In my previous blogpost for Saint Constantine (“Legends of the Fog”), I argued that insufficient respect had been paid to the accuracy and retentiveness of human memory. This was a more general philosophical argument. In this installment, I would like to provide some concrete examples from my own research to buttress the general claim.
Because my particular ancestry is English, I have had a natural inclination to study the ancient traditions of the larger people-group to which the English belong – the Germanic peoples. The most complete and helpful source for this group is Norse legendry.
Without going into excruciating detail, for which this blogpost does not have space, certain central features of the Norse legendary ancient world – the archaic “Holy Land” (Old Norse Land er Heilagt) of the “gods” and heroes – Odin, Thor, Heimdall, Asgard and the Bifrost bridge, Aesir and Giants, among many others – with which lovers of Norse culture are familiar and which have been popularized by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bear a remarkable resemblance to newly discovered knowledge about ancient central and western Anatolia.
This connection was only able to be made in the last century, due to at least three considerations. First, the astounding growth in the knowledge of comparative linguistics, which has enabled scholars to trace the earlier forms of world languages with remarkable accuracy. For example, we can now access the earliest forms of words coming from the Indo-European family of languages, which includes English, Old Norse, and the Indo-European languages of ancient Anatolia.
Second, our knowledge of ancient Anatolia – its history, languages and cultures – has not just been improved, it has in many cases entirely come into existence from a condition of complete ignorance. Such cultures as the Luwians, Arzawans, Hittites, and others have filled in a gigantic hole in our knowledge of the Bronze Age Ancient Near East, a geographical gap that stretched from Assyria to the shores of the Aegean Sea. This is due to the amazing work of archaeologists, linguists and others from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day. For the first time, a map of very ancient Anatolia is emerging out of the darkness, complete with geographical names – some of which survived into later ancient times in recognizable form, but many which had disappeared entirely.
Third, in the last century scholars of Norse, and more broadly, Indo-European ancient traditions have vastly contributed to our knowledge of these ancient peoples and their cultures, through such methods as comparative mythology.
It is my belief that even a cursory examination of this emerging map of ancient Anatolia, providing that one has the idea in mind that the ancestors of the Germanic peoples knew about these lands and were transmitting this knowledge to their descendants, shows example after example of connection between these preserved Norse legends and this newly reconstructed map. The examples are of such high quality and number that I feel fairly confident that we can point to ancient central and western Anatolia, and the territories surrounding this region, as the remembered Norse ancestral homelands.
I will limit myself to a few key examples in this blogpost. In order to pass muster as a legitimate example of connection, the Norse and ancient Anatolian geographic name must do more than just bear a superficial resemblance to each other. While superficial resemblance may indicate etymological identity, it also may be a snare and a delusion, what linguists jokingly call “Kling Klang Phonology”. For example, the English word have and the Latin word habere, despite strongly resembling each other and having similar meanings, are not etymologically related, descending from completely different Proto-Indo-European roots.
If the argument presented here is true, it would mean that the famous list of sites in the legendary Norse “Holy Land” in the Grimnismal (and other relevant Norse sources) on the one hand, and the place names found in the recently reconstructed map of Anatolia on the other, are both descendants of a common earlier Indo-European source. Thus, it might be profitable to first back-translate the Old Norse words found in these Nordic sources into their Proto-Indo-European (PIE) equivalents.
Then we take the next step and reproduce these PIE equivalents in the manner they would appear in the Hittite Luwian language of the clay tablet sources of our new understanding of the ancient Anatolian map. Then we take the final step and compare these Luwian reconstructions with the reconstructed map of Anatolia. What this method reveals is an astonishing correspondence of names between the Norse sources and the Hittite Luwian ones – a result that we can be confident is not a simplistic comparison of similar-sounding words, because it is based on sound rules of linguistic development accepted by modern Indo-European scholars.
We will begin our analysis of these correspondences by starting with one of the most obvious. Norse legendry tells us that one of the chief Elves (Alfr) was named Gangr, who lived in his settlement of Gangr-Setr. This legendary person is also called Orvandel, Egil, and other names. He was a friend of the Aesir (the Norse “gods”) and when Thor would take his many expeditions across the great border-river into the land of the Aesir’s enemies, he would often stop at Gangr-Setr before crossing over.
If we take the Old Norse (ON) root element Gang- and back-translate it into Proto-Indo-European (PIE), we get *Ghangh-. So:
Then we render it as the descendant of this PIE root would appear in Hittite Luwian (Luw), Hanh-:
This is why I refer to this method of backward and forward translation as the “Triangular Method.” Now we check the map of ancient Anatolia for a correspondence. The general layout of the Old Norse “Holy Land” would make us expect a location somewhere in north central Anatolia, west of a major river that flows roughly north-south. In this region we find the settlement of Hanh-ana, which is identified as the area of the later Classical city of Gangra (modern Cancriki), on the west side of that Classical archetypical border river, the Halys/Marassantiya, flowing roughly south to north. This is an example of a name that survived into Classical and even modern times. Our next example is one that did not.
Now let’s try this method on another location in the Grimnismal. Ullr, the heir of Gangr and the Gangr-Setr, is said to live in a region of Elfland called Ydalir, translated as “Yew-Dales”. The central Old Norse element Y-dal- back-translated into Proto-Indo-European would look like *Eiwo-dhal-. Rendered into Hittite Luwian, this becomes I-wa-tal-. Right in the neighborhood of Hanhana in the recently reconstructed map of ancient Anatolia is the land or settlement of Iwatall-issa.
Other identifications require some more background information before they become clear. For example, we might expect to see the name “Elfland” (Old Norse Alfheim) itself appear on the map of ancient Anatolia, since the people we have looked at so far were identified as Alfr or “Elves”. No obvious candidate appears at first. To identify it, we need to be aware of two basic facts: one of ancient Hittite geographical terminology, and the other of linguistic differences among different members of the Anatolian family of Indo-European languages.
The first fact is a Hittite geographical prefix on the map of ancient Anatolia, namely Ka-. The most well-known example of its use is in the city which provides the Hittites with their own name for themselves, Ka-Nes(h), or Nesa, the city of the Nesili people.
The second fact we need to be aware of is the k-/z- linguistic difference among certain of the Anatolian Indo-European languages. For example, the Hittite Luwian relative pronoun ka appears in other related Anatolian languages as za.
So, on the entirely reasonable hypothesis that there existed among the non-Luwian Anatolian languages of this region a geographical prefix *Za- used in a similar way that we see in Ka-Nes(h), does this help us identify the ancient Anatolian equivalent of Alfheim?
Yes – right in the region where we should expect Elfland to be, north central Anatolia, we find the ancient city and land of Zalpa/Zalpuwa. Assuming the beginning of this word to be a fused geographical prefix Za-, and the original form of the name being Za-Alpa, we can peel this off to expose *Alpa/Alpuwa. Using the Triangular Method on the central Old Norse element Alf-, we get PIE *Albh-, which could appear in Hittite Luwian as Alp-. The name Zalpa/Zalpuwa is probably a Luwian version of a non-Luwian Anatolian place-name. Further connections relating to both Norse and Anatolian legendry could be provided as reinforcement for the Zalpa/Alfheim identification, but space does not permit.
Many, many other examples could be given, not just of place-names but also of legendary persons or events. These examples, however, might encourage us to think that the Old Norse people really did have very accurate and retentive memories of their ancient home and “Holy Land” along with many other peoples of the earth.