Avestan: kauui

Artaxerxes I

Senior Member
German, Persian
Dear forum members,

there is one avestan term, which still puzzles me after all these years: kauui (> mp. kay > np. kay/key)

In the Gatha-hymns the Kauuis together with the Karapans and Usijs are condemned for their ethical and ritual behavior and are accused of destroying the existence of [the good] mortals. I know that based on early translations, the term kauui was believed to refer to rulers/princelings, obviously under the influence of middlepersian and newpersian sources, in which the persons with the title kay (< av. kauui) were concepted as kings of a common dynasty (mp. kayān - "kayanid"). But by comparison with the vedic cognate kaví - "seer, poet, wise man", it got clear, that av. kauui rather refers to an old iranian reflex of the supposed indoiranian poetpriests/seers (PII* kawHíš).

Gathic and young avestan testimony shows us, that the term Kauui was not entirely condemned and demonized, since in the Gathas the famous zarathustrian ally and patron Vištāspa carries the title kauui and some Yashts contain a list of reknowned sacrificers and hereos, who all bear the title kauui (and were later embedded into one dynasty named after their common title --> mp. kayān - "kayanid").

My question is: is Mary Boyce in her book "A History of Zoroastrianism Vol 1" right, when she suppose that the term kauui in the Avesta has got at least two connotations/meanings, namely as "seer, wise man, mantic poet" and "a ruler [endowed with the gift of Prophecy]"?

Could it also be, that all persons with the prefixed title kauui were originally powerful and reknowned poet-priests and seers, who only later were potrayed as earthly rulers of a common dynasty? Personally, i stick to this conclusion, because kauui/kay is never used as a common synonym for terms like av. daŋ́hupaiti, mp. dahībed or mp./np. šāh; it exclusively refers to the members of the kayanid dynasty.

What is your personal opinion on this matter? I can not get this matter out of my mind.

Thanks in Advance!
 
  • farzan

    Senior Member
    Standard Iranian Persian
    Hi. I am assuming that this is primarily a question of language and not one of history. To hypothesize, then, the word kauui or key may initially have been used to distinguish only poets and seers. Over time, though, the meaning may have shifted to reflect not so much the profession but an individual’s actual achievements, improved social standing among community members, and rising military might and political influence. So at some point a ruler may have elected to bestow the word as a title or a name on their offspring, because by that point in time kauui was associated with community leadership and/or claims to the royal throne. The change in meaning may have occurred very gradually but once the association was established in the common speech, rulers would easily have adopted the word as a title becoming to them and/or a powerful dynasty of kings. All of this is just me guessing, but I doubt the word originally carried two distinct meanings both at the same time, though there may have been a transition period when there was an overlap while the old meaning was fast fading. Am I even close in my conjectures to the actual question, never mind the answer?
     
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    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    Hi. I am assuming that this is primarily a question of language and not one of history. To hypothesize, then, the word kauui or key may initially have been used to distinguish only poets and seers. Over time, though, the meaning may have shifted to reflect not so much the profession but an individual’s actual achievements, improved social standing among community members, and rising military might and political influence. So at some point a ruler may have elected to bestow the word as a title or a name on their offspring, because by that point in time kauui was associated with community leadership and/or claims to the royal throne. The change in meaning may have occurred very gradually but once the association was established in the common speech, rulers would easily have adopted the word as a title becoming to them and/or a powerful dynasty of kings. All of this is just me guessing, but I doubt the word originally carried two distinct meanings both at the same time, though there may have been a transition period when there was an overlap while the old meaning was fast fading. Am I even close in my conjectures to the actual question, never mind the answer?
    The point is, that if kauui in the Gathas originally is only a reference to poet-priest and seers, it would mean a major change in the understanding of early Zarathustrism - namely the interaction between Vištāspa and Zarathushtra. According to (later) zarathustrian tradition, Vištāspa is potrayed as an eastern iranian king, who was converted to Zarathustrism by Zarathushtra, and from there on became the first and most reknowned patron of the new faith - in fact, the conversion of king Vištāspa is one, if not, the most crucial moment in zarathustrian traditional history. It is also an idealized example of perfect interaction between the sphere of politics (Vištāspa) and Religion (Zarathushtra).
    If kauui originally had the meaning of seer/poet-priests, it would mean, that Vištāspa was a mantic poet without royal command, who became an ally of Zarathushtra and patron of the faith. Interestingly, Vištāspa is connected with mantic qualitites even in later traditions, when he is depicted as a ruler/king.
     

    farzan

    Senior Member
    Standard Iranian Persian
    I’m sorry but I can’t quite follow your line of reasoning. Is there a missing link here? You said earlier that Vishtaspa was a king of the eastern territories. So how do you then infer, from the mere fact of his conversion to Zoroastrianism, that he was not in fact royalty but a mantic poet? How does the original meaning of kauui come into this? Did Vishtaspa carry that title?
     

    Treaty

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Could it also be, that all persons with the prefixed title kauui were originally powerful and reknowned poet-priests and seers, who only later were potrayed as earthly rulers of a common dynasty? Personally, i stick to this conclusion, because kauui/kay is never used as a common synonym for terms like av. daŋ́hupaiti, mp. dahībed or mp./np. šāh; it exclusively refers to the members of the kayanid dynasty.
    Not necessary powerful or renowned. Consider that our only evidence is from religious texts. They might exaggerate the importance of their folks. But the general picture is the most accepted, from some kind of priest to ruler.
     

    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    I’m sorry but I can’t quite follow your line of reasoning. Is there a missing link here? You said earlier that Vishtaspa was a king of the eastern territories. So how do you then infer, from the mere fact of his conversion to Zoroastrianism, that he was not in fact royalty but a mantic poet? How does the original meaning of kauui come into this? Did Vishtaspa carry that title?
    Dear Farzan,

    What i am trying to say is: Kauui Vištāspa (> mp. Kay Wištāsp > np. Key Goštāsp) is depicted as an iranian king (of the kayanid dynasty) ONLY in later zarathustrian and iranian epic traditions. Many scholars also applied this "royal potrayal" of Vištāspa into the time period of the Gathas and conclude, that Kauui Vištāspa was very probably a local eastern iranian ruler, who converted to Zarathustrism and became the first "political" patron. BUT, since we both postulate that the title kauui (kay/key) in the Old Avesta originally refers to mantic poets/seers (and Vištāspa already bears the prefix kauui in the Gathas!), it does mean, that Kauui Vištāspa in the earliest layers of zarathustrian tradition/history was a mantic poet/seer, and not a local ruler (like suggested by many scholars and most of zarathustrians i know). In my eyes, this would change many things.
     

    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    So can anyone give me an detailed answer on whether the title/prefix Kauui in the Gatha-hymns and Younger Avesta only refers to mantic poet-priests/seers or whether this title already had a double meaning as 1) mantic poet-priest/seer and 2) ruler in the Old/Younger Avesta? Or asked in a different way: Were the Kauuis in the Avesta originally poet-priests, who were only later depicted as reknowned kings of a common dynasty (named after their title Av. kauui > mp. kay), or were they already rulers in the avestan hymns?
     

    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    Thank you for your effort, but i am already aquainted with this informative article! :) In fact, it was this Iranica-article from Prods Oktor Skjærvø (whom i appreciate very much) which changed my mind about the nature of the Kauuis. Like i stated elsewhere, the common opinion among many scholars and zarathustrians or iranians, interested in history and traditions of Zarathustrism, is still, that all persons with the title Kauui were always [powerful and beneficient] rulers.

    I just thought, that you (senior) members could be able to results of the newest researches regarding the title Kauui in Old and Younger Avesta and shed more light on this matter. I would also be interested to hear your personal opinions about this topic.

    Would be very thankful! ;)
     

    farzan

    Senior Member
    Standard Iranian Persian
    I am very interested to know what people think about this. Can I ask you, Artaxerxes, what you think the significance of your theory is? Is it that in fact the line of kings that ruled as The Kianids (spelling obviously all wrong!) did not, historically, convert to Zoroastrianism - contrary to legend?
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    There is no evidence for the Kayanid dynasty outside of Zoroastrian religious writings. The majority view is that they are mythical.
     

    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    I am very interested to know what people think about this. Can I ask you, Artaxerxes, what you think the significance of your theory is? Is it that in fact the line of kings that ruled as The Kianids (spelling obviously all wrong!) did not, historically, convert to Zoroastrianism - contrary to legend?
    Dear Farzan,

    as i said before, i believe that all kings of the semi-mythological kayanid dynasty from the line of Kay Kobād/Key Qobād (< av. Kauui Kauuāta) till Kay Goštāsp (> av. Kauui Vištāspa), which are already mentioned in the Avesta, were originally inspiring mantic poet-priests, who only later were perceived as kings of a common dynasty named after their prefixed title (av. kauui > mp. kay, Pl. kayān - "kayanids"). This is comparable to the development of the mythical dynasty of the Pishdadyan, which appear only in late post-islamic sources. All members of this dynasty are well-known mythical and legendary heroic sacrificers (only Yima is associated with rulership!) in the Avesta, who only later were concepted as kings of a common dynasty, named after the prefix Pišdād < mp. Pešdād < av. Paradāta, an epithet of Haošiiangha (> np. Hušang) in the Avesta.

    It seems that with the establishment of splendid kingship under mesopotamian/elamite influence (from achaemenid times onwards), the iranians tended to potray mythical and legendary hereos and poet-priests as mighty kings of powerful, old dynasties. It must be noted, that the avestan hymns, as earliest layers of iranian mythology, totally lack the concept of kingship. This is totally irritating for many modern iranians, since kingship and royalty are commonly seen as eternal basic foundation of iranian cultures! But how could that be, if even the iconic expression "king of kings", which became a common designation of iranian kings since achaemenid times, is not indigenous, but borrowed from mesopotamian/urartian culture!?
     
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    farzan

    Senior Member
    Standard Iranian Persian
    Yes, I, too, am rather skeptical of claims historically made by kings to unverifiable royal ancestry. And yet, I wonder if the mythology we have inherited as consolidated in the Shah Name has not in fact some historical basis not so much in Mesopotamia but in regions lying further east. Wasn’t Rostam actually some “yal” hailing from Sistaan who hobnobbed with a certain Local ruler known as Kaykaavous?
     

    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    Yes, I, too, am rather skeptical of claims historically made by kings to unverifiable royal ancestry. And yet, I wonder if the mythology we have inherited as consolidated in the Shah Name has not in fact some historical basis not so much in Mesopotamia but in regions lying further east. Wasn’t Rostam actually some “yal” hailing from Sistaan who hobnobbed with a certain Local ruler known as Kaykaavous?
    The Shahnama is based on sasanid-redactions of the "Iranian National History", which itself is a late compendium, which intends to combine various myths and legends from different layers of iranian mythology with historical events and periods to a continous history of the iranians from the creation till the present (in Shahnama until the arab Invasion and death of Yazdgerd III.). Roughly said, the early two sections (mythic and heroic part) are more legends and myths, while the later sections from Dara (equated with Darius III.) onwards until Arsacids and Sasanids, contain historical elements, but of course enwrought with romantic/legendary narratives. Rostam, a legendary hero of sacian origin, is actually a very unimportant figure in zarathustrian/middlepersian scripture; he is only the most celebrated hero in the Shahnama, since it absorbed also narrative Elements of the sacian/sistani story cycle. This is also the reason why Goštāsp, who is celebrated and praised in zarathustrian tradition as a wholly positive figure, is potrayed in the Shahnama in an ambigous way ; he is both shown as the faithful and benevolent converter to the religion of Zarathushtra (like in zarathustrian Tradition), but also as jealous powerhungry monarch, who "indirectly" dethrones his father and even pursues the death of his own ambitious son Esfandyar in combat with Rostam (which was foretold to him by his wize minister Jāmāsp!). Scholars explain this negative potrayal of Goštāsp in sistani traditions, as a consequence of the negative experience of the sistani people with the conquering sasanid kings, who for propagandistic reasons traced their lineage back to Goštāsp!
     

    farzan

    Senior Member
    Standard Iranian Persian
    Many thanks, Artaxerxes for sharing this information! In the online iranica article the word kauui is suspected of being older than the Indo Iranian languages. Sticking to my way of thinking about this, I wonder if what the word originally meant has a bearing on the matter at hand.

    On your theory about the semi mythological personages with names all beginning with ‘kay’, I somehow doubt there was never a tradition of associating them with political and social influence, and even less with military aspirations, until the sassanid kings came along, and this tradition must, one instinctively feels, have had its roots in some degree of reality. One can try to concoct myths out of nothing, but it usually just doesn’t wash and is soon exposed, which is just what you are doing I suppose - exposing, only I am guessing the truth could not have remained suppressed for such long eons.
     

    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    Many thanks, Artaxerxes for sharing this information! In the online iranica article the word kauui is suspected of being older than the Indo Iranian languages. Sticking to my way of thinking about this, I wonder if what the word originally meant has a bearing on the matter at hand.

    On your theory about the semi mythological personages with names all beginning with ‘kay’, I somehow doubt there was never a tradition of associating them with political and social influence, and even less with military aspirations, until the sassanid kings came along, and this tradition must, one instinctively feels, have had its roots in some degree of reality. One can try to concoct myths out of nothing, but it usually just doesn’t wash and is soon exposed, which is just what you are doing I suppose - exposing, only I am guessing the truth could not have remained suppressed for such long eons.

    So did i understand it properly, that (according to your interpretation) the term kauui as prefixed epithet of heroic sacrificers, was already associated to a certain degree with (political) rulership and influence in the earliest layers of iranian mythology? This would partly be in accordance to the theory of Mary Boyce, who proposed an early double-meaning of kauui as 1) "seer, mantic poet-priest" and 2) ruler. Is there really no one who has Deep Knowledge in this particular topic. Because it is stuck in my mind!
     

    farzan

    Senior Member
    Standard Iranian Persian
    I am not subscribing to the scholar’s idea of two meanings both at the same time. I am suggesting the denotation may gradually have shifted from ‘mantic poet’ to ‘one with power over others in the community’, and from that to ‘regional ruler’.
     

    Artaxerxes I

    Senior Member
    German, Persian
    I am not subscribing to the scholar’s idea of two meanings both at the same time. I am suggesting the denotation may gradually have shifted from ‘mantic poet’ to ‘one with power over others in the community’, and from that to ‘regional ruler’.
    That is also my opinion. Why exactly and when the semantic change of this term occured unfortunately escapes us. In my eyes, there is no obvious connection between a mantic poet-priest and an earthly ruler.
     

    desi4life

    Senior Member
    English
    Some ancient cultures had king-priests. That could've been the case here, wherein Avestan kauui emphasized the king/ruler aspect of this dual role while Vedic kavi emphasized the priest/seer aspect.
     
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