Monday, August 13, 2012
Trees in the Family Tree
Tribal and personal names point to belief in descent from tree gods or spirits and perhaps to totemism. The Eburones were the yew-tree tribe (eburos); the Bituriges perhaps had the mistletoe for their symbol, and their surname Vivisci implies that they were called "Mistletoe men." If bile (tree) is connected with the name Bile, that of the ancestor of the Milesians, this may point to some myth of descent from a sacred tree, as in the case of the Fir Bile, or "men of the tree." Other names like Guidgen (Viduo-genos, "son of the tree"), Dergen (Dervo-genos, "son of the oak"), Guerngen (Verno-genos, "son of the alder"), imply filiation to a tree. Though these names became conventional, they express what had once been a living belief. Names borrowed directly from trees are also found—Eburos or Ebur, "yew," Derua or Deruacus, "oak," etc.I'm not equipped to evaluate the linguistic evidence, but some of the tree names mentioned by MacCulloch can be recognized in Fergus Kelly, "The Old Irish Tree-List," Celtica 11 (1976) 107–124. Kelly's article (which I haven't seen) is summarized here as follows:
Identifies the 28 trees and shrubs listed in the eighth-century legal tract Bretha comaithchesa, which are divided into four groups of seven: 1. airig fedo 'nobles of the wood': daur 'oak', coll 'hazel', cuilenn 'holly', ibar 'yew', uinnius 'ash', ochtach 'Scots pine?', aball 'wild apple-tree'; 2. aithig fedo 'commoners of the wood': fern 'alder', sail ‘willow’, scé 'whitehorn, hawthorn', cáerthann 'rowan, mountain ash', beithe 'birch', lem 'elm', idath 'wild cherry?'; 3. fodla fedo 'lower divisions of the wood': draigen 'blackthorn', trom 'elder, bore-tree', féorus 'spindle-tree', findcholl 'whitebeam?', caithne; 'arbutus, strawberry tree', crithach 'aspen', crann fir 'juniper?'; 4. losa fedo 'bushes of the wood': raith 'bracken', rait 'bog-myrtle', aiten 'gorse, furze', dris 'bramble, blackberry', fróech 'heather', gilcach 'broom?', spín 'wild rose?'. Also includes brief discussion of lecla and aín, variant names for 'rushes', and native trees and shrubs not included in the four classes.Related to ibar 'yew' and lem 'elm' in the Old Irish tree-list are the names of the Eburovices or Yew-Warriors (a Celtic tribe in the vicinity of modern Évreux in Eure) and the Lemovices or Elm-Warriors (a Celtic tribe in the vicinity of modern Limoges in Haute-Vienne). On the suffix -vices see Bernhard Maier, Kleines Lexikon der Namen und Wörter keltischen Ursprungs, 3rd ed. ( Munich: C.H. Beck, 2010), p. 80, who cites D. Ellis Evans, Gaulish Personal Names: A Study of Some Continental Celtic Formations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), pp. 281-285, and Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue galoise (Paris: Errance, 2001), p. 267.
(Bibliothèque nationale, Français 3, folio 180)