The Persistence of "Man-Slaying" as an Indo-European formula in Gregory of Nazianzus


by Edwin D. Floyd

A powerfully resonating Indo-European pattern is "man-slaying", combined from *hner- "man" and *ghwen- "strike / slay". Humbach, Indogermanische Forschungen 63 (1958) 209-211, followed by Schmitt, Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit (1967) 123-127, discusses Greek, Avestan, and Vedic examples. Watkins, How to Kill a Dragon (1995) 497-498 focuses primarily on Lysias' speech Against Theomnestus 1. As Watkins shows, the root *ghwen- still packed quite a punch in fourth century B.C. Greece; merely using the word androphonos "murderous, man-slaying" was actionable as slander.

How much later can we trace the resonances of the pattern?

In the case of *ghwen-, we can still catch something of its original force in Modern English "bane". Derived from *ghwen-, this word has an aura of the mysterious about it.

Mainly, though, my question looks to the way in which scholars have approached Greek as an instantiation of Indo-European material. Supposedly, the increasingly literate nature of Greek society after the archaic age meant that poets rapidly and irretrievably lost contact with material which required a vibrant oral tradition for its maintenance. Hellenistic and later Greek poets have therefore scarcely been considered in the study of Indo-European poetics. In my opinion, though, the very bookishness and/or antiquarian interests of "late" Greek poets can be shown to have led to their preserving, not only ancient formulas, but also the original associations of these formulas.

In Homer, the statistically predominating usage of androphonos is with the warrior Hektor. Both Humbach and Schmitt assume that just such a connection, viz., with a human warrior, was also the inherited association of the combination. The truth, however, is that the connection with men such as Hektor is relatively isolated, both within Greek and elsewhere. Outside of Homer, three main uses of combinations of *hner- and *ghwen- can be identified. These are with (1) gods, (2) weapons, and (3) women. Dangerous gods, such as Rudra (Rig-Veda 4.3.6) and Ares (described as androphonos even by Homer, at Iliad 4.441) are so associated, as are weapons such as the Marutas' thunderbolt (Rig-Veda 7.56.17) or human spears (Tyrtaios, fr. 19.9). "Man-slaying" is also used, in Greek, of women who threaten men (e.g., Pindar, Pythian 4.252); also, at Yasna 53.8, the Avestan cognate jenéram is best explained as contrasting potentially destructive women with a virtuous bride.

These three resonances of androphonos also appear in the oeuvre of Gregory of Nazianzus (fourth century A.D.) In at least eight or nine passages, this early Christian poet connects the word with the forbidden fruit from Genesis 2-3. At 444.9, Gregory refers to Satan as a murderous figure, accompanied by baneful forces; this parallels Iliad 4.441, in which "man-slaying Ares" is accompanied by Deimos, Phobos, and Eris. Other passages focus more specifically on the fruit as a deadly implement or on the role of Eve. One, 1476.3-4, combines all three ideas, as it refers to (1) the man-slaying implement of (2) Satan, who deceives (3) a foolish woman.

It is also noteworthy that this last passage (1476.4) refers to Satan as drakontos "dragon". This is the very word which appears in the title of Watkins 1995; moreover, Gregory's presentation of Satan as an "anti-HERO" neatly complements Watkins' occasional discussion of the persistence of Indo-European patterns into Christian literature, as in his mention of the binding of Satan (Old English Genesis 764-765) at p. 459, n. 15.

Inclusion of Gregory in the discussion has broader results than merely extending the ideological range of an Indo-European pattern within Greek. By adapting a pattern which Homer had used, but using it - one could claim - more broadly, Gregory suggests that he can deal with his subject-matter just as effectively as Homer. There may also be an adumbration, on Gregory's part, that his vision is more valid than Homer's, because it is more broadly based. My treatment of this point, viz., Gregory's overall poetic stance, is still preliminary. My sense, though, is that one can legitimately appeal to the fact that Gregory hailed from central Anatolia; correspondingly, his sources could transcend Greek patterns (as exhibited by Homer, Tyrtaios, Pindar, and others) to encompass other Indo-European and/or Anatolian traditions too.