Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Meandering gently from Germany

Gearóid Ó Colmáin talks about the Danube.

Meandering gently from Germany’s Black Forest, the Danube is Europe’s second longest river. It is formed from two smaller rivers- the Brigach and the Breg. It spans a distance of some 2850 km, and passes through several Central and Eastern European capitals before it comes to rest in the Black Sea. In ancient times, the Danube marked the frontier between the Roman Empire and the Teutonic regions of Europe. Today it passes through Austra, Germany, Slovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Moldova, Switzerland,Italy, Poland, Hungary and Albania. In most of these languages it is referred to Danubi or Dunav. But where does the word come from and what does it mean? If you go to Kerry on a bright summer’s day and look across the valley near ? you will set eyes upon a breathtaking sight. Two mountains standout from the landscape. They are known as Dá Cíoch D’anu- the two breasts of Anu. Anu is the celtic goddess of nature and fertility and is more often known as Danu. She is both mother goddess and river goddess and her people were known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. In the battle of Moytura ( Cath Maigh Tuireadh), the Tuatha Dé Danaan defeat the Fomórí ( modern Irish fo-mhuir meaning under the sea). This battle took place on the eve of Samhain and symbolized the defeat of darkness by the forces of light. A similar myth comes from India’s Vedic mythology. It is the struggle between the Adityas or the children of Aditi and the Danavas, the children of the Goddess Danu. In the Vedic myth, Danu is the antithesis of the celtic version, representing restraint and bondage rather than bounty and effusion. The battle is recounted in the Rig Veda where the God Indra is victorious over the Danavan God Vrtra.

The etymology of the word Danu seems to go back to the proto Indo-European ‘danoa’. The basic root ‘da’ connotes the semantics of giving. Latin and the Romance languages retain this root eg. Dar in Spanish, donner in French and dare in Italian all meaning ‘ to give’ the Irish ‘tabhairt’( to give) is likely to be derived from the same root. What interests me in all of this is the way in which the river Danube and its Celtic and Vedic origins symbolize the migratory nature of mankind. Irish, being the most westerly language of Europe, can find traces of itself as far east as India. Throughout human history people moved from one place to another, taking their stories and grafting them in new soil. What we describe as ‘our culture’ very often conceals extraneous influences. We are only beginning to understand the significance of our ancient monuments and sites. In Europe, it seems that migration has tended to be in a westerly direction. Therefore, if we want to understand Ireland and its heritage, we need to look east, perhaps by following Danu as she flows majestically into the black sea of our shared past

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