Bishop Gregory (hgr) wrote,
Bishop Gregory

охота на Китовраса--1

примерно такой промежуточный результат предполагаю опубликовать.

The everlasting problem of Kitovras


Starting from Veselovskij (1872), the scholarly world is hypnotised by the Old Russian identification of Kitovras as “centaur”. However, such identification has been never founded. Probably, there was some “popular etymology” behind the Old Russian identification but, in any way, it would be not enough to accept the identification as genuine. Veselovskij was realising this quite well, and so, he was going deeper into Indo-Iranian parallels. However, none of his parallels turned out to be pertinent to the case[1].

Alekseev adds a new argument for the identification of Kitovras as “centaur” assuming that the Greek word reached the Slavonic text through Hebrew. He quotes two instances where Greek words were borrowed into Hebrew with simplification of the consonant group nt to (p. 48). Thus, Alekseev hopes to explain why κένταυρος became kitovras. Alekseev says nothing about the actual rendering of the Greek term for “centaur” in either Hebrew or Aramaic. It looks a bit odd given that he speculates about a possible reconstruction of such term.

I think that Alekseev’s hypothesis is not to be excluded absolutely, but it is not the most plausible. Its obvious advantage, in comparison with that of Veselovskij, that it could explain the parallel existence, in Old Russian, of two words, kentavr (“centaur”) and kitovras[2]: the latter is a loanword from Hebrew, the first directly from Greek. If, as Veselovskij thought, kitovras is another direct borrowing from Greek, and its meaning is, indeed, “centaur”, one has to explain what the different channels of borrowing were.

However, the major problem of Alekseev’s explanation is the fact that there was, in Rabbinic Hebrew, a proper word for “centaur”, while attested only in plural: קינטורין (qīnṭōrīn)[3], or, according to the critical edition of the main source (two verbatim identical passages of Bereshit Rabbah 23:6 and 24:6), קינטורים (qīnṭōrīm) with manuscript variant קונטרנים [4]. Here, as well as in the most of the similar cases, the Greek consonant group nt is preserved intact in Hebrew (that is, rendered as nṭ).

The singular form קינטור* (*qīnṭōr) is unattested because the word itself is very rare in both Rabbinic languages. Normally, the Jewish sources prefer to substitute another notion or to explain the same meaning indirectly, even in the case of the name of the constellation Centaurus[5]. In Syriac, though, the word ܩܢܛܘܪܘܣ (exact calque of κένταυρος) is known quite well[6].

We have to conclude that the identification of kitovras as “centaur” is highly problematic from the linguistic viewpoint. And not only linguistic.

The “centaurs” of the midrashim have little to do with our Kitovras. The corresponding passage of the Bereshit Rabbah (great midrash collection on Genesis) runs as follows: “AND TO SETH, TO HIM ALSO THERE WAS BORN A SON; AND HE CALLED HIS NAME ENOSH (Gen 4:26). Abba Cohen Bardela was asked: ‘[Why does Scripture enumerate] Adam, Seth, Enosh, and then become silent?’ ‘Hitherto they were created in the likeness and image [of God],’ he replied, ‘but from then onward Centaurs were created’”[7]. Here, “centaurs” are the men that have lost their likeness and image of God.

Kitovras of the Slavonic Solomonic cycle, as it is well known, is a creature analogous to Asmodeus (Hebrew and Aramaic אשמדאי Ashmedai, Greek Ἀσμοδαῖος) of Talmudic legends and of the late Jewish or early Christian Testament of Solomon available in the Byzantine Greek tradition only. Indo-Iranian etymology of this name, *aēšma-daēva “demon of wrath”, is compatible, more or less, with the function of Kitovras and his Hebrew prototype, Asmodeus (cf. also Tob 3:8, 17), but certainly is not responsible for the very name of Kitovras.

[1] А. Н. Веселовский, Из истории литературного общения Востока и Запада. [1.] Славянские сказания о Соломоне и Китаврасе и западные легенды о Морольфе и Мерлине (СПб., 1872) [From the history of the literary communion between East and West. [1.] Slavic legends on Solomon and Kitovras and Western legends on Morolf and Merlin (St. Petersburg, 1872)] 137–141 [reprinted as: А. Н. Веселовский,  Собрание сочинений <Collected Works>, т. 8, вып. 1 (Петроград, 1921)]. Veselovskij, referring to Vostokov [Словарь церковно-славянского языка (Dictionary of Church Slavonic Language), 1858—1861], quotes two instances where Kitovras is glossed as “centaur” or “onocentaur” (half-donkey and half-man) and the Novgorod image of 1336 that we will discuss below. Then, he follows Adalbert Kuhn in identification of the Greek “centaur” with Indo-Iranian monster gundhavr. Even if Kuhn was right, it is unclear how the corresponding legends do matter in our case. There is no particular proximity in the plots, not to say about the chronological gap between this alleged Indo-Iranian background and the legends of Talmud. However, now “[a]ny connection with Greek kéntauros is difficult to verify, because it presupposes a popular etymology and an irregular epenthesis of n” (A. Panaino, GAṆDARƎBA, in: Encyclopædia Iranica Online, vol. 10 (2001), available at So, Veselovskij’ s additional argumentation is of no help even for understanding of the centaurs in Greece, not to say about their possible connection to Kitovras.

[2] See И. И. Срезневский, Материалы для словаря древнерусского языка по письменным памятникам [I. I. Sreznevskij, Materials for the Dictionary of Old Russian, According to the Literary Monuments] 3 vols. (St Petersburg, 1893—1912) [reprint: Moscow, 2003]. Vol. 1. Col. 1210, s.v. китоврасъ.

[3] Thus in S. Krauss, Griechische und lateinische Lehnwörter im Talmud, Midrasch und Targum. 2 Teile (Berlin, 1898—1899). Teil 2, 532, and M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York, 1903) 1363, with the main reference to the Bereshit Rabbah (see below). Modern Hebrew קנטאור and צנטאור are neologisms.

[4] J. Theodor, Ch. Albeck, Midrash Bereshit Rabba: critical edition with notes and commentary (Jerusalem 1996) 227 and 235, correspondingly. I am very grateful to Michael Ryzhik from the Academy of the Hebrew Language (Ha-Aqademia le-lashon ha-civrit) who has pointed me out the relevant source and checked for me the critical edition, unavailable to me.

[5] I owe the latter example and the evaluation of the rarity of the word for “centaur” to Alexander Gordin (Bar Ilan University, Israel), to whom I express my warmest gratitude.

[6] Payne SmithThesaurus Syriacus, 3663.

[7] Midrash Rabbah Translated into English with Notes, Glossary and Indices. Vols. 1–2. Genesis. Translated by H. Freedman and R. Simon. Vol. 1 (London, 19613) 196 and 203.


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