Quelques observations concernant l'étymologie et la genèse d’un ancien nom de dieu : Zalmoxis

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Andrei Pandrea


Zalmoxis, chief god of the Geto-Dacians, is first mentioned by Herodotus
in his “Historiai” IV, 93-96. According to most sources, this name appeared in three different forms: a) ZALMOXIS, used by Herodotus, 5th cent. B. C. ; by Plato, 4th cent. B. C. ; Porphyrios, 3rd cent. B. C. ; Diodorus Siculus, 1st cent. B. C. ; Apuleius, 2nd cent. A. D.; and Jordanes, 6th cent. A.D.; b) SALMOXIS, a simple variant in some manuscripts of Herodotus, and c) ZAMOLXIS, used by
Poseidonios, 1st cent. B. C. ; by Strabo, 1st cent. B. C.-A. D. ; Lucian of Samosata, 2nd cent. A. D. ; Diogenes Laertios, 3rd cent. A. D. ; and by the Emperor Julian the Apostate, 4th cent. A.D. More than three centuries separate the first mention of Zalmoxis-Salmoxis from those who employed the form Zamolxis. It threrefore stands to reason that the graphical form Zamolxis is nothing more than a relatively late metathesis of the correct form Zalmoxis.
Still from the 3rd century onwards, various writers have attempted to
find an etymological explanation for the name of this god. Most of them took
into account the form Zamolxis (so Praetorius in 1688; Cless 1852; and P.
Kretschmer in 1935). They derived this form from the Indo-European root
meaning “earth”, related to the Old Slavic zemlja, the same, and to the Lituanian name for the god of the earth Zameluks (Ziameluks). But logically, all this efforts to explain the form Zamolxis are futile as they refer to an unreal
name. The form Zalmoxis was explained by Porphyrios in the 3rd cent. B. C. as
deriving from a Thracian word zalmos “skin, fur”, wich does not seem plausible.
In 1913 Nicolae Densusianu in his book “Dacia preistoricà” translated
the name Zalmoxis into Romanian as “zeul moş” (p. 213), bringing no arguments to support his hypothesis. My hypothesis derives from the dissection and analysis of several oscillating graphs wich have been classified in two groups according to certain similarities in form, given that the meanings are not generally known: Abrozelm e, Auliue/m i s. Diazelm i s, Dolczelm i s, Ebryzelm i s, Mestuzelm i s, Salm i dessos, Zalm o degikos, Zalm o xis, Zelm o «tas, Zerm odigestos, Zilm i s jos etc. The graphic transcriptions are oscilating since they use Greek and Latin letters to note sounds wich are specific to the Thracian and Geto-Dacian languages. Thus, the vowel presumed as being a (Romanian à, Albanian é) is hesitantly transcribed as a, e, o, or even i. The consonant presumed to be S (Romanian ş, Al anian sh) is transcribed with the same hesitancy as s, ss and jc. In the same manner, the final elements -as, -es, -os, -is are Greek and Latin endings. All these names are compound words.
The lexical elements zal-, zel-, sal-, sel-, zil-, zer- repressent, in our opinion,
the transcription of a Geto-Dacian term *zel- meaning “god”, like -dios, -zios
in the famous name Sabadios, Sabazios. The changing place of this element is
comparable to Greek TheodorosIDorotheos. Concerning the other compound element (mox-, mo-, miss-, mis-, mi-), it can be supposed, by regressive extrapolation, that the original meaning of this word, representing Geto-Dacian moS were respectively “old man”, “forefather”, “founder of a family line, or of a community”, chief, as it results from the comparison with Romanian moş, the same (cf. Albanian motshë “age”). Therefore Zalmoxis could have been a god-ancestor, a Deus Avus, Deus Parens, Deus Vêtus. This means that Zalmoxis is nothing but an abstract, heavenly equivalent of a being represented on earth by the most important personality of the patriarchal family, of the peasant assembly (Romanian obşte), or of the tribe.

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