The Gods of Jeopardy!

Playing Jeopardy! together is a nightly ritual for Mom and me. One of the categories on last night’s Jeopardy! (a repeat from last year, I believe) was on the Greek gods. And I wondered aloud if the Greek name Zeus was in any way related to the Latin word for God, Deus.

Mom just rolled her eyes at me and said, sardonically, “You know you’re just going to look it up on the Internet, so why ask me?”

So I looked it up on the Internet.

Homer’s Iliad calls him “Zeus who thunders on high” and Milton’s Paradise Lost, “the Thunderer,” so it is surprising to learn that the Indo-European ancestor of Zeus was a god of the bright daytime sky. Zeus is a somewhat unusual noun in Greek, having both a stem Zēn- (as in the philosopher Zeno’s name) and a stem Di- (earlier Diw-).

In the Iliad, prayers to Zeus begin with the vocative form Zeu pater, “O father Zeus.” Father Zeus was the head of the Greek pantheon; the Romans called the head of their pantheon Iūpiter or Iuppiter—Jupiter. The -piter part of his name is just a reduced form of pater, “father,” and Iū- corresponds to the Zeu in Greek: Iūpiter is therefore precisely equivalent to Zeu pater and could be translated “father Jove.”

Jove is itself from Latin Iov-, the stem form of Iūpiter, an older version of which in Latin was Diov-, showing that the word once had a d as in Greek Diw-. An exact parallel to Zeus and Jupiter is found in the Sanskrit god addressed as Dyauṣ pitar: pitar is “father,” and dyauṣ means “sky.” We can equate Greek Zeu pater, Latin Iū-piter, and Sanskrit dyauṣ pitar and reconstruct an Indo-European deity, Dyēus pəter, who was associated with the sky and addressed as “father.”

Comparative philology has revealed that the “sky” word refers specifically to the bright daytime sky, as it is derived from the root meaning “to shine.” This root also shows up in Latin diēs “day,” borrowed into English in words like diurnal.

Closely related to these words is Indo-European deiwos “god,” which shows up, among other places, in the name of the Old English god Tīw in the modern English Tuesday, “Tiw’s day.” Deiwos is also the source of Latin dīvus, “pertaining to the gods,” which is where we get the English word divine and the Italian operatic diva, and deus, “god,” the source of the word deity.

Another interesting tidbit (all right, interesting to me, though not necessarily to readers who aren’t word nerds) is that Deiwos probably came from the Old Persian word daiva- and the Sanskrit deva-, which denote “a god” or “a shining one” (as it does in Hinduism and Buddhism), though it can also mean an order of evil spirits (as it does in Zoroastrianism).

In the Findhorn material, the term refers to archetypal spiritual intelligences behind a species, that is, the “group soul” of a species. But elsewhere the term is used to designate any elemental or nature spirit, the equivalent of fairies.

By Jove, the things you learn on the Internet!

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Categories: Buddhism, Classic civilizations, Hinduism, Words | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The Gods of Jeopardy!

  1. Somehow
    Father Zeus
    Reminds me of
    Doctor Seuss.

    I had wondered about the connection between the words for God and gods and the words for things pertaining to the daytime and daylight.

  2. Did I ever mention that Dr. Seuss gave the commencement speech at my college graduation ceremony?

  3. indigo bunting

    By Jove, indeed!

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