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Oaths, Vows, and the Gods: Religious Attempts to Stabilize Language

Abstract : As Antoine Meillet demonstrated a century ago, ancient Indo-Iranian languages posited a close relation between solemnly binding speech acts like treaties, contracts, etc. (*mei-tro- in the neuter) and the deity who enforced them (*Mei-tro- in the masculine). Investing verbal pledges with sacred status and imagining them as divinely self-enforcing rendered them more secure and effective, in contrast to the fallibility of normal speech. This paper argues that a similar sacralization can be observed in the way the oath (horkos) figures in the Hesiodic and Homeric epic and elsewhere in antiquity. Such constructions also provide of how religion more generally addresses existential anxieties by providing fictive points of anchorage in a sacred imagined to escape the vagaries of the human.
Keywords : oath vows language
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Submitted on : Monday, April 8, 2019 - 5:07:20 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, April 9, 2019 - 1:09:30 AM

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Bruce Lincoln. Oaths, Vows, and the Gods: Religious Attempts to Stabilize Language. Mètis - Anthropologie des mondes grecs anciens, Daedalus/EHESS, 2012, Dossier : Serments et paroles efficaces, N.S.10, pp.11-22. ⟨10.4000/books.editionsehess.2644⟩. ⟨halshs-02093212⟩

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