Saturday, August 19, 2017



A while ago I foolishly asked the rhetorical question, "Can an inanimate object bear witness?" I expected the answer no, but Jaume Ripoll Miralda (per litteras) wrote, "I do not know whether you are familiar with the Eideshort concept, but it is worth a read. An Eideshort is an inanimated object which emphasizes oaths."

See Isabelle C. Torrance, in Oaths and Swearing in Ancient Greece, edd. Alan H. Sommerstein and Isabelle C. Torrance (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 112:
[A] significant group of oaths exists in Greek literature where ostensibly non-divine entities are invoked as sanctifying witnesses. Such entities have normally been referred to in scholarly discussions as sacred oath-objects, sometimes designated by the German term Eideshorte.122

122 Fletcher 2012, 5, S&B 4 n.3.
The references are to Judith Fletcher, Performing Oaths in Classical Greek Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 5:
Occasionally an oath might be guaranteed by an Eideshort or a significant object.7 Achilles swears by his scepter that the Achaeans will miss him (Il. 1.233-46), and his oath is guaranteed by Zeus's nod after Thetis' supplication. In the ephebic oath sworn by all Athenian male citizens, eleven gods or heroes are invoked in addition to "the boundaries of my fatherland, Wheat, Barley, Vines, Olives and Figs" (Rhodes and Osborne 2003, GHI 88.5-16). Antigone swears "by iron" that if she is forced to marry she will become a Danaid (E., Phoen. 1677); in other words she will murder her husband. This unique Eideshort lends a special minatory relevance to her vow. Several of the dramas that we investigate suggest that oaths sworn by objects rather than gods have a subversive potential. Parthenopaeus, one of the seven attackers of Thebes, swore by his spear (ὄμνυσι δ᾿ αἰχμὴν ἣν ἔχει) "which, in his confidence, he honors more than the god and esteems more than his own eyes, that he would take Thebes against the will of Zeus" (A., Sept. 529-32). Aristophanes' Socrates flouts the Olympian gods in Clouds by invoking "Breath, Chaos and Air" (627-9).

7 As Thür suggests (1997: 908), the object would have some prestige or special meaning to the oath-swearer. He gives the racehorses of Antilochus as an example (Il. 23.583-5). Benveniste (1969: 168) argues that horkos, is always to be conceived of as an object (this includes substances such as wine).
and A.H. Sommerstein and A.J. Bayliss, Oath and State in Ancient Greece (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 4, n. 3:
Normally these are divinities, heroes, etc., but sometimes we find sacred or cherished objects (often referred to by the German term Eideshorte) filling the corresponding place in oath-formulae (e.g. the speaker's staff in Iliad 1.233-39).
The word occurs several times in Rudolf Hirzel, Der Eid: Ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1902).

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