Gk. Χείρων, Hitt. kiššeraš dUTU‑uš and Rudrá‑ ‘of healing hand’
Gk. Χείρων (Hom.) / Χῑ́ρων (Pind.) has long been interpreted as ‘having (good) hands (χείρ)’, (Kretschmer 1919). However, the form <Χιρων>, occurring on both Attic vase paintings and in one inscription from Thera (7th–6th. B.C.) has recently led some to think that Χείρων was a secondary form of the name, ultimately based on a Volksetymologie (Wachter 2001, Pelliccia). This paper shall now stress that Chiron shares some inherited characteristics of Anatolian and Vedic medicine-gods, namely the association with (1) the ‘healing hand’ and (2) hunting activity, which may lend support to the interpretation of Χείρων/Χίρων as ‘the one with good hands’:
(1) The ‘healing hand’ is a distinctive feature of Chiron as a teacher of physicians, matching that of the Vedic god Rudra, cf. Pind. Nem. 3.55 τὸν φαρμάκων δίδαξε μαλακόχειρα νόμον “(sc. Asclepius), whom he (sc. Chiron) taught the gentle-handed province of medicines” (Race 1997); RV II 33.7 kúvà syá te rudara mr̥ḷayā́kur ' hásto yó ásti bheṣajó jálāṣaḥ “where, o Rudra, is that merciful hand of yours, which is a healing remedy (…)?” (Jamison and Brereton 2014). A similar state of affairs may underlie some Anatolian divine appellatives, namely Luw. dKiššaraššaš ‘God of the Hand’, probably a deification of the body part, and kiššeraš dUTU‑uš ‘Sun-God of the Hand’, who is invoked in a ritual against bewitching (KBo 12.126 i 22 : CTH 402).
(2) Χείρων, Rudrá‑ and kiššeraš dUTU‑uš are associated with hunting:
- Chiron, ‘the divine beast’ (φήρ ... θεῖος, Pind. Pyth. 4.119) trains heroes in hunting, as clearly stated by Xenophon, cf. Cyn. 1.1.1f. τὸ μὲν εὕρημα θεῶν, Ἀπόλλωνος καὶ Ἀρτέμιδος, ἄγραι καὶ κύνες· ἔδοσαν δὲ καὶ ἐτίμησαν τούτῳ Χείρωνα διὰ δικαιότητα […] καὶ ἐγένοντο αὐτῷ μαθηταὶ κυνηγεσίων […] ‘chase and dogs are the invention of gods, of Apollo and Artemis. They bestowed it to Chiron and honored him therewith for his righteousness […] and he had for pupils in hunt (sc. Cephalus and others)’. Moreover, he is connected with arrow-wounds in classical sources (Il. 829–32+) and dies shot by Herakles’ arrow (Diod. Sic. IV 12.8+).
- Rudra, who is compared to a ‘terrible beast’ (mr̥gáṃ ná bhīmám, RV II 33.11c), is referred to as having good bow, good arrows and dogs, cf. RV IV 52.11a tám u ṣṭuhi yáḥ suviṣúḥ sudhánvā “praise him, who has the good arrow and the good bow” (Jamison and Brereton 2014); AVŚ XI 2.30 rudrásya […] idáṃ mahā́syebhyaḥ śvábhyo akaraṃ námaḥ “to Rudra’s […] great-mouthed dogs I have paid this homage” (Whitney and Lanman 1905). Furthermore, he causes illness with his terrible missiles (RV II 33.14+).
- In the Ritual of Alli from Arzawa against Bewitching (KBo 12.126 i 49–53 = CTH 402), kiššeraš dUTU‑uš is opposed to a hunter clay-figure, which probably represents the bewitchers (Mouton 2010). Thus, the state of affairs reflected by the Hittite passage turns out to be reverse and complementary to the Vedic and Greek ones:
[ki]ššeraš DUTU-uš LÚUR.GI?-aš=(š)a LÚ-aš peran
nu=(š)ši GIŠPAN=ŠU ēšz[i]
[nu=(š)ši GIŠG]IHÁ=ŠU ēšzi
nu=(š)ši ANA UR.GI?=ŠU 4 UR.GI?=ŠU ēšz[i]
“La divinité solaire de la main (est présente) et l’homme chasseur (est) en face (d’elle). Il a son arc. Il a ses [fl]èches. Il a quatre de ses chiens” (Mouton 2010)
In conclusion, the common features Chiron and Rudra share speak for a common mythological ancestor, probably a divine figure connected with young men’s age-groups (Männerbünde), that was associated with hunting and medicine. The comparison with Hitt. kiššeraš dUTU-uš supports the interpretation of Chiron’s name as ‘the one with good hands’. Even in the case of a secondary re-interpretation, the Volksetymologie Χείρων : χείρ was based on inherited material, while a potential etymological match (Χείρων : kiššeraš dUTU-uš : Rudrá‑ – hásto yó ásti bheṣajó) may go beyond the mere formal coincidence.
Greek and Latin Linguistics