Thank you to Heather Awen of Gullveig Press for pointing me in the direction of the paper mentioned (Deis Equenubo – The Divine Twins in Asturia) and thank you to Farwater, Wōdgar and Erik (and indirectly his friend Oliver) for the assist on here.
Meaning of name: Delamarre makes the case for alco- to mean ‘Elk’. This would show the pluralized theonym as *Alcoi (Elks). This is correlated with Proto-Germanic *Algiz. Another option may be from Proto-Germanic *Alhs (shelter, sacred space), leading the theonym to be related to the protection of demarcated spaces such as homes and religious areas. That in turn corroborates Tacitus’ description of the Alcis as being located in a sacred grove:
Among these last is shown a grove of immemorial sanctity. A priest in female attire has the charge of it. But the deities are described in Roman language as Castor and Pollux. Such, indeed, are the attributes of the divinity, the name being Alcis. They have no images, or, indeed, any vestige of foreign superstition, but it is as brothers and as youths that the deities are worshipped.
Krzysztof Witczak also hints at the notion of the *Alcoi/Alcis relating to ‘protectors’, arguing that the theonym ultimately comes from Indo-European *Pal-ikoi. Since ‘Celtic’ dropped Proto-Indo European *P, it would mean this theonym is a homonym to Delamarre’s *Alco-.
One last possible etymology for *Alcoi/Alcis may come from Proto-Celtic *Alamo-, pertaining to ‘herd, flock, movable property’.
Pronunciation: Gaulish: AHL-koi. Proto-Germanic: Ahl-hiz or Ahl-kiz.
Due to the uncertainty of what theonym was used for Them, it is appropriate to construct a few options besides *Alcoi/*Alciz.
If ‘Equenubo’ is Lusitanian for ‘horse twins/or sons riding a horse’ as Witczak proposes, a Gaulish calque would then be *Epoiemoi (from Epos; Horse and Iemos; Twin). The reason for this calque is that while ‘Equenubo’ is attested, it’s unsure if Gaulish had a dual number. In addition, the precedent is set by Diodorus who tells us that the ‘Dioscuri’ are worshipped by the coastal ‘Celts’, which tells us that the coastal Gauls did in fact have some iteration of divine twins.
Within the sphere of Germanic religion, Tacitus attempts to demonstrate the divine twins as attested and with a seemingly indigneous name, though as we’ve seen, it may be a borrowing from Gaulish. The Germanic traditions that follow into later ages, such as Anglo-Saxon religions, have demi-god figures such as Hengst and Horsa (both names pertaining to horses). This shows that there is a possible link to the divine twins as horseback riders in a broad Germanic context. If we were to assume that the theonym Alciz is a borrowing, we can certainly continue its use.
From personal conversation with Erik Ingruoda of Thia Frankisk Aldsido and indirectly his linguist friend Oliver: Another option we opted for was a theonym from *pelH-, *polH-, *plH-, which refers to (young) horses. E.g. English foal < Proto-Germanic *fulan- < PIE *plH-on-; *Fulikaniz.
Pronunciation: Gaulish: Eh-paw-YEH-moy. Proto-Germanic: FOO-lee-kah-neez.
Any of these theonyms will work in praxis.
Function: As David Ficket-Wilbar points out, “Their most important connection, then is with horses, to the point of having a name which means “horse,” or even having the form of a horse”. The many reflexes of the Divine Twins as pairs include the Greek/Roman Dioskouroi, the Hindu Aśvins, Emain Macha and the Lithuanian Ašvieniai/Dievo sūneliai. As individuals, there are uncertainties but connections to other figures such as Pryderi, Bran, Cú Chulainn and Manawydan in Insular Celtic folklore.
The idea that Manawdyan (a figure related to Manannàn mac Lir, often interpreted as a sea-god in Insular Celtic religions) is married to Rhiannon (a figure who may have been a reflexive Goddess associated with horses, such as Eponâ) points to a comparative moment in which we are reminded that Poseidon is the creator/giver of horses. For the moment, we are reminded of what Diodorus told us of the coastal ‘Celts’, and that they worshipped the ‘Dioskouroi’ above all because They came from the sea. While it’s common for the Divine Twins to come from a sky-god father figure, here it may be appropriate to consider Them being born from a Sea-God and Horse-Goddess (which may be extrapolated at a later date). Horse-Goddesses tend to be linked to the sun as well, which point to a seemingly liminal function of the Twins; born both from the sun and sea.
The twins that are interpretatio’d directly to the Gaulish and/or Germanic pair are the Dioskouroi. Both are born from Leda; One is born from Zeus (in which he assumed the form of a swan) and the other is born from Tyndareus. This displays that one of the twins is mortal and the other immortal. At the end of Castor’s life, Pollux is offered the chance at sharing half his immortality with his brother and does so by Zeus’ will. It’s interesting to note here that Zeus, while typically associated with the sky, shapeshifts into a swan in his affair with Leda. The swan is associated with water, further pushing the idea of mixing the sea and sky in the birth of the Divine Twins. This set of twins is most famous for horsemanship, sailing, hunting, boxing and wrestling, the invention of the war-dance, and being associated with oaths .
The Aśvins are also born from a sky-god (Dyáuṣ Pitṛ́) or a more direct sun god such as Surya. In some instances they both have different fathers like the Dioskouroi (one being Dyáuṣ Pitṛ́ and the other Súmakha). Similarly, the Aśvins are also skilled in horsemanship, sailing, hunting, boxing and wrestling. They’re also invoked as healing gods and saviors (particularly to those lost at sea), being revered as those who bring mortals back to life and those who slay darkness. It is incredibly interesting to note that the Aśvins are invoked at dawn’s first rays.
As mentioned above, we see reflections of the divine twins in Hengst and Horsa, and also the Ašvieniai. Both pairs are displayed as horse-gables above houses in Lower Saxony and Lithuania. Robert Means Lawrence provides insight into this tradition:
“The employment of horses’ heads as talismans, a custom doubtless originating in heathendom, has been thought not only to suggest the sacrificial offering of a horse, but also to symbolize the religious dedication of a building placed under the protective influence of such a symbol. For among the ancient Teutons the horse was held to be the most holy of animals, and auguries were derived from the neighings of white horses in their sacred groves. There exists, moreover, among German peasants a widespread belief that the placing of carved wooden representations of horses’ heads upon house-gables is an act of homage to the Deity, whose blessing and benediction are thereby invoked upon the dwellings thus adorned, and upon the inmates as well.”
Iconography: Horses (light and dark colored), spears, boats, twins, house-gables in the form of horses, chariots, possibly wheels
Attested Sources: Tacitus mentions them in Germania once as the Alcis. However, Diodorus states that the ‘Celts’ that live along the sea worship the ‘Dioscuri’ above all, without mentioning Them by Their indigenous theonym.
Interpretatio Romana: Castor and Pollux. It must also be noted that a singular god was interpretatio’d to Pollux; Vintius, who’s name may pertain to the wind. This shows both Pollux and Vintius as wind/storm gods, possibly pertaining to the sailing theme of the Divine Twins.
Bonus – Final thoughts by Farwater:
The Gaulish name Alcovindos comes to us from a Latin funerary stela unearthed at a necropolis in the Ruteni settlement of Segodunon (modern day Rodez, France). It is a typical bimembric compound name, made up of the roots alco- and vindo-. Vindo- is well-known to us through its relation to Irish fionn and Welsh gwyn, which have a common meaning of ‘fair, bright’ (and which extend to ‘virtuous, blessed, happy’, among other secondary meanings). Alco-, however, is far less clear. While it has been argued by some to mean ‘gray’, Delamarre finds formal fault in this etymology. Instead, Delamarre hesitantly subscribes to Schmidt and Dottin’s reading of it as a Germanic loanword for ‘elk’ (cf. Latin alcēs of the same meaning, similarly thought to be loaned from Germanic), thus interpreting the name as ‘Elk-White’. There are a few problems with this interpretation, though:
- The first term in bahuvrihi compounds is traditionally a modifier to the second. We have examples where vindo- is the first term in compound names that would seem to exemplify this (it generally would then serve as a substantive in the second position, such as ‘the fair’ or ‘the blond’). So it is difficult to understand why an animal that is well-known for being dark in color would be chosen as a modifier for vindo-. Had the terms been reversed, we might imagine a mythic or Otherworldly reference to a majestic ‘white elk’, but this is not the case.
- The ancient Celtiberian settlement recorded by Livy as “Alce” is connected to Gaulish alco- by Delamarre, as is the Celtiberian term ELK-. While this connection is not assured, we can rationally rule out that the Iberians would have borrowed a Germanic term for ‘elk’ at such an early period (and moreover, for an animal that they likely would have had no contact with), thus encouraging us to seek an alternative definition. 3. Gaulish personal names such as Alciacos are rather nonsensical if read as ‘Elk-ish’. The name would, however, make good sense as ‘Alc-ish’ (i.e., ‘hailing from the settlement of Alce(s)), which we can again be virtually assured was not named after ‘elk’.
The Iberian placenames would probably be best connected to PIE *h₂lek- ‘protect’, as is Proto-Germanic *alhs ‘sanctuary’. The toponyms could thus refer to sheltered, guarded, or even sacred spaces (also opening the door to Alciacos perhaps meaning something like ‘Protective’ or ‘Sacred’, besides ‘from Alce(s)’). If connected to Alcovindos, we can then imagine a potential compound meaning like ‘strong-‘ or ‘sacred-blond’ (or substantives of any of the secondary meanings of vindos), although this may be stretching the semantics of the first term.
A final option to consider would be Witczak’s theory outlined above, positing the existance of a Celtic Alces as reflexes of the PIE Horse-Twin motif. This could yield something like a dvandva compound meaning ‘Alcos-the-fair’ or ‘blessed’. Such an appropriation of a theonym as a personal name would hardly seem unprecedented (cf. Lugudecca, among many other possibilities) and indeed on the very same stela from which we receive Alcovindos is engraved the memorial of a young boy whose name was Saturninus (which could be merely an inherited cognomen in that case, but the name Saturninus must have, at some point in history, been a given name as well). Another facet of this interpretation is in how Otherworldly twins from insular Medieval literature often have diametric coloration, as most famously exemplified in Finnbhennach and Donn Cúailnge from Táin Bó Cúailnge. This would seem to play perfectly into both elements of the name, allowing us to imagine Alcovindos as the ‘fair one’ of the Alces twins, in contrast to His brother, the ‘dark one’.
Senobessus Bolgon interpretation: The *Alcoi/Alcis or *Epoiemoi/*Fulikaniz are the Belgic version of the Divine Twins. Both are possibly fathered by a Sea-God and Sun/Horse Goddess. They rule over horsemanship and horse related occupations (ranchers and earlier cavalry). The *Alcoi/Alcis or *Epoiemoi/*Fulikaniz also have dominion over sailing, hunting, martial arts, war-dances and oaths. This makes Them suitable candidates for receiving ‘athletic cultus’. When riding Their horses/chariots, They draw the sun behind Themselves, displaying the first sun rays of the dawn. This allows us to greet and give Them praise first thing in the morning for slaying the darkness and keeping evil at bay. Being that they are also apotropaic, it would be appropriate to have horse-gables on top of one’s house in honor of Them, or an image of Them on the front door to prevent maleficence from entering into one’s domicile. As They ride through the day, we may feel the wind generated by Them. As it storms, we see Them riding harder and may propitiate Them for safety from harmful winds. The *Alcoi/Alcis or *Epoiemoi/*Fulikaniz are also savior and warrior gods; one will fight aggressively and the other will protect. This also ties into Their healing associations, as one will fight harm/disease and the other will shield/heal. As shown above, one attested name for an individual twin may exist. Paired with Farwater’s reasoning, we are left with possible individual names for the Twins: Alcou̯indos and *Alcodubus (The fair Alcos and the dark Alcos).
- Dictionnaire de la langue Gauloise (2nd ed.) by Xavier Delamarre (2003) Paris: Editions Errance p.38
- “*algiz”, in Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series) by Guus Kroonen p.21
- “*alh”, in Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series) by Guus Kroonen p.22
- Germania by Tacitus
- On The Indo-european Origin Of Two Lusitanian Theonyms (Laebo And Reve) by Krzysztof Tomasz Witczak
- An etymological lexicon of Proto-Celtic by Ranko Matasovic p. 29
- Dictionnaire de la langue Gauloise (2nd ed.) by Xavier Delamarre (2003) Paris: Editions Errance p.163
- Dictionnaire de la langue Gauloise (2nd ed.) by Xavier Delamarre (2003) Paris: Editions Errance p.188
- Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 56. 4
- Diwós Sunú – http://www.ceisiwrserith.com/pier/deities.htm
- Greek Religion by Walter Burkert
- Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology By Luke Roman and Monica Roman p. 139
- Greek Religion by Walter Burkert
- Dioscuric Elements in Celtic and Germanic Mythology. Journal of Indo-European Studies by Steven O’Brien p. 118
- Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies Series 37. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. Douglas Frame. Chapter 3 – Vedic.
- Dictionary of Northern Mythology by Rudolf Simek p. 139
- Lietuviu Etnologija by Dundulienė Pranė
- The Magic of the Horse-shoe by Robert Means Lawrence p. 82
- An etymological lexicon of Proto-Celtic by Ranko Matasovic p. 423
- Karl Horst Schmidt, Die Komposition in Gallischen Personennamen, p. 121. Sonderabdruck aus der Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, Band 26, Heft 1-4, Max Niemeyer (Tübingen), 1957.
- Georges Dottin, La langue gauloise, p. 225. Paris 1920, reprinted. Slatkine (Genève), 1980.