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Tag: Scythian

Eco: The Nationalistic Hypothesis, 3


Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), his interpretation of the legendary sphere of Archimedes, using magnets to simulate the rotation of the planets. From Magnes, sive de Arte Magnetica, 1643, p. 305. Courtesy of Stanford University. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  


“Ideas similar to these were expressed by Schottel (Teutsche Sprachkunst, 1641), who celebrated the German language as the one which, in its purity, remained closest to the language of Adam (adding to this the idea that language was the expression of the native genius of a people).

Others even claimed that Hebrew had derived from German. They repeated the claim that their language had descended from Japheth, who, in this rendition, had supposedly settled in Germany.

The name of the exact locality changed, of course, to fit the needs of different authors; yet Japheth’s grandson, Ascenas, was said to have lived in the principality of Anhalt even before the confusio. There he was the progenitor of Arminius and Charlemagne.

In order to understand these claims, one must take into account the fact that, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Protestant Germany rallied to the defense of the language of Luther’s Bible.

It was in this period that claims to the linguistic primacy of German arose, and many of these assumptions “should be seen within the context of Germany’s political fragmentation after the Thirty Years War. Since the German nation was one of the main forces capable of uniting the nation, its value had to be emphasized and the language itself had to be liberated from foreign influences” (Faust 1981: 366).

Leibniz ironized on these and other theories. In a letter of 7 April 1699 (cited in Gensini 1991: 113) he ridiculed those who wished to draw out everything from their own language–Becanus, Rudbeck, a certain Ostroski who considered Hungarian as the mother tongue, an abbé Francois and Pretorius, who did respectively the same for Breton and Polish.

Leibniz concluded that if one day the Turks and Tartars became as learned as the Europeans, they would have no difficulty finding ways to promote their own idioms to the rank of mother tongue for all humanity.

Despite these pleasantries, Leibniz was not entirely immune himself to nationalist temptations. In his Nouveaux essais (III, 2) he made a good-natured jibe at Goropius Becanus, coining the verb goropiser for the making of bad etymologies.

Still, he conceded, Becanus might not always have been entirely wrong, especially when he recognized in the Cimbrian, and, consequently, in Germanic, a language that was more primitive than Hebrew.

Leibniz, in fact, was a supporter of the Celto-Scythian hypothesis, first advanced in the Renaissance (cf. Borst 1957-63: III/1, iv, 2; Droixhe 1978).

In the course of over ten years collecting linguistic materials and subjecting them to minute comparisons, Leibniz had become convinced that at the root of the entire Japhetic stock there lay a Celtic language that was common to both the Gauls and the Germans, and that “we may conjecture that this [common stock] derives from the time of the common origin of all these peoples, said to be among the Scythians, who, coming from the Black Sea, crossed the Danube and the Vistula, and of whom one part may have gone to Greece, while the other filled Germany and Gaul” (Nouveaux essais, III, 2).

Not only this: Leibniz even discovered analogies between the Celto-Scythian languages and those which we would today call the Semitic languages, due, he conjectured, to successive migrations.

He held that “there was nothing that argues either against or for the idea of a single, common origin of all nations, and, in consequence, of one language that is radical and primitive.”

He admitted that Arabic and Hebrew seemed closer than others, their numerous alterations notwithstanding. He concluded, however, that “it seems that Teutonic has best preserved its natural and Adamitic aspect (to speak like Jacques Böhm [sic]).”

Having examined various types of German onomatopoeia, he finally concluded that the Germanic language seemed most primitive.

In presenting this scheme in which a Scythian language group progressively diffused throughout the Mediterranean world, and in distinguishing this group from the other group of southern or Aramaic languages, Leibniz designed a linguistic atlas.

Most of the conjectures in Leibniz’s own particular scheme were, in the end, erroneous; nevertheless, in the light of comparative linguistic work which would come afterwards, he had some brilliant intuitions (cf. Gensini 1990: 41).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 99-102.

There Were Giants

” … But if all the nations, or even the upper classes of those nations, which bear the name, be the sons of Cush, one-third of the present human race must be the descendants of that patriarch. Indeed, before the introduction of Ionism, Epiphanius and others appear to have included all mankind under the name of Scuths. The first apostacy might have been introduced by Cush, and its followers have borne his name; which the succeeding heresy of Nimrod could not obliterate.

The Scythian nations of Touran and the North were generally addicted to the Scythic superstition; and whenever they rolled back the tide of war upon their ancient rivals; the idols temples and cities were the objects upon which they satiated their revenge.

They were esteemed excommunicated, and of the Giant race, Nephelim, Rephaim and Anakim. The Scuths of Iran were also of the Giant race, with Nimrod as their chief. Of the Titanian war there appears to be a double aspect. When the Scuths of Touran are the Giants, the war between them and the Ionim is the subject of the legend; and they are the Giants cast out into Cimmerian darkness, and buried under mountains.

The other view presents both parties conjointly before the schism, as the Nephelim, Apostates or Giants, engaged in carrying on the war against Heaven itself. And in these accounts we find more frequent allusions to the Tower and its supernatural overthrow.

The catastrophe at Babel completed the dispersion. On the division of the earth and planting of the nations, there are some very curious notices extant. But whether Nimrod and his immediate adherents survived, and retained possession of Babylon, or transferred their seat of government to Nineveh and founded the great Iranian empire, or whether that empire and city were founded by Assur and the sons of Shem, is still a subject of dispute.

We find Nimrod, however, under the well-known title of Alorus, at the head of the two Chaldæan dynasties, mentioned above: but these appear rather to refer to the antediluvian patriarchs than to the proper kings of Chaldæa.

The first dynasty of Chaldæan Kings is placed by almost all chronologists as the first Iranian dynasty, that of Nimrod under the name of Evechius, and his immediate descendants. Evexius is also placed by Polyhistor as the first Chaldæan king. The dynasty of the Arabian kings of Chaldæan is placed by Eusebius, Syncellus and others, as well as by Berossus, next in the order of succession.

They have likewise been supposed to be a Scythic nation, which broke in upon the empire from the Scythian settlements of Cashgar, and obtained possession either of the entire empire, or only of the city of Babylon, during the period of its desolation, with the plains of Shinar and the country round the head of the Persian gulf, from whence they were expelled, and discharged themselves upon Palestine as the Palli or Philistines, and upon Egypt as the Hycsos or Shepherd Kings.

Next in succession, according to Eusebius and Syncellus, or perhaps contemporary with the preceding, came the long line of the great dynasty of the Assyrian Kings, who held the empire of the world for ten or twelve centuries, till their dominion was wrested from them by the Medes in the time of Thonus Concolerus, the Sardanapalus of the Greek historians.

The different catalogues of the great Assyrian succession that are extant, will be found among the Dynasties. The overthrow of the Assyrian empire was followed by several years of universal anarchy, bloodshed and revolution. And it is ascertained, that it was during this scene of confusion that Jonah was sent upon his mission to stop its progress at Nineveh.

[ … ]

The Babylonians acquired a temporary independence at the fall of the Assyrian empire, but after two or three short reigns they were subdued by Senecherib. Syria also became an independent kingdom, and prospered for a time, till again reduced under the Assyrian yoke. Persia at the same time arose, and alone maintained its independence against the growing power of the Medes and the new Assyrian dynasty, till the successes of Cyrus raised it above them all, and vested the empire of the world in the Persian race.

The Assyrian empire revived under Nabonasar, supposed to be the same with the Salmanasar of the Scriptures. Of this dynasty three several catalogues will be found, the Ecclesiastical and Astronomical canons preserved by Syncellus, and the celebrated canon of Ptolemæus, besides some other notices of the successors of Nabonasar, among the supplemental Chaldæan fragments.

The first princes of the line appear to have fixed their residence at Nineveh, and among them we may recognize the Tiglath Pileser, Senecherib, and Esar Haddon of the Scriptures. Their race appears to have terminated in Saracus, another Sardanapalus.

Nabopollasar, a successful rebel, began the last line of the Assyrian and Chaldæan monarchs. He transferred the seat of empire to Babylon, and in his reign, his celebrated son, Nebuchadnezzar, extended his conquests over the bordering kingdoms of the north and west, by the reduction of Syria, Phœnicia, Judæa, Egypt, and Arabia; an accurate account of which is transmitted by Berossus.

On the death of his father, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded to the throne. Concerning him we have several very interesting fragments from Berossus, and one from Megasthenes. In these are detailed the splendor of his works at Babylon, its celebrated walls, and brazen gates; its temples, palaces, and hanging gardens.

The prophesy of Nebuchadnezzar, probably alludes to the public notification of Daniel’s interpretation of his vision.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

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