For various reasons, I found myself reading a bit about Hittite oaths – and two points struck out at me. The first, is that there’s so much going on in these that is fairly instantly recognizable to us from other Indo-European metaphysical-legal corpuses – and perhaps I may write more upon this in the not too distant future.
But the second, is that there’s something … distinctly *modern-day* familiar in some of these injunctions, as well. Partially because the overall approach is something broadly akin to “cross my heart and hope to die” [with an emphasis upon the “hope to die [should I breach the terms of my oath]” side of things – often in gruesomely creative ways, such as the bit wherein the oathbreaker melts like wax in what I can best describe via reference to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark] … but have a look at this:
“Now there are brought female clothes, a distaff and a spindle and an arrow is broken, and he speaks as follows: ‘What is this? Aren’t they women’s clothes? Whoever breaks this oath – may this oath make him a woman out of a man and his men into women, and may they dress like women and put on a scarf”
This particular passage has been interpreted in a few ways. One of which, is that the arrow breaking is symbolic of the weapons of an oath-breaker being broken. But as soon as I read that, I kinda felt that … something was being overlooked here.
Insofar as while it *is* logical/likely that you’d disarm oath-breakers in a ritual public humiliation … and while there are *further* obvious symbolic resonances inherent in a man-at-arms, a warrior, losing exactly these things that make him what he is [i.e. his weapons – there is a modern ‘echo’ of this in ritualistic tearing off of medals in movies etc.] – I somewhat suspect that something a bit more … fundamental is being placed up as metaphysical collateral for the Oath of binding to a Lord, so to speak.
That is to say, in both a literal as well as a metaphorical sense, the warrior’s ‘manhood’ him/itself. Which is to be ‘broken’/’broken-off’. [This is now an appropriate time for wincing in the y-chromosomed segment of the audience]
This leads to a further intriguing concept – around the potential saliency of the Word, the bond, as not just being the essential core underpinning of the State [see my previous work around the concept of “Vrata” / “Vratya” in Sanskrit, and some other efforts pertaining to Germanic correlates by the same author], but also as being, in effect, what makes the Man Himself.
A more misogynist view would suggest a corresponding correlate of ‘woman’ as being somewhat archetypally incapable of such loyalty in this Bronze Age world-view – and therefore, to be reduced to the status of a woman (rather than, say, an eunuch) is what it means to be an oathbreaker in this context.
But I do not think that such an interpretation can actually hold – as we know from various areas in both the Hittite context and other Indo-European mythoreligious and textual corpuses, there is a *strong* role for Female divinities and human figures in the notions of the state, the religious Word, and most especially, therefore, both of the two at once. [Other than the obvious examples of Female oath-guarantor deities, and my previous work on the very Indo-European Goddess of National Identity / Sovereignty – therefore the paramount source of loyalty itself, Vak in particular demonstrates this role]
In any case, there is something nostalgic about parsing through so many of these Bronze Age and subsequent Indo-European texts.
Not because I am claiming I was there at the time, in order to be able to recall such things *directly* – but rather because it keeps reminding me of being back in high school.