The lands of the Uralic peoples are known for their loista (splendid!) Northern Lights, which fill the sky with fleeting arrays of colors, ephemerally dancing across the polar night. Because the Aurora borealis is such a stunning phenomenon, it would stand to reason that, if Greeks and Hyperboreans (our theorized Proto-Uralic population) were in contact, this could be shown through a shared term. In this case, we are going to explore three proposals which could potentially illustrate a mutual observance of these blazing Fox-Fires. Let’s take a journey.
Our first word for the Northern Lights is Arevothulés, the Finngreek form of Finnish Revontulet.
Literally meaning ‘fox-fires’, the Finnish name for the Northern Lights describes the tail-like blaze of the Aurora borealis. Revon<Repo (fox) has a decidedly IE origin, but from which language is unclear. Greek Αλεπού<Αλωπώ<Αλώπηξ fits as well as any other candidate, with the prefixing form Alepo-/Αλεπο- fitting the best – However, synchronicity may be an issue.
Tuli (fire), from Proto-Uralic *tule, is compared with Thulí/Θυλή (tʰulé) and θύλημα, meaning ‘burnt sacrifice/offering, incense’, and goes back to the verb θύω, from which a similar comparison – Wind = Tuuli = Thuulli = Θύελλη – is also derived, along with several other terms in Finngreek, such as Thuosko/Thuoks (incense/perfume), from Finnish Tuoksu and Greek Θύος-σκ-/ (Θυοσκόος, Θυοσκοπία, etc.). The term Αlepothulés/Αλεποθυλές does not currently exist in Greek, but it is constructed to follow the natural structure (eg: Alepopordí/Αλεποπορδή) of Alepo- with an -ή final noun as a compound term. If Tuli and Thulí/Θυλή are cognates, then the “fire” involved might be comparable with the meandering motions of smoke rising from burning incense, which evokes the Aurora.
Arevothulés/Αlepothulés: Northern Lights, Fox fires, Trail of incense smoke
The next term is Harp, which can end in -a, -e, or -i, due to multiple derivations.
Northern Lights = Harp/Χарп (Nenets) < *karpə <? *korpe- (‘to blaze/scorch’) =
Αρπ- (Απράζω, Άρπη, *Αρπετόν, etc.)
The question mark between Proto-Samoyedic *karpə and Proto-Uralic *korpe- indicates that their etymological connection is uncertain. If they are related, then Nenets Harp/Χарп is connected with Finnish Korventaa/Kärventää (to scorch), and possibly Hungarian Hervad (to fade).
On the Hellenic side, The verb Harpázå/Αρπάζω, meaning ‘to seize hastily’, has a variety of derived terms, like Αρπακτικός (that which can easily/suddenly seize or ignite), Άρπαγμα (prey, windfall/good fortune), Αρπαλέος (devouring/consuming; attractive/alluring/charming), and Αρπάλιμος (defined as Προσφιλής: Beloved, lovely, pleasing).
The etymology of Αρπάζω, and its relation to other Greek terms, is disputed. It has been compared with Harpy/Άρπη (bird of prey), which may or may not be from Proto-Indo-European *serp- (to creep, crawl), like the Greek Hérpis/Έρπης (“snake”, shingles) and Herpetón/Ερπετόν (snake, creeping animal), with Aeolic Orpetόn/Ορπετόν suggesting (h)Arpetόn/*Αρπετόν.
With these potential connections in mind, the semantic possibilities for Finngreek Harpe are:
1. Something that devours, seizes, or burns suddenly, or is seized/burned suddenly
4. Prey, or an object of desire: Something lovely, pleasing, and/or alluring
3. A bird of prey (Harpy)
4. Something that creeps and crawls, such as a snake
There’s not a way for me to say any one of these could be more certain than another, at least until etymologists can make final decisions on the Indo-European and Uralic sources which my comparisons are reliant upon. The Northern Lights, as they would have been observed by the Helleno-Hyperboreanic peoples, could have been compared with fire, a bird, a creeping animal, or even simply an alluring object.
My personal feeling is that, while Harpy/Άρπη bears perhaps the closest resemblance to Finngreek Harpe, I don’t imagine a bird, sickle, tooth, fish, etc. (other meanings of Άρπη) when I look at the movement of the Aurora. The motion of the Northern Lights very plainly appears to me as either a slithering snake (‘Ερπης, *Αρπετόν), or as a line of fire igniting across the sky, depending on the formation of the lights – as well as the aforementioned stream of smoke from incense. Since the Aurora is also very beautiful, ‘object of desire’ seems suitable as well. With all of this in mind, the Helleno-Samoyedic construction results in this Finngreek term:
Harp(-a/-e/-i): Aurora; Snake; Fire (when moving across distance); Allure/Object of desire
Finally, there is Sela. Sela is constructed from two sources:
1. Finnish Salama (lightning/flash), from Proto-Uralic *śala (to flash/lighten)
2. Greek Sélas/Σέλας (light/brightness) and Selá/Σελά (to shine), which is either from “Pre-Greek”, or Proto-Indo-European *swelō (to glare, burn). In this case, it would be cognate with Sanskrit Surati/सुरति (to rule, shine), Lithuanian Svìlti (to singe), and Proto-Germanic *swelaną (to burn).
In modern Greek, Σέλας also means ‘aurora’, such as the Bóreio Sélas/Βόρειο Σέλας, or Northern Lights. In Finngreek, this is written as Borjasela(ma), as if a Finnish compound Pohja(n)-salama. Because the Greek term is neuter, -ma might be a missing suffix in another variety as seen with Finnish Sala-ma. This allows for two plural forms: Borjasélata and Borjaselámata.
Sela(-ma): Aurora, Lightning, Shine, Flash
Arevothulés on Áranáimase = The Northern Lights (Fox Fires) are in the Autumn air
Alepothulémata on Sýskausínmose = The Northern Lights are in the Autumn air
Harpe selá hamaráse = The Aurora shines in the dark
Borjaséla borjoise on = The Northern Lights are in the north
Nóe borjaselámata phaná = See the Northern Lights shine
We now have three terms for the Aurora: Arevothulés, Harp, and Sela. It brings me great pleasure to enrich the Finngreek vocabulary with such a multitude of Helleno-Uralic proposals for the Aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, as nature has always offered a generous source of etymology and inspiration for this language project.
In the future, I would like to find a comparison with Sami Kuovskâs/Guovssahas, because its s-final morphology suggests to me an Indo-European source. However, I have yet to find anything convincing – but if I do, I look forward to editing it into this post!
In the case of observing the Aurora, it requires a historical stipulation that either a Hellenic people, or Uralic peoples (Hyperboreans) with knowledge of the Greek language, gave names to the Northern Lights from Hellenic sources (perhaps with the exception of Finnish Salama, which does not carry this meaning). This could place the northern (vs. Greece as southern) Helleno-Uralic contact zone somewhere within the arctic reaches of Fennoscandia and Russia – indeed very far north for a Greek population to reach if this contact occurred. Historical references to Hyperborea place it very far from Greece, beyond the Scythian steppelands, across the Riphean mountains – which have been associated in antiquity and modern times with the Ural mountains – until finally reaching the edge of the earth. Conversely, another northern contact period could have involved Mycenaeans in Scandinavia and the Baltic – of which more can be read about here and here – from where Greek language would have reached Proto-Uralic and/or Proto-Finno-Ugric through its western periphery.
All of these speculations depend on historians reaching a consensus about the time and place of the Proto-Uralic Urheimat (homeland), as well as the chronologies and ranges of its split into its descendant languages. Wherever the true Hyperborea was located, I hope to find it; and believe that its location may contain a wealth of archaeological treasures, as well as insight into how so much archaic Greek could have been loaned in the Uralic languages.
I wish you all Syyskausi Zilo, or Ara Onisi: Autumn Happiness!