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Zoroaster – Politician or Witch Doctor (lecture 2 of 3)

Henning, Walter B..

Lecture 1 of 3
lecture 3 of 3
















The sources for the history and the history of culture in Iran are not uniformly satisfactory Going back beyond the conquest of Persia by the Arabs in the seventh century, we find ourselves well informed about the Sassanian period, i.e. from the third century of our era onwards. We are well acquainted with the social history of that time, with the religions, with the material culture, with almost any side of human activity. There is a multitude of written documents in Iranian as well as other languages, in Syriac, Armenian, and Greek; in addition, many books of that period were later translated into Arabic and so were preserved, as a whole: or in extracts, to the present day.

Before the Sassanian epoch, in the five hundred years of Greek and Parthian rule from 300 B.C. to A.D. 200, there is a dark period. In spite of the accession of fresh material through excavations carried out in the last few decades, our information remains scanty; in comparison with our knowledge of the Sassanian times, it is negligible. Here we deplore chiefly the nearly total absence of material written in the indigenous languages: a couple of documents in Parthian, an inscription in Parthian from the end of the period, a few coin legends, and a few seal inscriptions---that is almost all. There was a series of interesting rind very informative letters in the Sogdian language which were ascribed to the early part of the second century of our era; but recently it had to be shown that in fact they were two hundred years later than it had been thought.[1] For the lack of first-hand material, we feel scarcely compensated by the two Zoroastrian books that must have been composed in that period: the Vendidad and the Nirangistan, two fragments of a priestly code. Their authors were anxious to preserve the ancient laws of the Magi, which threatened to fall into destitute, and at the same time to elaborate them in a spirit of narrowness and bigotry. These books are typical products of priests who find themselves powerless to enforce their authority, as indeed the Magi were, under Greek rule. They are so busy with regulations, which are often fictitious, and sometimes absurd that they throw nearly no light on contemporary reality, except, of course, on the author's state of mind. So we have to rely, for this period, almost entirely on Greek sources, supplemented by Roman and Babylonian material. Even though some of the Greek material is first-hand and first-class, the sum-total of the evidence is insufficient to give us a tolerably clear picture of those five hundred years.

We are far better off for the preceding period, the time of the Achaemenian Empire down to its conquest by Alexander. Here the indigenous material, from excavations and inscriptions, is more plentiful. The Greek reports are far more comprehensive. Living on the fringe of this gigantic state and constantly threatened by it, the Greeks of necessity saw to it that they kept in touch with what went on in their neighbor’s lands. At the close of that time, we receive a full-scale view of the whole country, from Asia Minor to the Indian frontier, from the Jaxartes to Baluchistan, through the reports on Alexander's expeditions. Even if we allow for the partiality, which inevitably consciously or unconsciously colours all Greek reports, we still can say that we are well informed on that period.

When one approaches a problem of the cultural life of Iran, one does well to call these facts to mind. From the latter part of the sixth century B.C. onwards Iran is not an unknown land. Its inhabitants were constantly under the eyes of foreigners, foreigners, too, who more often than not were not well disposed! The Iranians, if not downright hostile, any little oddity they observed was noted down eagerly and proclaimed to the world. Any custom that did not conform to Greek ideas was seized on to revile the powerful Persians, especially in the early period when the Greeks had good reason to fear and hate them. And what is the result of scrutinizing the records left by Greeks and other observers? It is this that the Iranians, all of them, were thoroughly sane people.

Had any such primeval customs as Nyberg ascribes to Zoroaster existed in Iran, anywhere in Iran, we should for certain have heard all about it. The Greeks, of whom it has rightly been said that they had a keen sense for the ridiculous, would never have passed by in silence this witch-doctor or shaman who exposed himself -- for payment – to his fellow tribesmen, shrieking animal sounds, ' foaming at the mouth, in a war-dance that ended up in a grand coma. The ventriloquism that forms an integral part of the shaman's art would also not have remained unnoticed. This figure of fun would inevitably have become a standard item in the Greek Comedy.

Nyberg does indeed not claim that such customs persisted until the Persian period; for such a claim could not be maintained for a moment. They must therefore have disappeared, conveniently, between the time of Zoroaster and that of Cyrus or Darius, without leaving a trace. Nyberg's assumption that they ever existed is one that I cannot share. There is no evidence in its favour, except, of course, the arbitrary attribution of shamanist meanings to innocent words, which was described in my first lecture: 'trance' to 'sleep', 'mystical union' to 'company', 'companion in mysteries' to 'friend', 'shamanist rites' to 'action', and so forth.

Shamanism is a primitive type of religion characteristic of culturally backward tribes in northern. Asia and Europe, of the Indians of northern America, Esquimaux, and others. Its existence among Iranians and Indo-Aryans has never been demonstrated. Even the ancestors common to the Iranians and Indo-Aryans possessed a religion that, if there is such a thing as progress in religious beliefs, had progressed considerably beyond the stage associated with shamanist practices. Zoroaster and his tribe must therefore have regressed to a level long surpassed by their fellows. Those who wish to follow Nyberg will have to convince us that a part of the Iranian tribes relapsed from the Indo- Iranian religion into beliefs characteristic of the childhood of humanity, but that these tribes recovered their good sense sufficiently quickly to escape all observation in the time of the Persian Empire.

I said a little while ago that, to go by Greek and other reports, the Iranians, from their first appearance in history, were eminently sane people. There are, however, a few passages in Greek books, which to a casual reader, many seem to run counter to this judgment -- passages which attribute monstrous customs to some of the Iranian tribes. So monstrous, indeed, that one might be driven to say that these people must have been a little peculiar, to say the least. Those who write on the ancient Iranian religion are very fond of these rare passages and never fail to quote them. Among them, there is one, on the customs of the ancient Bactrians, that surpasses all others in the attribution of magnificent savagery; it has been reproduced often, I think once too often. I have long been looking for a chance to demonstrate its wickedness.

In discussing the mode of exposing the dead to be devoured by wild beasts, Nyberg has this sentence:[2] Strabo attests this custom for Bactrian a very cruel form, the sick and decrepit being exposed even before death, and for the Massagetae, while Herodotus reports that the latter buried those who died of illness.

'Strabo attests' -- this statement is already misleading. It suggests that Strabo, contemporary with the Emperor Augustus, witnessed the Bactrian habit himself. In fact, Strabo merely quoted an earlier author, and quoted him with evident disapproval. This author was Onesicritus, one of Alexander's officers. The responsibility for the veracity of the story thus rests solely on Onesicritus, and the story, of course, refers to his time, not to the time of Strabo. Let us hear what Strabo does say:

Both the Sogdian and the Bactrians not, in ancient times, much different from nomads in their manner of living and their customs, although those of the Bactrians were a little: more civilized. Onesicritus, however, does not tell very nice thing of these either: namely, that those who break down by reason of old age or sickness are thrown alive to dogs reared and kept for the purpose and called 'undertakers' in the native language; that within the walls the capital city, Baktra, was for the greater part littered with human bones, while the outside proved clean and that Alexander abolished the custom. [3]

Anyone who is evens lightly acquainted with the history of Iran has only to consider the implications of this talc to realize that it is utter nonsense. When Onesicritus visited Bactria -- if he ever did -- that province had been an integral part of the Persian Empire for over two hundred years. The Persian Empire was in many respects not so very different from a modern state. It had a centralized administration to which the provincial governors had to submit written reports, a complicated system of taxes and a cadastral survey. Regular inspection of the provinces by high officials to ensure that the policy laid down by the central government was carried out, a common system of writing, a common administrative language, a unified coinage, a network of admirable high roads, a highly developed judiciary, police and intelligence officers, a postal service, a primitive telegraph.

Onesicritus pretends to have made his curious observations not in an out-of-the-way corner of this state, but in the capital of a province, the seat of the local government, which almost wholly consisted of administrative offices, residences for the staff, from the governor down, and military barracks. The leading members of this community were no doubt Persians, while most of the clerks probably came from Babylonia or Mesopotamia. If we are to follow Onesicritus, we have to visualize these officials wading their way to their offices through a litter of human bones and, when they felt a cold coming on, looking anxiously over their shoulders at the terrible undertaker dogs, lest they might mistake their flushed appearance for a serious illness and take appropriate action. For two hundred years they bore up under the strain without stopping to think whether the custom was necessary, without ever making so much as a murmur of protest when they were assigned a post in dangerous Bactra: until, at last I glorious Alexander came, saw, and did, once again, what no one else was capable of doing.

If this fairy tale had been related by one accounted as the most reliable of authorities, we should still be compelled to reject it and rather begin to look askance at other statements emanating from the same source. As it is, Onesicritus has no authority at all. He is responsible for many fancy stories: the meeting between Alexander and the Queen of the Amazons, the hippopotami in India, snakes forty and seventy yards long, kept by an Indian king, the inscription in the Greek language but Persian script on the tomb of Cyrus, and so on. Already in ancient times, serious authors, e.g. Plutarch and Arrian, made fun of him; and Strabo himself described him as 'the captain-in-chief of incredible stories rather than of Alexander's (ships)'. He had been a sea captain, and as such had seen honorable service in Alexander's navy. When, in his dotage, he wrote his memoirs, he embroidered and embellished his adventures to make them more interesting; he was neither the first nor the last ancient mariner to love startling his audience. Nowadays the question discussed by historians is whether he was an out-and-out: liar ox a harmless romancier;[4]  the answer is not of much importance: the point is that he should not believed.

Dr. Tarn, who, of course, also rejects the story about the Bactrian dogs, thinks it may all the same have a weak basis in reality and suggests that Onesicritus may have met with, and not understood, a word translated to him as ‘undertaker’ and made up a story out of this word, the pariah dogs, and his own cynic principles.[5]  If it is necessary to find an explanation for the ‘undertaker’ the following may serve. Perhaps one night Onesicritus saw, at a distance, a Persian badger (Meles canescens), and, upon asking what it was, was told by his Persian companions that it was 'a kind of dog' named 'grave-digger'; for the Persians had their own peculiar zoological categories, and in the genus 'dog' they included a weird variety of animals: foxes, beavers, hedgehogs, and others. In modern Persian, the badger is called gurkan, 'grave-digger', which could suitably be translated as ‘undertaker’ the ancient term is not known. As the name indicates, the badger has had the reputation of digging up and devouring corpses in recent times; [6] this accusation may well have been made against it a long while ago.

So much for Onesicritus and his (greek text). In the sentence I quoted above Nyberg further stated that Strabo had 'attested' similar customs also for the Massagetae. Here again Strabo is not the witness. In his description of the Massagetae he merely copied an ancient report, one that had already been used by Herodotus; it is usually, no doubt correctly, attributed to Hecataios of Miletus. His occasions for writing on the Massagetae was their fight against Cyrus, who it is said fell in a battle with these ferocious nomads of the steppes around Lake Aral. No one ever knew anything worth mentioning about them; no one can say whether even their war with Cyrus is historical. So when we are told that they sacrificed the older members of their community at a solemn ceremony, offered up some cattle at the same time; boiled the flesh of both victims together and feasted on it; accounted those who thus ended their days the most fortunate; and be wailed the ill fortune of those who, dying of disease, escaped the happiness of being eaten by their loving children – we should be wise not to regards such and similar things as strictly historical facts: for Hecataios certainly did not visit the Massagetae and observe their horrid practices.[7]

It is well known that the ascription of displeasing customs of this type to nations about which nobody knew anything is a standard feature of Greek historiography. The peoples with whom the Greeks were acquainted were barbarians: those who lived beyond the barbarians and of whom they knew merely the name were inevitably cannibals or worse.

We have now dealt with two specimens of the atrocity stories that Greeks invented about the Iranians, though it is not even certain that the Massagetae were Iranians. There are a few more stories of this sort; it would be tedious to enumerate them: none of them stands up to criticism of the mildest kind. If, however, one takes all such fancy tales for gospel truth and adds them up, one is bound to gain a picture of the Iranians that is far removed from reality. In such a picture, a caricature of the truth even shamanism will fit in; for why should not those who boiled and ate their parents have prostituted themselves on a Maga?

As we had to touch on questions of historical criticism, it may be convenient to fit in here a few remarks on the historical Zoroaster as represented by Herzfeld. There is no doubt that the ultimate basis of Herzfeld's theories is the presumed identity of Viŝtaspa, the father of Darius, with Viŝtaspa, the protector of Zoroaster. Their identity was first assumed by Ammianus Marcellinus in the fourth century A.D., but passed unnoticed by Chares of Mytilene, one of Alexander's officials and a well-informed author, who took down an elaborate popular story about Viŝtaspa, the protector of Zoroaster, without mentioning the other Viŝtaspa or confusing the two in any way: from which one is tempted to infer that the identity was unknown to his Persian informants, as early as the fourth century B.C. In modern times the identity has been asserted by various scholars and lately elaborated by Hertel and Herzfeld. One objection has always been raised: the difference in the genealogies of the two personalities.[8] On the one hand: the father of Darius, the <greek text> Viŝtaspa, son of Arŝama, of the Achaemenid family; on the other: the father of Spentosata the kavi Viŝtaspas on of Aurvat.aspa, of the Naotara family. All attempts at overcoming this objection have failed. One may perhaps interpret away one point of difference and still expect to be believed; but one cannot interpret away everything and command, conviction. For example, we are told that Darius' original name was Spentodata and that he took the name of Darius as 'throne-name' when he became king. We might credit this removal of the name of Viŝtaspa's son, even though we should regret the absence of any evidence pointing to it; but we shall not believe even that when we find that equally artificial devices are needed to do away with the name of Viŝtaspa father as well and with all other points of difference. Indeed it is impossible to accept the whole theory, unless one: were to assume that all sources, however different in origin and tendency from the Avesta to the inscriptions of Darius and the Greek historians, were inspired by the same brand of obscurantism that all were somehow cooperating to bring about the discomfiture of the students of history.

There is no point in pursuing this matter any farther; it has been argued often enough, However, we have now been presented with a new hypothesis is, which is to bolster up the discredited theory of the identity of the two Viŝtaspas. It maybe worthwhile to make a few observations on this new hypothesis, which I have sketched in my first lecture. Its central point is the assumption that Zoroaster was of royal birth, a grandson of Astyages, the last Median king whom Cyrus deposed.

This new hypothesis has only one merit: that it is new and unexpected. There is a strong a priori ground against it. In almost all religions, we find a tendency to provide the founders with a noble: lineage. However humble their origin in brutal fact, it had to be traced, wherever at all possible, to a king of the distant past, the more distant the better, to silence critical spirits. This tendency was not alien to Zoroastrianism. In the Avesta, events latest parts, Zoroaster has yet no royal ancestors; but in the Pahlavi books the expected genealogical tree appears, connecting Zoroaster with Manuŝĉihr (a mythical king) in the fourteenth generation, a comfortable distance. If we were to follow Herzfeld, we should be confronted with the singular circumstance that although Zoroaster had been not merely of royal ancestry, but even the legitimate heir to the Iranian throne, yet all sources, indigenous or foreign, had in unison suppressed his true origin, which one would have expected his followers at least to proclaim from the house tops. This runs counter to all historical experience. Again, we find our sources affected by that strange and deplorable obscurantism to which I have referred. One can also put it in this way: even if the Zoroastrian books through the ages had proclaimed, unanimously, that Zoroaster had been not only a prophet but also the rightful successor to the kingship, we should not believe one word of it. We should shrug our shoulders and say: merely another example of the manner in which the founders of religions are exalted by the faithful. As it is, no claim to such noble ancestry has ever been put forward either by Zoroastrians or by anybody else; therefore, it: has no basis in fact.

Let us see now on what the new hypothesis docs base itself. It is a story told by Ctesias; it is unconfirmed by any other authority. Astyages, Ctesias said, had no son. He gave his only daughter, Amytis, in marriage to Spitamas, a Median nobleman, and promised him the succession. Two sons were born to Amytis, Spitakes and Megabernes. Later, when Cyrus overthrew Astyages, he killed Spitamas and took Amytis as his wife,[9] to secure a pretence of legitimacy Amytis then became the mother of the two sons of Cyrus, Cambyses[10] and Bardiya (whom Ctesias wrongly calls Tanyoxarkes). At the end of his reign Cyrus was involved in a war against the Derbikes (whom Ctesias wrongly localized on the Indian border while in fact they lived in the neighborhood of Hyrcania). In the fight, Cyrus received a mortal wound. On his deathbed he appointed Cambyses as his successor and made Bardiya/Tanyoxarkes Viceroy of Bactria and other provinces; but he did not forget his two stepsons: to Spitakes he the satrapy over the newly conquered Derbikes and to Megabernes a similar post.

So far Ctesias. To the uninitiated it will not immediately be clear what this story has to do with Zoroaster. Its concealed pertinence has now been uncovered. We know that Zoroaster belonged to the Spitamid family. He is called Spitamain the Avesta, and so are his close relatives. Now there is a Spitamas in Ctesias' tale: should he not have been a member of Zoroaster's family? At first Hertzfeld wavered[11] might not Zoroaster himself have been the – same as Spitamas, the son-in-law of Astyages? In the outcome, he abandoned this idea. Perhaps it would have been inconvenient to let Zoroaster find an untimely death at the hand of Cyrus in 550 B.C. or close to that date – that would have badly tangled the web woven around Zoroaster, Viŝtaspa, and Darius; Zoroaster would not have been available, thirty years later, to counsel his bosom-friend Darius to proceed to the murder of Gaumata.

Possibly in view of such obstacles Hertzfeld decided to cast Spitakes for the role of Zoroaster. Spitakes is explained as a diminutive of Spitama; hence it should mean 'the little Spitama.' One regrets to see here again that the genealogies so little resemble each other. They do not coincide in a single name. On the one hand: Spitakes, son of Spitamas and Amytis, on the other: Zarathuŝtra, son of Pouruŝaspa and Dugdova. The differences have (to be explained away as they were explained away in the case of Viŝtaspa; but in that case there was at least one genuine coincidence; here nothing agrees. In this way we could ns well identify Zoroaster with Homer or with Buddha or with anybody else.

There is only one point that requires explanation: the use of the name of Spitamas by Ctesias; for this is certainly an uncommon name, and it is associated with Zoroaster's family. The explanation becomes obvious as soon as one considers the nature of the book that Ctesias wrote. He composed it after 398B.C.on his return from the Persian capital where he had spent long years as court physician. His book is important enough for the events of his own time, but almost without any value for the earlier period. For this period, he relied not so much on information he could have collected in Persia as rather on Herodotus supplemented by his imagination. He had no understanding of history, which appeared to him as an endless succession of court intrigues; the <greek text> on which he pretended to base himself have long been recognized in their true nature: as harem gossip.

This author, whom Herzfeld treated as a Father of History, had a low reputation even in antiquity. Time has not improved it. Modern historians, almost without exception, put little or no store by what he has to say; Marquart, for example, talked of him as the Father of Romances, which is appropriate, One of his tricks is to get all his names wrong, and another, to use names that were current in his own time in his stories of antiquity. That is why the name of Spitamas figures in his tale of Astyages and Cyrus. In his time the name of Zoroaster, the Spitama, was known to everyone in Persia; in honor of the prophet people chose the name 'Spitama' for their children.[12] As regards the tale itself, its romantic hue is visible plainly enough to proclaim its inventor.

Hertzfeld's work is filled with identifications of names and persons appearing on the one hand in the Avesta, on the other in the historical records of the early Achaemenid epoch, identifications which carry as much conviction as does the identification of Zoroaster with Spitakes, the governor of the Derbikes. It would be a lengthy business to discuss all of them. Instead of doing that, I will now give a representative specimen, with full details, so that every reader can judge for himself whether the method pursued by Hertzfeld is likely to lead to lasting results.

‘Among the brothers and cousins, of Viŝtaspa’, Hertzfeld wrote,[13] 'is one Âtarhvarnah. 'The facts are these: in the Farvardin Yaŝt, a litany commemorating, in the form of a long list, the names of members of the early Zoroastrian community, one Âterexvarenah is mentioned. No details are given of his origin or relationship. To say that he was a brother or cousin of Viŝtaspa's is mere presumption. It seems to be founded on the: consideration that names of members of Viŝtaspa's family are mentioned in proximity, although not in close proximity, to the name of Âterexvarenah the inference is scarcely admissible. In truth, the list appears to have been arranged with regard to resemblance in names rather than with regard to the relationship of their bearers. Thus Âterexvreneh stands in an enumeration of eight names with âtere -- 'fire' as the first part of compounds: Âterevanu, Âterepata, Âteredata, Âterecitra, Âterexvarenah, Âteresavah, Âterezantu, Âteredainhu; incidentally, there are no other names of this type (a very common type) elsewhere in the long list.

One of the most important discoveries made by Herzfeld was his find of the household archives of the early Achaemenian rulers, some thirty thousand tablets and fragments of tablets, most of them written in Elamite, a few in Aramaic. In one of the Elamite tablets, dated in the year 16 of Darius, par-na-k-ka orders a ke-so-pat-ti-ŝ to slaughter a hundred sheep; ke-so-pat-ti-ŝ is said to represent an unattested Persian word getupatiŝ and mean 'chief of the archived[14] (perhaps it is merely agaitapatis 'shepherd'). The same Par-na-k-ka occurs in another tablet as the son of one Arŝama. Now although Parnaka, in Greek transcription <greek text> and Arŝama were among the commonest names current in ancient Iran (as common as Ahmad and 'Ali in Muslim times), nevertheless Herzfeld presumed that this Arŝama was the same as Arŝama the grandfather of Darius, and this Parnaka, therefore, a brother of Viŝtaspa and uncle of Darius.

If we conceded that the Âterexvarenah of the Farvardin Yaŝt was a brother or cousin to Viŝtaspa, the protector of Zoroaster , (which we do not), and if we conceded that Parnaka was a brother to Viŝtaspa, the father of Darius (which we also do not), even then we could not agree to the identification of Parnaka with Âterexvarenah which Herzfeld claimed. The first and characteristic half of the, Avestan name seems to have disappeared. As always there is an explanation ready to hand (the one is the full name, the other a shortened form), but the reader is scarcely in the mood for further concessions to imagination.

Hertel and Herzfeld have devoted a colossal amount of labor to the comparison of the Avestan nomenclature with the names found in the historical records of the Achaemian state; in this work they have drawn also on pseudo-historical sources to which one, should not attach much value, such as Ctesias. Great ingenuity has been displayed by them, all to prove one thing, and one thing only: that Viŝtaspa, the protector of Zoroaster, and Viŝtaspa, the father of Darius, were one and the same person. However, the net result is that they have proved the opposite of what they set out to prove. Not a single straight equation has been turned up by them, in spite of, the most comprehensive search, not one identification that could stand on its own merits without the need of arduous and cumbersome explanations. Were the basic hypothesis correct, unambiguous equations should have been found easily and in great number. Their total absence, now amply demonstrated by Hertzfeld against his will, proves that the two Viŝtaspa have nothing in common but their name.

Before we can leave the realm of historical questions, there remains a matter that cannot be passed over without some: attempt at elucidation. In a way, it is also an historical problem. I mean Nyberg's suggestion that Zoroaster drugged himself with hemp.

In order to appreciate how deeply this suggestion must shock those who call themselves Zoroastrians, one has to understand the effects which habitual indulging in hemp produces on the human organism, Schlimmer, an Austrian physician who spent long years in Persia in the second half of the last century described how he labored, for three whole days, to bring back to consciousness a man who had been drugged with Indian hemp oil. He then wrote:[15]

In spite of these terrible effects, I have never heard of a strictly mortal case; but the repulsive habit of taking the oil of the tops of Indian hemp and the various electuaries made from it, in order to secure a moral calmness which lets one envisage all vicissitudes and miseries of human life in an agreeable light, induces in habitual takers a state of remarkable dullness and indolence, which makes them renounce all human decency and delicay.

It is well known that in Persia hemp, with all its derivatives, bang, ĉars, or haŝiŝ has a particularly bad reputation. A man who is addicted to them is held in universal contempt. I need scarcely remind readers of the story of the Haŝiŝyyin, the Assassins of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; it is familiar enough. If one reflects on the effects of hemp, the physical, mental, and moral deterioration it; brings, the resulting destruction of will-power and stimulation of criminal tendencies, one becomes inclined to reject Nyberg's suggestion without further consideration. Nevertheless, we will briefly review the proofs he offers. They can be summed up under three heads.

Firstly, there is an argument based on what is called 'typological classification'. It proceeds on the assumption that all persons prominent in religious life can be assigned to a certain, small number of types, in the characteristics of which they share. In Nyberg's view, Zoroaster was atypical, shaman. We should thus have the following syllogism:

Zoroaster was a shaman --
Some shamans drug themselves --
Therefore Zoroaster drugged himself.

The fallacy is obvious. One cannot say 'all shamans drug themselves'; that would be far from the truth. In any case, we do not admit that Zoroaster was a shaman and would prefer to allow him some measure of individuality.

The second argument is based on a passage in Herodotus. The Scythians of southern Russia, Herodotus said, never washed themselves with water, but took a kind of vapor-bath. To do so they crept into a felt-covered hut (which can be compared to the 'sweat-lodge' of the American Indians), put red-hot stones into it, and threw hemp-seed on the stones: the resulting vapor gave them delirious pleasure, and 'they broke into shouts of joy.' Here we have, at last the Scythians, reputedly Iranians, intoxicating themselves with hemp. We might now get this syllogism:

The Scythians were Iranians --
The Scythians drugged themselves with help --
Therefore, the Iranians drugged themselves with hemp.

This is even less sound than the preceding conclusion. Scarcely anyone nowadays would subscribe to the opinion that all the multifarious tribes to which the Greeks vaguely referred as Scythians were Iranians; no doubt, there were a few Iranians among them. At any rate, what the Scythians did in southern Russia has no bearing on the customs of the Iranians in Persia or on the Oxus.

The third argument rests on direct statements in Zoroastrian literature. Here we are on safer ground, There is the word banha in the Avesta, mang in Pahlavi, which, like the Persian word bang, means 'hemp' according to Nyberg. In spite of the importance, which Zoroaster is said to have attached to hemp, he is silent on it in the Gathas. However, the Farvardin Yaŝt, the list of members of the early Zoroastrian community, mentions a man with the name Pouro-bangha, said to mean ‘he who possesses much hemp.’[16] The mere existence of such a name indicates, according to Nyberg, that the early Zoroastrians used hemp as a narcotic; others may think that the name, if correctly interpreted, can at the most serve: to show that they cultivated hemp, possibly for the purpose for which hemp is cultivated all the world over, i.e. to obtain its fiber. Except in this name, banha is mentioned in the Avesta with disapproval throughout. The use of banha, as a drug employed in producing miscarriage, is prohibited; a demon is referred to as banha vibanha ; anti in a quaint text Ahura Mazdah is called axvafna abanha 'without sleep, without banha' or, in Nyberg's translation,

'without trance, without hemp'.[17] All these passages occur in the Vendidad and so belong to the time when the Zoroastrians showed that strange dislike for all that Zoroaster held dear, which I described in my first lecture.

This is the whole of the Avestan material. There is nothing here to show that Zoroaster so much as knew of the existence of hemp. To come now to the Pahlavi literature, we read in the Bundahishn that Ahura Mazdah gave a dose of mang to the Primordial Bull to kill him painlessly, so that he should escape the slow death which Ahriman had planned for him. Then there is the story of Arda Viraf, which Nyberg regards as the last reflex of the ancient ecstatic practices.[18] The book in which it is found is a late product from post-Sassanian times. Arda Viraf, the most saintly among the Zoroastrians, is selected as messenger to Heaven and Hell to discover the fate of the soul after death. To speed him on the long and dangerous journey he is to be given a drink of wine mixed with mang. At first he refuses the poisonous cup; for he does not wish to die. His seven sisters, whose sole support he is, implore him to persist in his refusal; for they know that mang is a deadly poison. But it is hoped that God will not accept this sacrifice and will allow his soul to return to the Living. So in the end he allows himself to be: persuaded, makes his last will and testament, and performs the: last rites as a dying man would do: he drinks the poison and is as dead for seven days and nights, then comes to, miraculously, and tells his anxiously waiting friends what: he has seen.

In this story I find no trace of any ecstatic practices. The point is that mang was a deadly poison: Arda Viraf returned to life in spite of having taken a poison that ordinarily brought certain death; that he survived was a miracle. This view is confirmed by the story in the Bundahishn: the Primordial Bull died after swallowing mang; he did not gambol and frisk about in ecstasy. Zoroaster would have been ill-advised, had he tried to make a habit of taking mang; after the first attempt: he would have been no longer in a position to compose any Gathas. Incidentally, the two Pahlavi passages show clearly enough that mang, whatever it was, was not hemp; for even a large overdose of the worst derivative of hemp does not kill.[19] 'We have now reviewed the whole of the evidence that Nyberg has brought forward in support of his allegation that Zoroaster may have been a hemp-addict. We have not found one tattle of proof in it. Any doubts that may still linger are dispelled as soon as one takes into account certain facts that Nyberg has not mentioned in his book. I will state them as briefly as possible.

  1. The derivatives of Indian hemp known as bang, has is, and so on, were not known in Iran or anywhere west of Iran before the eleventh century of our era at the earliest. Acquaintance with Indian hemp is ultimately due to the Muslim conquest of India in the first years of that century. The plant is first mentioned by medical writers in the thirteenth century, but must have been known a little before that date.[20] At any rate, it is a bad anachronism to talk, as Nyberg does,[21] of a 'West-Iranian haŝiŝ-nest' with reference to the sixth century B.C.

  2. The ordinary hemp plant that was cultivated in Persia and elsewhere for its fiber and the oil of its seeds, also possesses slight narcotic properties, slight in comparison with the Indian variety; but on the whole the presence of such properties passed unnoticed in ancient times. Greek, Syrian, Arab, and Persian medical books and pharmacopoeias, unimpeachable authorities in a question of this kind, are unanimous on this point. The most that is ever said is that one gets a headache if one eats too much of its seeds.[22] Its narcotic quality was discovered only after the Indian variety had become known.

  3. The Persian word bang, as far as it means 'Indian hemp', is a loan-word from the Indian term bhanga. In Persian – unfortunately the loan word collided with an indigenous word bang, which also designated a plant, namely, 'henbane.' In Persian books bang never mean an anything but 'henbane', at least until the twelfth century;[23] it still has that meaning nowadays, beside that imported with the Indian word. This meaning of course, is appropriate also to the Pahlavi word mang, which as we have seen was a deadly poison.

  4. The correct word for 'hemp' in Pahlavi and classical Persian is not mang or bang, but ŝahbanak/ŝahdane.

  5. It is very far from certain that the Avestan word banha is connected at all with Pahlavi mang, Persian bang. There is the Vendidad passage in which God is said to be axvafna abanha; to translate, as is usually done, as 'without sleep, without banha' -- whether hemp or henbane -- makes it appear a little incongruous. Should prefer 'not subject to sleep, not liable to perish', taking banha as corresponding to Sanskrit dhvamsa -- 'perishing, coming to an end, destruction'. This explanation is in better agreement with the rules of phonology than the current one, and the meaning firs the other Avestan passage.[24]

This concludes what I wish to say on the new theories that Nyberg and Herzfeld have put forward. My third lecture will be devoted to the examination of a few facts that seem to be consistent with the common opinion on Zoroaster.

[1] Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, xii (1948), pp. 601-15.
[2] Nyberg, op. cit., p. 310.
[3] Strabo, XI. II. 3, p. 517.
[4] Cf. W. W. Tarn, Alexander the Great, ii. 35.
[5] W. W. Tarn, Greeks in Bactria, pp. 115 sq.
[6] W. T. Blanford, Zoology (=Eastern Persia, vol. ii), p. 46.
[7] The problem of the Massagetae has been confused rather than elucidated by modern writers. Because Herodotus and Strabo tell us that the Massagetae lived chiefly on fish, Marquart explained their name as 'fish-eaters'. Nyberg however, states that Herodotus confirms Marquart's etymology (ibid., p.252); this is putting the cart before the horse. Christensen proposed a new etymology 'the great Sakas'. With its help, Dr. Tarn has the Massagetae into 'various subject race, including primitive "fish-eaters" in the swamps' and 'their Saka overlords -- eating his cake and having it (Greeks in Bactria, p.81). I would say that the 'fish-eaters' should go out altogether. The wording in Herodotus (i.216), <greek text> shows that this is merely cur etymology of the name, perpetrated by Hecataios' Persian or Median informant, who thought of Olr. Massya 'fish' and gaioa (early pronounced geoa precisely the equivalent of <greek text>. This is, of course, popular etymology; the story about the fish-eating came in its train. The y in the name, in place of the expected k, renders Cristensen's etymology unacceptable.
[8] Cf. Nybery op. cit., pp.357 sq.
[9] Astyages' daughter was the mother of Cyrus according to Herodotus (i.75, 91, 107-8).
[10] Herodotus (ii. I ;iii. 2-3) emphatically state that the mother of Cambyses was an Achaemenian princess, Cassandane, daughter of Pharnaspes.
[11] Cf. Herztfeld, op. cit. i. 50 sq.
[12] Amytis and Spitamas in the time of Artaxerxes I: Ctesias §39 (§70, ed. Gilmore) where the two names are in juxtaposition. Cf. further Hertzfeld, op. cit., p. 48, on a Spitama of the time of Ctesias.
[13] Hertzfeld, op. cit. i. 38.
[14] Ibid.
[15] J. L. Schlimmer, Terminologie Meaico-Pharmaceitique et Anthropologique Francaise-Persane (Teheran 1874). pp.105-6.Numberless observations of similar trend can be quoted.
[16] Cf. Nyberg, op. cit., pp. 177 sq.
[17] Nyberg, op. cit., p. 178.
[18] Cf. ibid., p. 290.
[19] See above (p. 30) the passage quoted from Schlimmer.
[20] Cf. E. G. Browne, A Literary History of Perisa, ii. 204 sqq. and his paper. A Chapter from the History of Cannabis Indica, quoted ibid., p. 205, n. 2.
[21] Nyberg, op. cit., p. 341 (the Median town Kunduru).
[22] c.g. Kitabu 'l-abniyah 'an Haqa'iqi 'l-adwiyah, p.158, 1. 1.
[23] See e.g. Kitabu 'l-abniyah, pp. 54 sq. There are four kinds of bang = Hyoscyamus, the black, the red, the white, and the brown. Only the white variety (= Hyoscyamus albus) is used medicinally. All are highly poisonous, induce torpor, madness, diasable, &c. On the Syrian and Arab writers see I. Low, Aramaische Pflanzennamen, p. 381, where Arab. banj (from Pers. bang) vao. khauos. M. Meyerhof in his edition of Maimonides' Sarh Asma'i l-Uqqar (Cano1940) attributed confusion of banj with the Indian bhanga to his author (p. 32); but that confusion is not present: in the text of Maimonides. Incidentally, Meyerhof remarked that 'au Caire on vend encore les feuilles ct semences de In jusquiame blanche' as bing. Dymock, Warden, and Hooper, Pharmacographia Indica, ii. 628: bang, banj = Hyascyamus specc., tho variety imported from Khorasan into India = Hyoscyamus zeticulatus L. Armenian bang 'Bilsen-kraut', Hubschmann, Arm. Gramm., 263.
[24] vibanha = Skt. vidhvamsa.