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Words for ‘Spirit’ in Middle Persian: a lexical approach

1Šafiʿī, I
1MA (Ancient Iranian Languages and Culture, University of Tehran) Independent Researcher allahseeker@gmail.com
Shodoznavstvo 2020, 85:25-42
Section: Languages and Literature
Language: English

The terms in use nowadays are the result of a long process during the ages and discussing them can give scholars the earliest concepts on which they are based. This paper deals with a very important concept of ‘spirit’ which, in accordance with the view of the author, at its first stage is natural but due to its nature as a gas, became a mysterious and metaphysical phenomenon, but caused by lacking a unified view about its nature or definition as reflected in primary sources. The concept of the ‘spirit’ as a part of creatures’ being, at least in some words which demonstrate the concept of ‘breathing, blowing’, is a result of meaning development of wind, and then a kind of it, i.e. brea-thing, and finally breathing as a sign for being alive. It is always a point for discussion and not only in Iranian texts, but among scholars from Greece to India, it is significant to give their definition or write about the different degrees of this metaphysical phenomenon, i.e. the ‘spirit’. Through this paper, it is clear that at least some words including mēnōg, wād, waxš or wāxš, ruwān, gyān, grīw and frawahr, and in more limited usages bōy, dēn, axw, uštāna, besides three Semitic roots, i.e. r-w/y-ḥ, n-p-š and n-š-m are used for ‘spirit’ in Middle Persian texts and researchers should be aware of the different contexts that these words are used in. Namely these words in some cases are not in use only for their main or known meanings. Finally, the Middle Persian lexicographers should notice that these words can be included in the entry ‘spirit’ in their works. It also becomes more significant when one discusses this concept through the multicultural identity of Iranian thoughts that accep-ted some features from other nations and also gave them their views. A part of Semitic view about the concept of the spirit has been influenced by Iranian and Greek thoughts about the ‘spirit’ as a spiritual being and this part of the word understanding has increased the complexity and unfamiliarity of the meaning of the concept of ‘spirit’. However, there are many lexical similarities between Iranian and Semitic concept of the ‘spirit’. Therefore, discussing such concepts through its terms can give researchers a wider view about the conceptual transmission of the ‘spirit’ in different textual contexts.


Keywords: lexicography, Manichaean texts, Middle Persian, soul, spirit, Zoroastrian texts

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