As is widely-known by now, one of my favourite portions of Herodotus’ Persian Wars is the exchange between the Scythian king Idanthyrsus, and Darius the would-be world-emperor. There are some obvious reasons why this is so, and in previous posts I have gone into some detail explicating them. But for today, I thought we would approach it in a somewhat different way: namely, as a brief window in upon some fundamental Indo-European concepts:
“To this message Idanthyrsus, the Scythian king, replied:- “This is my way, Persian. I never fear men or fly from them. I have not done so in times past, nor do I now fly from thee. There is nothing new or strange in what I do; I only follow my common mode of life in peaceful years. Now I will tell thee why I do not at once join battle with thee. We Scythians have neither towns nor cultivated lands, which might induce us, through fear of their being taken or ravaged, to be in any hurry to fight with you. If, however, you must needs come to blows with us speedily, look you now, there are our fathers’ tombs- seek them out, and attempt to meddle with them- then ye shall see whether or no we will fight with you. Till ye do this, be sure we shall not join battle, unless it pleases us. This is my answer to the challenge to fight. As for lords, I acknowledge only Jove my ancestor, and Vesta, the Scythian queen. Earth and water, the tribute thou askedst, I do not send, but thou shalt soon receive more suitable gifts. Last of all, in return for thy calling thyself my lord, I say to thee,
‘Go weep.'” (This is what men mean by the Scythian mode of speech.)”
Stirring stuff, and you can see why it resonates.
Now first, a bit of background. It’s generally my view that the Scythians managed to preserve better than most, an Indo-European way of life and religious perspective (but, then, I repeat myself) that had come straight down from the not-too-much-post-PIE ancestors. We can see this, not coincidentally, in the earliest Zoroastrian accountings of their war-efforts against the ‘Turanians’ – with these representing, in effect, the religiously conservative Indo-Iranians to the north who were considerably un-amused by the Zoroastrians’ religious “reforms”. And it has often been my supposition that the various and recurrent Persian military attemptscapades against the #GangSteppe peoples to the north in much more recent times, were effectively something of a ‘Mythic Recurrence’ of those prior conflicts.
Hence, as you can see in the excerpt above, the bellicose exchange of remarks (but not sovereignty) between a man proclaiming the divinely sanctioned unfurling of Zoroastrian-inflected sovereignty across the known world … and another man, quite comfortable in his own knowledge that Divine Sovereignty already rests with him via rite of descent, and that his own ancestral practices are shortly to drive out the interlopers. You could almost term it a sort of proto-“Jihad Vs McWorld”.
But back to the conceptry. The Integral Indo-European perspective we can addeuce from these remarks.
Probably the most obvious element is, of course, that This Is #GangSteppe. So we’ll leave that be.
No, what I want to focus upon here are three things. All of them, appropriately enough, both Pious – and in some certain ways, Ancestral, as well.
We shall start at the start: with the origins of Idanthyrsus’ Kingly Line. Which he declares to be Papaios [rendered in the translation here as Jove, equated for obvious reasons with Zeus Pater by Herodotus]. As you shall have seen if you’ve been following my “Sons of the Sun” series on the mythic origins of Indo-European Man – that’s exactly as we should expect it to be. Papaios is, quite literally, “Father Sky” – and this forms a demonstrable resonancy with the Indo-European typology in evidence elsewhere, albeit often requiring slightly more ‘reconstructive’ effort in order to show this (e.g. demonstrating that Mars is likely not the original mythic progenitor in the Roman iteration of the myth in question).
And lest this be considered to be the idle words of a boastful king in this specific encounter – Herodotus also reiterates the claim far earlier in the relevant book of the Persian Wars, ascribing just such a parentage to the forerunner of the Scythian race, Targitaus (the mother being a Daughter of the River Dnieper / Borysthenes – and therefore known as Borysthenis ; which would interestingly, also accord with the Mother of Manu & Yama in RigVedic reckoning, Saranyu, as this is also a theonym closely associated with hydronomy; and would further potentially link to the riverine nature of Father Tiber in the aforementioned Romulus & Remus accounting; although I shall leave the in-depth theological inquiry around this confluence for a future article, for now]. Interestingly, the millennium between Herodotus’ writing and Targitaus’ birth would place the origin of the Scythians in their own mythic terms, roughly contemporaneous in sidereal time with the early Vedic Age, and perhaps broadly proximate to the promulgation of Zoroastrianism.
The point is: The Indo-European (Noble)Man is a descendent of Gods, of the Sky in particular. Which is not (necessarily) the same thing as making him a God as well; but does help to establish one of the fundamental underpinnings of proper Indo-European piety – that of the viewing Deities as deserving respect, and intrinsically linked to us (even as They are oft-remote and invariably far greater than we), precisely due to this heritage. And, going the other way, why the respect, support and care of one’s own parents is an act of high piety itself.
The notion of ‘ancestral piety’ also finds expression when Idanthyrsus sets out to Darius that the Tombs of his Ancestors are the Scythian holy ground, that he shall not tolerate interference with.
The second element, concerns the name of the Scythian King in question – Idanthyrsus. For it, too, records something incredibly important pertaining to the fundamental Indo-European World View. As signified by that secondary portion to the name: “Thyrsus”. Which in (extra)ordinary usage refers to the spear-shaped staff of Dionysus. A full consideration of the rather heavily connoted relationship of the Scythians with Dionysus is beyond the scope of this piece, but suffice to say that there are repeated points of deliberately emphasized connectivity between the Dionysus deific known to the Greeks, and the broad range of Scythian peoples. Which more plausibly may be explicated as, again, the Scythians’ own deific(s) in this area being reinterpreted via a Greek-familiar lense – just as we saw with Papaios. Or, interestingly, as we see somewhat later on when Alexander the Great’s armies spared the Shaivite City of Nysa due to their interpretation of this being the City of Dionysus. They were not entirely wrong.
What this means in practice, is that the Dionysus being referred to – whether directly, or more obliquely via the “-Thyrsus” of Idanthyrsus’ name – would plausibly be the same deific Who we would hail as Odin Rudra. Swift-speeding as the Storm Wind, and bringing the empowering elixer (the Mead of Poetry, or the Soma), and facilitating the Divine Fury that is Odr, Manyu … or Furor Teutonicus, Furor Poeticus, etc. in Latin. In a way, therefore, this too is likely to be an ‘ancestral’ hailing – and not simply because Idanthyrsus’ own ancestor may have been the other Idanthyrsus recorded as having lead the Scythians to a mighty southern expansion all the way to Egypt several hundred years afore.
The point is – near every Indo-European culture has some recollection of this concept, the Furor aforementioned. Even if it is spoken of somewhat indirectly, as with the Roman accounting for ‘Vates’ [the trance-like state of a Seer]. And that these are almost invariably in some way correlate and coterminous with the Wind-warrior nature of the God Who Brings These (On). The Scythians, at least in Herodotus’ presentation of them, are rather more prominent in this than some others, precisely because they are having their King portrayed as so closely aligned with this concept. And so, as I say, they are recalling a fundamental, foundational Indo-European concept.
There is a further element worthy of consideration here when we note the prominence of the same deity aforementioned in the demonology of the Zoroastrians – along with the co-option of the concept in question to more closely affix it to such ‘wild’, ‘unconstrained’ and in their view ‘demonic’ impulses. Hence also, in some ways, the urgent and repeated desire of the Persians to conquer and subdue/subjugate their northerly neighbours – as these represented a tangible recollection of the archaic Indo-European and thence Indo-Iranian religious conceptry and mode-of-being that the Zoroastrians were at such pains to suppress.
Now, the third element that I shall draw attention to here, is Idanthyrsus’ statement that other than his Forefather, Papaios, he shall only bow before one other figure as his Lord – “Vesta”, “Hestia” dependent upon translation … more properly hailed as “Tabiti” in something more closely approximating the Scythians’ own language.
The reason why this is important, in terms of the Fundamental/Foundational Indo-European Values perspective that I am advancing, is because She is quite prominently and pointedly identified as the Supreme Divinity of the Scythians … and is, as you may have noticed, a She – A Goddess.
This matters. Because not only does it show that the concept of a powerful female figure is something that is, indeed, intrinsically Indo-European (if not, necessarily, finding expression in all Indo-European descendent cultures and mythoreligions equally) … but it also helps, as part of this, to put to rest the ridiculous notion so popular after Gimbutas, of “Invading Indo-Europeans” bringing Warlike Sky Gods that then suppress/incorporate more peaceable Earth/Mother Goddess figures from the conquered. As we can clearly see from this Scythian instance, especially in constellation with the scriptural evidence from the early Vedic Goddess hymnals to Vak and Saraswati (inter many alia), along with the Phrygians’ own Cybele deific brought from the similar Urheimat-adjacent area … the Indo-Europeans were not requiring the pantheons of those conquered or otherwise assimilated to recruit Goddesses from – and our Goddesses are quite capable of bellicosity (‘bella’, you might say, in both senses) and rulership rather than being mere hood-ornaments for Conan-caricature male divinities as some Feminist analysis would apparently like to believe.
But to return more directly to the Deific in question – I have written considerably more upon the comparative mythology and theology of this figure with other Indo-European expressions of the same deific complex elsewhere, and shall not seek to repeat all of that here. But ‘Tabiti’ as a theonym likely recalls the heat and light associated with the figure – we would find parallel Sanskrit expressions “Tapas” and “Tapati”, and you would likely be familiar with more local linguistic derivations like “Tepid”. This partially underpins the Hestia identification made by Herodotus – although too much emphasis upon how people often think of Hestia is somewhat unhelpful in understanding the Goddess in question. As what we are effectively dealing with here, is not simply a ‘home-fire’, but is closer to both the Polis Fire, and even the unifying Fire of Creation at its heart and empowering, illuminating, radiantly reigning over same. Rather like the Sun, you might say.
In any case, there are three short lessons in the world-view of the Indo-European ancestors, as fortunately preserved for us via the combination of the Scythians and their recounting by Herodotus. There is room for further interpretation and, of course, further explication as applies each of them … and in future pieces I may do just exactly that.
But for now … Under Sun, Under Sky, and Under The Influence – it is sufficient.
2 thoughts on “The Scythian Idanthyrsus As Fundamentally Indo-European Man”
You’ve got some great articles on this blog! Very interesting! Will definitely keep coming back for more.
Legit; thanks – if you have requests or points of inquiry, don’t hesitate to let us know.
Oh, and I see you posted a link to the Sons of the Sun comparative that I put up earlier this evening – thanks for this, also, as it’ll be great to help the effort grow.
I’d recommend checking out the Romulus & Remus pieces I did in that series as well, as they help elucidate some of my thinking on the ‘detail’ of the Indo-European mythic typology in question, especially via the Vedic and other comparatives, that I didn’t really have space to put into this brief synopsis-post.