Tonight, my unsated curiosity about the Alcis, the pair of divine brothers worshiped by the Naharvali tribe according to Tacitus, got the better of me as it tends to do quite often. Once again, I found myself looking for more sources, and things I may have missed in the sources I already know, to aid my understanding of the brothers. Though I had some trouble even keeping up with my own thoughts, I tried to make what follows as coherent as possible:
- The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology lists “Alcis” as being an epithet of Athene’s in Macedonia which meant “the Strong.”
- Tacitus equated the gods of the Naharvali that he referred to as “Alcis” with Castor and Pollux (aka the Dioscuri).
- The most obvious similarity between Athene and the Dioscuri is that they were all beings whose most pronounced traits included them being war gods, and so it seems reasonable to assume that “Strong” would have been considered an apt descriptor for all three of them.
- That being said, the distinction between the types of war that Athene and the Dioscuri were associated with, defensive and offensive respectively, is significant enough to imply room for the Alcis of the Naharvali under that same descriptor, “Strong,” even if they weren’t even associated with war specifically. It’s plausible that “Strong” might still be an apt descriptor for a pair of gods who had influence over things that simply affected war in a significant way (for example, like the way Freyja was a war goddess who never went to war herself but simply had connections to fallen warriors and fate-manipulating magic).
- Something to look into: Did Jacob Grimm know about Athene’s association with the word Alcis or its meaning in that area when he came to the conclusion that the true, Germanic name of the Alcis was “Alx” and that “Alcis” merely referred to the grove in which they were worshiped? He seems pretty determined to find a common etymological root between the word “Alcis” and a Germanic word. Furthermore, J. S. Stallybrass, in his translation of Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology, writes in a footnote that he’s not convinced that “Alcis” refers to a sacred grove and seems to be leaning more towards the conclusion that “Alcis” meant “strength,” “safeguard,” and “I defend,” or even that the word was related to “alces”/elks.
- Related to Grimm’s theory: Were the Naharvali situated in a place close enough to Rome to influence and have their own language be influenced by Latin? Did the Naharvali ever trade with Rome?
- The detail about the presiding priest in the Alcis’ grove wearing women’s clothing… Is it connected at all to feminine forms of magic, or is it something completely different? Is it at all possible that Tacitus’ conception of what qualified as women’s clothing among the Naharvali was influenced by someone else’s misunderstanding of Narhavali ceremonial garb?