoate, salva, ieși, fugi’, prima atestare fiind datată la aprox. 1195 în cântecul funerar Halotti beszéd és könyörgés în următorul fragment:
Scerelmes bratym uimagg(om)uc ez ſcegin ember lilki ert. kit vr ez nopun ez homuſ világ timnucebelevl mente.
Acest text este scris într-o limbă arhaică, greu de descifrat, care are mai multe traduceri/interpretări:
Szerelmes brátim! Vimádjomuk Frate dragă! Vimádjomuk (nu e în dict)
ez szëgín embër lilkíért, Acesta szëgín (szegyen?-rușine) lumea/oamenii lilkíért,
kit Úr ez napon ez hamus világ Cine/cui? Dumnezeu (astă-zi) cenușa acestei lumi
timnücë belől menté, timnücë (?) dar înăuntru am intrat,
‘Dragostea de prieteni! Ei iubesc viața sărmanului om, pe care Dumnezeu ziua asta este sa iasă din falsa pușcărie’,
‘Bratt drag! Vimádjomuk (?) acest szëgín (?) lume lilkíért (?), pe care ziua Domnului este cenușa lumii inăuntru am intrat’.
În aceste exemple sensul cuvântului maghiar ment(e) este de ‘intrare, scoatere, ieșire’. Conform dicționarului menționat cuvântul este vechi, având originea în rădăcina men-, menedek ‘refugiu, adăpost’, de unde probabil sensul ulterior de ‘intrare, adăpostire, scăpare’. Această rădăcină are derivatele ment1 ‘scuză, iertare, salvare’ și ment2 ‘intra’; alte derivate sunt și formele megmentett ‘salvate’, megmenekült ‘scăpate’, găsite într-un text de la 1508, și mened, menedikeny ‘scăpat’; menthető ‘puteți salva’; mentségre ‘scuza’; menekedik ‘va scăpa’ datate din 1666; la 1830 apare mentesiteni ‘scutit’, etc. Cu sensul de ‘eliberare’ găsim exemplelele: mentes ‘eliberat din’, mentés, menteto ‘care poate fi scăpat, scăpare’.
Limba maghiară folosește două forme pentru a desemna Mântuitorul, și anume Megmentő, și mai des, Megváltó. După o scurtă căutare a formei menteni în Vechiul Testament în limba maghiară (Anonymus Hungarian Bible on-line) găsim numai forma ment cu sensul predominant ‘a intra, a ieși, a veni, a merge, a salva’; iată cele câteva exemple:
pag. 10 ugyanezen a napon ment vala be Noe ‘în aceeași zi a intrat Noe…’
pag. 13 e foldrol ment aztan assiriaba es epite ninivet ‘Din țara aceasta a ieșit Asur a zidit Ninive’
pag. 36 mentem vala altal ezen a jordanon ‘M-am dus la râul Iordan’
pag. 41 ruben es megmente ot kezokbol ‘Ruben l-a salvat din mâinile lor’
pag. 69 Az isten kuldott el engem ti elottetek, hogy miveljem a ti megmaradasotokat e foldon, es hogy megmenthesselek titeket nagy szabaditassal. ‘Și Dumnezeu m-a trimis înaintea voastră pentru a păstra pentru tine o rămășiță în țară și de a le scăpa viața printr-o mare izbăvire.’
pag. 1584 masokat pedig mentsetek meg kiragadva oket a tuzbol ‘(pentru) salva pe ceilalți smulgându-i din voi foc’.
Iar în Noul Testament din aceeași ediție găsim cuvântul ment(eni) în puține locuri:
p. 858: Proverbe 19 A nagy haragu (ember) buntetest szenvedjen, mert ha menteni akarod, meg nőveled (haragjat) ‘Averile se moștenesc dar salvarea e de la o femeie de treabă’.
p. 1126:14 Akkor a király, a mint hallotta ezt, igen restelkedék a miatt, és szíve szerint azon volt, hogy Dánielt megszabadítsa, és napnyugotíg tőrekedek ȏt megmenteni. ´ Atunci împăratul, când a auzit aceste cuvinte, s-a rușinat, iar inima lui era ca a lui Daniel pentru a oferi, și soarele pentru a o salva’.
p. 1250: 4 Azoknak pedig monda: Szabad-é szombatnapon jót vagy rosszat tenni? Lelket menteni, vagy kioltani? ‘Iar ei au zis: Este îngăduit în ziua Sabatului a face bine sau rău? Pentru a salva viața sau să-l omoare?’
p. 1369: 22 Ha nem jȏttem volna és nem beszéltem volna nékik, nem volna bûnũuk de most nincs mivel menteniők az bûnőket ‘Dacă nu a venit și nu le-a fi vorbit, n-ar avea păcat; dar acum ei nu au nici o dezvinovățire pentru păcatul lor’.
Cu sensul religios cunoscut în liretura religioasă românească numărul exemplelor este foarte limitat, găsind doar formele o singură dată forma menteni, iar megmentett, megmenteni în următoarele citate în Evanghelia după Matei
Mert aki meg akarja menteni életét, elveszíti azt, aki pedig elveszíti életét énértem, megtalálja azt. ‘Pentru cine vrea să-și scape viața o va pierde, dar oricine își va pierde viața pentru Mine, o va găsi.’
Másokat megmentett, magát meg nem tudja megmenteni. Izrael királya ő, szálljon le most a keresztről, és hiszünk neki! ‘Pe alții i-a mântuit, el nu te poate salva. El este Împăratul lui Israel care coboară acum de pe cruce, și cred în el!’
Din aceste exemple se poate observa că sensul principal al cuvântului este acela de ‘a intra, a ieși, a scoate, a scăpa de la o primejdie, salva’; în mai toate cazurile rădăcina ment apare în forma compusă megmentett, megmenteni. Formele Megmentő, Megváltó – Mântuitor și mântuire din contextul hagiografic românesc nu le-am putut găsi la o căutare rapidă în Anonymus Hungarian Bible on-line. Nu am găsit nici cuvintele Jezus Megvalto – Isus Mântuitorul în această Biblie. Același rezultat negativ obținem și după o căutare în Károli Gáspár:
Keresés a [Károli Gáspár] Bibliában a következő kifejezésre: [Megmentő], találatok száma: [0]. (Căutarea în Biblia Károli Gáspár [salvator] a rezultat în [0]).
În schimb prin căutarea cuvântului MEGVÁLTÁS ‘salvare, mântuire’ obținem 4 citate:
Keresés a [Károli Gáspár] Bibliában a következő kifejezésre: [MEGVÁLTÁS], találatok száma: [4]. (Căutarea în Biblia Károli Gáspár [salvare, mântuire] a rezultat în [4]):
Mózes III. könyve:25:26 Ha pedig nincs valakinek kiváltó rokona, de maga tesz szert annyira, hogy elege van annak megváltásához: ‘Dacă cineva a urmărit să țintească, veți obține atât de mult încât este de ajuns pentru mântuire’
Mózes IV. könyve:3:46 Ami pedig a kétszáz és hetvenháromnak megváltását illeti, akik felül vannak a lévitákon Izráel fiainak elsőszülöttei közül; ‘În ceea ce privește răscumpărarea de 273, care sunt în plus față de fiii primul născut al lui Israel din mijlocul leviților’
Ruth könyve:4:7 Ez vala pedig a szokás régen Izráelben, a megváltás és cserélés alkalmával, minden dolognak megerősítésére: A férfi lehúzta az ő saruját és oda adta felebarátjának, és ez volt a bizonyság Izráelben; ‘El a fost folosit pentru a fi personalizat în Israel, răscumpărare și schimb de ocazie, pentru a confirma toate lucrurile: el a scos pantoful și a dat-o aproapelui său: și aceasta a fost o mărturie în Israel’.
Róma levél:8:23 Nemcsak ez pedig, hanem magok a Lélek zsengéjének birtokosai, mi magunk is fohászkodunk magunkban, várván a fiúságot, a mi testünknek megváltását; ‘Nu numai atât, dar semințele sunt titulari de primele roade ale Duhului, chiar și noi înșine suspinăm în noi, așteptând învierea, adică răscumpărarea trupului nostru’.
Aceste rezultate sunt edificatoare prin predominanța formei megvalto în literature religioasă maghiară, și rarittea formei considerate de dicționarele românești ca fiind la originea cuvântului mântui.
Pentru a clarifica și mai mult istoria acestui cuvânt în limba română putem consulta Dictionarium Ungaricum per Albertum Molnar publicat în 1574, în care găsim că latinescul Salvátor este tradus în maghiară prin “üdvőzitó ‘salvare, pocăință’ în religie ‘Mântuitor’; și megtarto ‘păstra, reține’, dar nu am putut găsi cuvântul menteni; iar latinescul salvus, a, um este tradus în maghiară cu egesseges (?). Dacă luăm în considerație faptul că acest Dictionarium Ungaricum a fost publicat în 1574, perioadă în care primele texte bisericești în limba română apăreau, și în care cuvântul mântuire este deja present, atestările lingvistice din Dictionarium capătă o foarte mare importanță pentru etimologia cuvântului românesc.
Semnificativ este faptul că în aceeași periodă găsim în literatura hagiographică românească cuvântul mântuire cu înțelesul pe care îl are și astăzi. Iată câteva exemple:
Psaltirea Scheiană, manuscris datat din 1573-1578 (1482-85):
Psalm II. II; III Căntecul lui David căndu fugiǐa de fața lui Avesalom fiǐul său, 3. Mulți grâirâ sufletului mieu/Nu e măntuiré dela Dumnedzăul lui… [Nu ǐaste spaseniǐa lui] 9. A Domnului iaste măntuirǐa, și spre oamenii tăi blagoslovenie ta. [spăsește-mă] (Corecturile în paranteze mari sunt cele din Psaltirea lui Coresi tipărită în 1577, ceea ce vădește cunoașterea formei slave spasenie care a rămas în limba rusă cu sensul de mântuire.)
Și câteva exemple din Psaltire în care izbavire și mântuire se găsesc în aceeasi frază: III In sfârșit căntăriei Căntecul [lui] David. 6;
5. Întoarce Doamne, izbâvește sufletul mieu; [spăsește-mâ] măntuǐaște-mâ dereptu mila ta.
VII Slav. Căntecul lui Davidu ce el cănta Domnului. 7;
2. Doamne Dumnedzăul mieu, spre tine nedejduescu, măntuǐaște-mâ de toți gonitorii miei, izbăvește-mâ.
ÎNTREBARE CREŞTINEASCĂ, Braşov, [1560] Şi închinăm cinste şi dăruim Sfinţiei tale, arhiereu i mitropolit Efrem, şi creadem că va fi cu blagoslovenie sfinţie lu Isus Hristos, mântuitoriul nostru, amin. OMILIA LA ÎNVIERE, Nordul Hunedoarei [1590-1602]: Nime să nu se teamă de moarte, că ne au mântuitu mântuitoriul de moarte… TATĂL NOSTRU, Cracovia, 1594 (text redactat probabil în Moldova, rugăciunea este transcrisă de către logofătul Luca Stroici la cererea lui Stanislaw Sarnicki): Şi nu aduce pre noi în ispită, ce nă mântuiaşte de fitleanul…
Din textele religioase românești tipărite spre sfârșitul secolului al XVI-lea se poate observa cu ușurință folosirea aproape exclusivă a cuvântului mântuire, Mântuitor în forma în care ne este familiară astazi în liturghiile bisericești, cu sensul religios de ‘iertarea păcatelor, scăparea sufletului din pedeapsa cu iadul’, în paraplel cu forma slavonă izbăvire ‘iertarea păcatelor.’ Am putea deci conclude că dacă acest cuvânt, mântui, ar avea originea în limba maghiară ar fi trebuit să intre direct din literatura religioasă maghiară în literatura hagiografică românească într-un interval de timp relativ scurt, pe întreg teritoriul tărilor românești, în ciuda faptului că el nu a fost folosit în literatura religioasă maghiară a aceluiași secol în forma considerată ca fiind la baza cuvântului românesc. Dar, în literatura religioasă maghiară forma menteni cu sensul de mântui-re, Mântuitor nu este de găsit, și deci nu se poate argumenta un împrumut direct efectuat de vorbitori, și ca urmare, de traducătorii Bibliei în ambele limbi, cu atât mai mult cu cât limba maghiară a creat pentru acest concept religios compusul megváltás, megmenteni. După cum am arătat în exemplele maghiare de mai sus cuvântul mente-ni are mai mult sensul de mișcare, sens care nu este familiar contextului religios din română.
Un alt aspect important în această dicuție este schimbarea fonetică a terminației verbale maghiare (mente)-ni în forma verbală românească cu terminația în –ui. (Un fapt mai puțin de înțeles este absența formei infinitivale din dicționarul Magyar-Angol Keziszotar, Magay Tamas, Laszlo Orszagh Akademiai Kiado 1990, pe care l-am utilizat aici, ca și din dicționarul etimologic maghiar citat mai sus.) Al. Rosetti în a sa Istoie a Limbii Române (1968) la sub-capitolul ‘Situația popuației romanizate sub slavi’, referindu-se la secolele al X-lea – al XI-lea, consideră cuvântul mântui ca intrat prin slavă din maghiară, fără a da exemple din literatura slavonă religioasă în care ar fi presentă o formă a cuvântului. Exemple găsite sunt: din slovacă mentovat’ a elibera, a ierta, a justifica; slovenă mentuvati a jefui; sârbă mentovač a ieși, a scăpa, evita; croată mentovati gratuit; toate verbe maghiare morfologizate cu sufixul –ovat’, ca și banovat’, bantovat’, etc., dar cuvintul menteni ca atare nu este găsibil în limbile slave. În limba română verbele cu terminația –ui prezintă un fapt lingvistic explicat în Isoria limbii române prin sufixul slav –ujǫ, cu infinitivul în –ovati (pag. 290), iar la pagina 325 din aceeași istorie autorul revine explicând formarea unor verbe în română cu sufixul -u- ca dărui, căpătui, etc., și deci și mântui, deși nu avem nici în slavonă nici în alte limbi slave, cum am arătat deja, o formă maghiară ment de la care să se fi format verbul cu sufixul –u-. În aceste argumente se poate observa și ignorarea altor câtorva elemente importante, cum ar fi faptul că pentru mântui limba slavonă bisercească a preferat spasenie n. salvare; spasti v. a salva; spacz n. m. salvator/mântuitor
asemenea limbii ruse, iar diaconul Coresi face corectura textului românesc arătat mai sus, cu spăsește pentru măntuirǐa, corecturi care nu ar fi fost necesare considerând că diaconul era un bun cunoscător de limbă slavonă. De notat că în toate limbile slavone sensul cuvântului împrumutat este foarte apropiat de cel din maghiară, doar în română sensul este specializat pentru o noțiune religioasă. Aceste dificultăți sunt probabil cauza pentru care dicționarele românești oferă doar etimologia prin maghiară, fără să menționeze formele slave.
Verbe românești cu infinitivul în –ui: ciurui < ciur; conviețui < con + viețui; dăinui < SCr danovati, danujem; dăltui < daltă; dărui < dar, dezlănțui, înlănțui< lanț; disprețui < preț; făptui < fapt; gâtui < gât; infaptui < fapt; institui < Lat instituere; intui < Fr intuition; invălui < văl; mitui < mită; păcătui < păcat; prețui < preț; rostui < rost; secătui < secat (Lat siccus, siccare) sfătui < sfat; țintui < țintă; viețui mântui; v. kőlt ‘cheltui’ > cheltui; v. bánt ‘a răni, necăji’ > bântui; v. bán ‘a regreta, părere de rău’ > bănui, etc. Ori, în limba română, ca dealtfel nici în cele slave, nu s-au păstrat aceste forme verbale substantivale, ment, kolt, bant, ban, etc. De remarcat că formele maghiare de la care se presupune că au venit cuvintele românești sunt toate forme verbale iar formele românești de la care s-au format verbele din exemplele date mai sus sunt toate substantive, (ciur, daltă, dar, păcat, viață, etc.)
Toate aceste câteva exemple nu pot justifica concludent derivarea verbală a celor câteva cuvinte considerate de origine machiară cu infinitivul în -ni, decât dacă admitem eventual un proces de calchiere târziu.
Din cele arătate până aici nu se poate trage concluzia definitivă că forma românească mântui ar avea originea în forma maghiară, pe motivele: apropierea de timp dintre traducerile Bibliei în maghiară și în română; traducătorii unguri foloseau cu precădere copii ale Volgatei, în timp ce traducătorii români foloseau texte în limba slavonă, fără a mai lua în considerație diferențele religioase, catolic/protestant versus ortodox; nu am putut găsi cuvântul în forma sa de bază ment în limba română, sau în limba slavonă; înțelesul principal al cuvântului este acela de ieșire, scoatere, salvare dintr-o situație. Toate aceste argumente ar trebui să ne determine să explorăm și alte posibilităti de explicare a cuvântului.
O primă încercare ne trimite la forma Grk mantis,-ews  în ionica -ios masc. si fem. (vezi P. Chantraine Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue grecque) cu sensul de proroc, profet, a prezice viitorul, a consulta un oracol în Homer; alte forme manteomai ´a profetiza´; găsit și în compuse ca: nume propriu Mantí-deos. Relația semantică este foarte interesantă în această opțiune, aceea de profet.
Acest cuvânt răspândit și productiv, are ca rădăcină forma indo-europeană *men-, ’gândi, considera’, cu forme nominale mentu, mṇtu ‘minte, gândire’, Alb mëntoj ‘a (se) gândi’ și mëndje ‘minte, intelect’; de asemenea ie *mentis Lat mēns ‘gând’, NE mind, Lith mintis ‘gând’, OCS pa-mȩtǐ ‘gând’, Av –maiti- ‘gând’, Skt mati ‘gând’; ca și Rom minte; și ie *mnéhati Grk mnêma ‘amintire’, Luv m(a)nā ‘uite, vezi’;; cu forme de perfect: *memónh2e ‘gândit, amintit’, Lat mewminĭ ‘aminti’; Grk mémona ‘dori, pofti’; Skt mamné ‘gândește’; cu cele două forme de prezent ie *mṇyétor găsite în celtice OIr do-moinethar ‘crede’; baltice Lith miniù ‘aminti’; Slavic OCS mǐnjno ‘gândi’; Grk mainomai ‘furie, a fi furios, nebun’; Indo-Iranian Avestan mainyeite ‘gândește’, Skt mányate ‘gândește’. (J. P. Mallory și D. Q. Adams: The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the PIE World, 2006)
Verbul ‘a invăța’ e un compus ie *men(s)- + dh(e)h1 ‘minte+pune, așeza’ NWels mynnu ‘dorință’, OHG mendōn ‘a (se) bucura’, și munter ‘vioi, alert’, Lith mandras ‘vioi, treaz’, OCS mǫdro, ‘ințelept’, Alb mund ‘abil, priceput’, Grk manthánȏ ‘invăța’, av. ma,z-dā ‘(rămas), marcat în memorie’, mazdā ‘ințelepciune’, Skt medhā ‘ințelepciune’.
Cu această soluție avem legături semntice prin grecescul ‘profet, proroc, prezice viitorul’, și ie *mṇyétor cu derivatele din vechea irlandeză do-moinethar ‘a crede’, sau ie *men(s)- + dh(e)h1 ‘minte+pune, așeza, învăța’ cu derivatele OCS mǫdro, ‘ințelept’, dar mai ales mazdā ‘ințelepciune’, legături de înțeles care ne pot determina să presupunem existența unei forme *mendh, manth în limba vorbită pe teritoriul dacic, cu sensul de ‘înțelept/înțelepciune, învăța/învățător’.
Încercarea de față de a pune intr-o lumină nouă originea cuvântului mântui se vrea doar o deschidere către noi posibilități de explorare. Dificultățile problemei necesită un studiu exhaustiv și cunoștințe aprofundate de limba maghiară. Rămâne doar să specificăm nevoia iminentă de analiză serioasă a relației dintre limbile română și maghiară, slavă, etc., pentru a elucida legăturile etimologice oferite cu resursele limitate din trecut.

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Cucuteni-Tripolye, the Indo-European homeland

In the last number of the Journal of Indo-European Studies [JIES, v. 40, nr. 3-4, Fall/Winter 2012] Axel Kristinsson from Reykjavik Academy, Island, discusses in his article ‘Indo-European Expansion Cycles’ the intense disputed problem on the Indo-Europeans (IE) homeland.

The two major hypothesis regarding the IE homeland, the Kurgan theory and the Neolithic one, both present difficulties created by the natural barrier of the steppe, and by understanding how the IE population crossed it over. The Kurgan hypothesis implies an expansion of ‘elitist’ type, according to which elite warriors speaking the IE language colonized and dominated large territories. According to this theory the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture was destroyed by the violent invasions of these IE warriors. (Gimbutas)  Recently, David Anthony explained the IE expansion as a combination between the elite dominance and the creation of patron-client commercial relations with the neighbors such as the Cucuteni Tripolye culture populations, relations that resulted in the transfer of the patrons’ language to the clients.

After discussing succinctly the previous solutions for the IE homeland, Kristinsson offers his hypothesis based on the idea that the most remarkable pre-historic culture, the Cucuteni Tripolye (CT) culture, may very well be created by the Indo-Europeans: “…the evidence for material culture seems to fit best with a classic sedentary farming culture like the CT culture, rather than a semi-nomadic culture we would expect on the steppe although the evidence cannot be claimed to be conclusive.” This culture appears by the middle of 6th Century BC at the foothills of the East Carpathian Mountains in Romania spreading eastwards through Bessarabia towards Dnieper and northwards reaching the area near Kiev. The CT culture presupposes a large population benefiting of favorable conditions for developing primitive agriculture, flourishing in apparent peaceful conditions for two millennia. Kristinsson’s argument for locating the IE homeland in the CT region is based exactly on the ideal geographic position of this culture at the junction between the forest and the steppe areas.

In Kristinsson’s opinion the large spread of the Indo-Europeans should be regarded not as a problem but rather as evidence of a migration phenomenon that started probably at the beginning of the 4th millennium B.C., as a result of some events that should be estimated. As a macro-historic the author had studied the cyclic expansions of many societies reaching conclusions that he considers applicable to the I-E expansion. Thus, careful examination of massive movement of populations from the history of Europe could offer a better solution for solving the IE spread. He gives as examples the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, or of the Vikings migrations from the history of Europe, not to mention the populating of the Americas.

The author argues that large movements function on a common mechanism that works inside these cycles. According to his studies there are two varieties of expansions capable to work separate or together:

  1. The simplest model of expansion is by colonizing, occupying new lands for agriculture needed to sustain and growth of families. This kind of colonization the population density is essential; even if the indigenous population from the occupied territories is practicing agriculture the large number of newcomers becomes dominant; this generates a process of ‘democratization’, the elites of the minority disappearing in time.
  2. The second model of expansion named ‘expansion system’ is based on competition; the cultures in which this type of expansion could be observed are more conformist and belong to the same linguistic group. Within this same culture-society competition springs between divided political groups and constant fighting for political and military power; gradually, the military elites need more soldiers and start recruiting from among the farmers, who request new lands as reward; in time, the intense use of existing lands and the population growth leads to need for new territories attained by military force.

Outlining these work hypotheses on the cyclic expansions the author thought they could be successfully apply in the IE expansion problem.

Against the Kurgan hypothesis Kristinsson argues that the elite invasion and domination does not imply language replacement as history demonstrates, one example from the recent European history being the Normand elite in England. Another argument the author brings against the elite groups infusion is that the warriors on horse carts are recorded around 2000 BC, and the IE dispersal begins around the 4th millennium.

Expansions of such large scale can generate language changes particularly in the agricultural societies lacking a powerful organized state. Thus Kristinsson argues that the beginning of the IE expansion was the result of a large growth of populations on the West side of the CT culture region, which created the need for new land, determining the gradual spread towards the East steppe. Another consequence of the growth in population density was the intensifying of the internal fights among tribes shown in the increased number of arrow heads discovered around the CT sites, which could be the result of competition among groups within the society.

Another aspect brought into the discussion by the author is that around the 4th millennium some important agricultural technologies developments happened including the plough and the wheel, the use of oxen for traction vehicles, the presence of a new breed of sheep richer in wool, together with an increase in farmers’ production and use of milk and dairy in Europe and West Asia. All these innovations had as consequence growth in population, therefore the pressure within the CT society that led to successive invasions eastwards beginning with 3500 BC, and colonization of the steppe lands. As a result the CT culture starts to break up, and Corded Ware cultures emerged in northern of Europe, showing a semi-nomadic lifestyle, and the Yamna culture in the East adopting to the new conditions, but both cultures still keeping some characteristics of the CT culture.

Kristinsson argument is that in the process of colonization of the steppe regions the newcomers changed their way of life adapting to the new environmental conditions. The big differences in the quality of the CT ceramic and the ceramics of Corded Ware or Yamna cultures are due, as the author believes, to the fact that the production of ceramic was in general a women’s occupation, while populations movement was preponderantly masculine: men supposedly formed new families with local women that were not acquainted with the style and quality of the CT ceramic.

Starting with 3100 BC elements of Yamna culture, including probably speakers of IE west dialects, ancient Greek and Phrygian, could be observed moving along the Danube towards the Balkans, inducing the Pre-Anatolian local population movements across the Bosporus into Anatolia. Populations speaking IE western dialects, pre-Greek and Phrygian from the Carpathian region may have had contact with speakers of north IE dialects, Italic or Celtic, forming a Schprachbund of linguistic influences.  By 2800 BC the CT culture separated into two branches that gradually merged or disappeared into other cultures. Interestingly, while the CT culture is known through its settlements the following cultures are visible by their graves.

The dispersal of IE language over the European continent is a unique phenomenon. Kristinsson hypothesis is based on the idea that for a language to become dominant a massive migration of democratized non-elitist populations of farmers using a common language for communication it is necessary: ‘Under such circumstances, an indigenous language can be displaced even if the population didn’t change much as happened in parts of the Roman Empire, in Ireland under British rule or in large parts of Latin America under Spanish rule.’ (p. 373)

These two hypotheses, the colonization and the expansion system working in conjunction, could be applied in the case Dacia: country conquered by the Roman centralized state in expansion, where the local population did not change as a consequence of the war, but received an infusion of colonists during and after the Roman military occupation left Dacia. These colonists were Roman citizens speaking Latina Vulgate, coming from the surrounding neighborhood, territories already Romanized, such as Pannonia, Illyricum, Moesia Superior, Dalmatia, Noricum, etc., attracted by the richness of the annexed territories.  The economic and social relations established primarily through transhumance between the population from conquered Dacia and the people speaking the same Romance language from the south and west of Danube favored the formation of a Schparchbund, using a common vocabulary specialized in economic needs. According to Kristinsson hypotheses, the Bulgaro-Slavic invasion of farmers, a non-elitist colonization type, mainly of economic nature not as a military force, resulted in the language imposition in the areas with a week organizational system, which spread from Poland to Macedonia, but not prevailing in regions with a more stable social structure such as Dacia Romana.

In spite of the fact that the author insists that his hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis, he believes that it offers a better solution for the IE problem; his arguments seem to bring a clearer picture on the possibility that Cucuteni-Tripolye culture is the homeland from where the IE diffusion began with the first division: the west side – Cucuteni to west and north of Europe, the east side – Tripolye – toward the east, “similar to the classic but depreciated centum-satem split” (p.423) but probably predating by a millennium the actual formation of the two isoglosses. Most importantly, this hypothesis shed a new light on the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture, requesting more in depth studies of this relatively less studied culture.

One note should be added here: even though Kristinsson considers that the comparative mythology should not be regarded as a valid source in the IE discussions, one should not ignore the few patterns that could be observed in most of the IE cultures, such as the dragon fighter, for example. Certainly, a great deal of caution should be applied, but since he accepts linguistics as a legitimate source and if linguists  could detect and agree on a common IE religious vocabulary then by default we could accept the existence of a common religious ideology. The existence of a number of mythical patterns in most of the IE cultures could very well be considered as expression of a common mythology, detectable through the process comparison and elimination.

If the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture is the product of the IE group it will be a challenge to detect some of the IE patterns already established in the field, but it could also be very interesting. For that matter the Romanian heritage may offer some assistance, even if it may seem difficult. More research is definitely needed.

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The awareness of self from a linguistic perspective

With special attention to the Romanian sine ‘self’; presented at the 20th Ecumenical Theological and Interdisciplinary Symposium: Time, Place
and Self in Interdisciplinary Narratives, 
Metropolitan College of New York, 2012.

If we take the idea expressed by G. H. Mead that language is at the heart of the constitution of the self, (1934) a short linguistic approach to the concept of self, soul, spirit may be due. In the Greek world the word Psyche as expressed in Homeric poems meant the dead or described death, most likely associated with breath. Similar association between breath and soul is found also in the Romanian neuter noun suflet, ‘soul’, derived from the verb a sulfa, suflare ‘to breathe, breath’. Other languages associated the Soul with the Spirit, for example the Latin, and with it the Romance languages, where Aminus, Anima meant ‘spirit’; the same approach we find in Slavic languages. The German seele and English soul are of obscure origin, whereas the Self is found in many Indo-European languages. The occurrence of different nouns to express ‘the soul’ and ‘the self’ may indicate that they were perceived as two entities, even if in philosophical discourse they are often inter-used. When Plato discusses the ‘cultivation of the soul’ as the primary duty for making it capable to control the body and its passions he refers to the Soul as intellectual and moral Self.

The Self or the One’s own inner center (psychic nucleus) was in the earliest formulation of the modern psychology derived from the distinction between the Self as I, the subjective knower, and the Self as Me, the object that is known. This approach seems to offer the distinction between the concept of ‘self’ as a noun and the pronominal forms involved in action ‘myself’, yourself’, etc.

From a linguistic perspective the word ‘self’ in Indo-European languages has its root in the Proto-Indo-European reconstructed form *séwe, Skt svá ‘one’s own’, Toch A ṣñi ‘one’s own’ Toch B  ṣañ ‘one’s own’, Latin sē ‘him-/her-/itself’, OHG sih ‘him-/her-/itself’, which developed in English as self; German das Selbst, sich; Fr le soi, Lith save ‘-self’, Romanian n. sine, f. sinea ‘the self’. By observing the Tocharic isoglosses it appears that perhaps the oldest meanings of this word was ‘one’s own’, covering both notions of possession and action. The pronominal aspect of this concept, attached to the actioner, received the characteristics of the person making the action, masculine, feminine or neuter, particularly in the later developments of the West European languages, as in ‘I myself did that’, whereas the invariable form became attached to the subject I, the Self, indicating perhaps a later development.

The Romanian concept of the Self sine is explained in grammar books as the third reflexive pronoun in accusative, a compound form, partially of Latin origin, si+ne<Lat. se– plus –ne, the last particle being considered of Dacian origin (Istoria limbii Române, 1969, p 239), and showing perhaps a relation to the Toch B ṣañ, or the Welsh hunan. The Romanian pronoun is used mainly with prepositions as in pentru/dela/în sine ‘for/from/in himself/herself/itself’, similarly to the first and second personal pronouns in accusative pentru/dela/in mine ‘for/to/of me’, pentru/dela/in tine ‘for/to/of you’, explained through the Lat. me, te plus Dacian ne. The neutral third person form is preferred in expressions like lucrul in sine ‘the thing in itself’, viața în sine ‘life in itself’, but it also could be used in expressions like în sinea lucrurilor ‘in the essence of things’, în sinea lumii, ‘in the essence of the world, of nature’. The noun Sine is used in philosophic discourse connoting ‘the Self’ – sinele (with the enclitic article –le).

Interestingly, what separates the Romanian language from the other Indo-European group is the presence of the feminine form sinea, with the same meaning ‘the Self’, generally used by all speakers to express the idea of ‘[with]in myself, in my consciousness’, in expressions like în sinea mea am decis ca… ‘[with]in myself I decided that…’, or în sinea ta ‘[with]in yourself’, în sinea lui/ei ‘[with]in him/her-self’.

The existence of both forms in neuter and feminine only in Romanian language could lead to speculations on the approach to consciousness by its speakers. Although they act as a pair, sinea may be less used by itself in a discourse, whereas sine, sine-le (enclitic article) acquired the qualities of a noun ‘the consciousness, the self’, frequently used in scientific context, psychology, philosophy, and such.

Constatnin Noica, (1970) a famous Romanian philosopher, opened a door for us into the beauty and uniqueness of the Romanian language. He especially discussed the destiny of this pair sinele and sinea, in company of the Greek Logos and Eros, or the Latin Animus and Anima. In his opinion the Romanian sine has broken the circle of a passive I, entering, philosophically, into the universal sphere of spiritual family, the culture, the historic moment, expressing one’s ideals, liberties, of the lucid I (das Ich) in its intention to reach the deepness of the Self (das Selbst). Whereas sinea expresses the feminine principle beyond humans, intimate with nature and the germinating night.

The unique presence of this peculiar pair in Romanian language does not have a quick answer. One could attempt to explain the word formation sinea by association with the Romanian word for ‘the heart’ inima, also a feminine noun. With its root in the Latin Animus, Anima, ‘soul, spirit’ the Dacians preferred and retained the feminine form Anima, and developed it into the noun inima ‘the heart’. Perhaps this pair of feminine concepts sinea and inima influenced each other, and perhaps the people living in the Roman province north of Danube River retained the concept of spiritAnima – according to their own understanding, as Anima was located in the chest from where the emotions flow, where the heart is. For the concept of the spirit to name the physical organ inima the Daco-Romanians may asserted their believe that the spirit ‘animates’ the heart, or that the spirit and the heart are one. Perhaps this union between the heart, the soul and the spirit, this alignment between the self and the heart, was believed to lead to a harmony desired by humans.

In an intense effort to penetrate the mystery of the Self the Romanian language uses not only the reflexive pronoun sine to express an action that is done by the same subject or it reflexes on the subject. While in English language there is only one form: myself, yourself, etc., in Romanian we find the stressing pronoun eu însumi ‘I myself’, tu însuţi ‘you yourself’, el însuşi, ea însǎşi ‘he/she him/herself’, etc.; more so, Romanian language could combine these two very concepts to get closer to the meaning of ‘self’ in expressions like în/pe/de sine însuşi/însǎşi ‘within/on/of/ himself/herself, itself’. The stressing pronoun is explained by the Romanian linguists as derived from the Latin in + pronoun ipse (-a, -um), ipsus, in spite of the existence in language of the noun îns, ins ‘person, human’, with forms in masc. îns, ins, fem. insǎ, masc. pl. inşi, fem. pl. inse, all meaning ‘person/persons, someone, anyone’. This noun could have been the base for însu+mi, însu+ţi, însu+şi, pl. înşi+ne etc., meaning ‘I myself, yourself, ourselves, themselves’. To sustain this formation we could take a look at the reconstructed IE personal and reflexive pronoun, e.g. *h1 ‚I’, and the stressed  *h1eĝóm ,myself’, which can be found enclitic, e.g. *h1me first person sg., second personal pronoun enclitic *-te (Alb –); the first dual ‘we two, us two’, e.g. Grk nó ‘we two, us two’, Toch B wene ‘we two’, Alb ne ‘us’; the second person plural enclitic *wos, e.g. Lat vōs, Skt vas. (Mallory-Adams, 2006: 416-417). Thus, the Romanian stressing pronoun însu+mi may very well be a compound from îns ‘a self, a human being’ plus the enclitic IE particles *h1me, *-te, etc.

Further, the Romanian noun îns could be related to the PIE reconstructed root *haénsus ‘god, spirit, vital force’; IEW 48 *ansu-; GI 653; BK 369 *an-aћ-/*ən-aћ-; ON ōss ‘god’ [gen. āsir, nom. pl. aesir]; OE ōs (gen. pl. ēsa) ‘god’; Goth (as reported by Jordanes) anses ‘half-gods’, Av anhu ‘lord, overlord; life (period) of existance’, ahura- (<*haṇsu-ró-) ‘god, lord’, Ahura-mazdāh ‘the highest of gods’; OInd ásu– ‘powerful spirit’, ásura- ‘divine, mighty; god, lord’; Tocharian A āñcäm, ‘self, soul’. “This *haénsus has long been thought to be related to *haen(h1)- ‘breath’ (and thus might mean ‘spirit’ or ‘inspirator’ or the like),” (Encyclopedia 1997: 330).

The connection between breath and spirit, soul and self is thus historically attested, and the development of such concepts in philosophy and religion keeps showing the continue need of humans to understand the nature of self.


Dictionarul Limbii Române Moderne. Editura Academiei RPR 1958

Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of the Selected Pivotal Ideas. New York, 1973.

Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture.  Mallory J.P & Adams D.Q. eds. Fitzroy Dearborn Pubs, London and Chicago, 1997.

Mallory J.P. and Adams, D. Q. The oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford Univ. Press 2006.

Mead, G. H. Mind, Self and Society. Chicago 1934.

Noica, C-tin. Rostirea filozofica româneasca. Bucuresti 1970.

Tucker, T.G. Etymological Dictionary of Latin. Ares Publishers, Inc. Chicago, 1976 (1931)

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