(Apollo) Grannus: What’s in a Name?

I’ve been considering the name Grannus for a couple of years now and—due to having some time—I wanted to summarise my thoughts thus far and share them here. For a more general overview of Grannus and other Apollos in the Gaulish sphere, I would suggest this article by Viducus Brigantici Filius.

One of the places most heavily associated with Grannus was Aquae Granni (modern day Aachen), which was also a very important city in later years regarding being Charlemagne’s capital, and the cathedral hosting the Coronation of 30—out of 40—German kings (936–1531). The region’s history of inhabitation goes back to various flint quarries (roughly 3000-2500 BC) and the arrival of Celts around 600 BC. The clearest evidence of local Germanic groups was the presence of groups described in Cæsar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico as the Germani Cisrhenani (58–50 BC), and the settling of the Ubii in Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippanensis in 38 BC (modern day Cologne; roughly 65 km distance). There’s no conclusive evidence that the Cisrhenani were Germanic, but there’s no doubt about the Ubii originating across the Rhine. The first Roman bath house at Aquae Granni was likely built around the start of the 1st century AD, which does not mean there were no local settlements there prior to this date. Apparently the town also included a a thriving Jewish community. Considering this, it is clear we cannot state conclusively what the ethnolinguistic paradigm was in the region. Looking at the epigraphic evidence for the name Grannus throughout the Roman empire—and specifically the date ranges— indicates a range of 71–300 AD; with the clear majority overlapping with the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This overlaps with the founding of Aquae Granni, and their locations does not definitively support any early cult centre where the worship of Grannus may have originated.

The following quote is interesting: “Later, the 25-hectare Roman spa resort town of Aquae Granni was, according to legend, founded by Grenus, under Hadrian, in ca. a.d. 124. Instead, the fictitious founder refers to the Celtic god.”1 This statement is obviously very sure of the Celtic identity of Grannus, plus the notion that he has a direct hand in the founding of the town. It provides us with an alternative spelling of the theonym; though one that is not reflected in the standardised form in epigraphic attestations. Another—and probably a more supportable—spelling for this mythical founder of Aquae Granni is “Granus”, and even includes the cognomen Serenus. Judith Ley mentions it when discussing the Granus Tower; part of Aachen’s city hall built late-8th and early-9th century and providing another spelling alternative: “In later medieval sources the tower is referred to as “turris regia” or “saltorn”, which underlines its connection to the King’s Hall. It is only since the Renaissance that it has been referred to as the “Granus Tower”. In those days, the tower was construed as a relic from Roman times and the home of the legendary founder of the town, Granus Serenus, a brother of the Roman Emperor Nero, as the legend would have it.”2 Whether Granus Serenus was an actual person is highly unlikely; including the supposed kinship to Nero. However, discounting the legend outright would disrespect its underlying folklore, thus it must be considered as part of the town’s mythos. Yet it also adds more cultural confusion as it introduces a supposed Roman angle of interpretation. Incidentally, a magazine by the historic society of Aachen from 1902 uses both spellings of Grenus and Granus.

To explain the name Granus Serenus, I found some interesting info in the Latin Etymologies by Isidore, bishop of Seville; written between 615-630 AD.3 The entry of pomegranate starts with: “The pomegranate ( malum Punicum ) is so called because that species was brought from the Punic region. It also has the name malogranatum , because it contains a great multitude of seeds ( granus ) within the sphere of its rind.” At the end of the paragraph, Isidore of Seville states: “Physicians say that our bodies are not nourished by eating pomegranates, but they consider them better for medicinal use than for eating.” The latter comment is obviously relevant; though obliquely. The notion of seeds ties in remarkably well with the meaning of the cognomen, because in his entry on agricultural practices he states: “Moreover it is called sowing ( serere ), because it ought to be done when the sky is clear ( serenus ), not in rain.” This creates quite an interesting mental image of healing seeds and clear weather. As was supposed in an earlier quote that the mythical founder of Aquae Granni was none other than Grannus himself, this name and the discussed meanings—in no shape or form—stands contrary to what we know of Grannus’s attributes and associations. Yet the double n from epigraphic sources is the predominant—and admittedly a very solid—counterargument why Granus Serenus being the same as Grannus is not a convincing hypothesis. Another argument could be the length of the “a” in the initial syllable, which for Granus is probably long, and short for Grannus; but this is not at all certain. However, it could be argued that the name Granus Serenus could have had more manipulation over the centuries; hence also the alternate spelling of Grenus. I do not want to discount the theory Granus and Grannus are the same, yet proving that link is perhaps only supportable by the attested Latin spellings “Aquae Granni” and “Aquisgranum”.

NB. Briefly, the closest Celtic and Germanic terms to lat. granus “seed” are PCelt *grānom and PGmc *kurnam “grain”; both are neuter and align more with Lat. granum.

Considering Celtic, Matosović discusses Grannus as follows, and includes a fair bit of the theonym’s academic backstory: “Another often-discussed problem concerns the etymology of the name of the Gaulish god Grannos. This theonym has been related to the PCelt. word for “beard”, *grendo-, *grando- (OIr. grend, W. grann “chin, beard”), and interpreted as “the bearded one”. However, this Gaulish god, who is usually identified with Graeco- Roman Apollo, is never portrayed with a beard (cp. Delamarre 2002: 183). On the other hand, Apollo is, especially in the later stages of Graeco-Roman religion, a solar deity par excellence. The name Grannos could, in principle, be derived from a proto- form *gwransos (with *-an- from syllabic *n), which would be parallel to *gwrenso- > W. gwres. That PCelt. *sn gave nn in Gaulish appears certain from the development of PCelt. *kwresno- “tree” (OIr. crann) > Gaul. prenne gl. arborem grandem (Endlicher Glossary). Also, a proto-form *gwransnos, parallel to *gwrensnā (> OIr. grían), at least does not contradict the evidence, since it is unknown how the cluster *-nsn- would have been reflected in Gaulish. However, it is possible to relate Gaul. Grannos to PIE *gwher- “hot” only if one assumes that g is the regular reflex of PCelt. *gw before r. Before vowels, PCelt. *gw regularly gives w /u/ in Gaulish, cp. PIE *gwhedh- “pray, beseech” (Gk. pothéō “wish”) > PCelt. *gwed-yo- (OIr. guidid “pray”) > Gaul. uediíumí “I pray” (Chamalières). It cannot be argued that, on structural grounds, PCelt. *gwr > Gaul. gr would be more probable than PCelt. *gwr > Gaul. wr-, since the onset wr- is attested in Gaulish, cp. Gaul. uroica “heather” (attested in the theonym Matres Uroicae, Delamarre 2002: 329) < *wroykā (OIr. fráech, fróech). So, if we insist that Grannos is related to the OIr. word for “sun”, we have to argue that PCelt. *gwr > Gaul. gr is a special development, occurring before the reflexes of PCelt. *gw and *w merged in Gaulish.”4 Although he supports this notion well, he also highlights a few uncertainties regarding this theory. The explanation of the double nn seems plausible.5 Addendum: Donodubus—who commented via Twitter—helped clarify the issue described by Matasović, and mentioned the following alternatives by De Bernardo-Stempel and Zeidler in recconstructing the theonym: “Stempel (in the same vein as Zeidler) uses: PIE gʷʰr-snó-s > garsnós, with regular metathesis to P-Celt. grasnós > Gránnos. Matasović is working from gʷransos or gʷransnos, which is why he runs into the problem of PIE gʷr > P-Celt. gr.”

In Germanic, one easily spotted potential is *grannaz “sharp, thin, slender, fine, accurate, delicate, pretty”, which to some extent could be considered applicable to Apollo as an adept archer, refined figure, or his youthful androgynous appearance, yet this term has only survived in Northern Germanic languages. Furthermore, it is supposedly derived from Granō “hair of the beard”, and thus leads to the problematic issue Matasović described regarding Grannus’s beardlessness. This makes it an uncertain explanation at best. In line with the Celtic interpretation, I’ve worked out *grinanaz > *grennaz6 “he who flashed, gavee light” or *Grenaz “he who flashes, gives light”, both from *grīnan. Another option is *grin(n)iz > *gren(n)az “able to flash; bare one’s teeth (grin, laugh, snarl, cry))”, and considering the related *grainōn- “to murmur, lament”, *granōn- “to grunt”, *granjan- or *granjōn- “to snarl, bare one’s teeth”, and *grīmô “mask, make-up”, this could mean “expressive”; perhaps in line with heat framed as “passionate”. The mentioned *grainōn- could potentially explain a shift to a long a, e.g. OE grānian, E groan, whereas *granōn, *granjan-, and *granjōn- could lead to a short a. The interpretation of emotive seems more likely considering Apollo’s general character and patronage of the arts and sciences, or… describing the sounds and expressions of people when stepping into his hot springs at Aachen; which are some of the hottest in Europe.7 Kroonen connects the initial element *grī- to OIr grían “sun”, but mentions that it has also been connected to OIr Grinniguth “the creaking of bows”.8 The latter also has some merit considering Apollo’s mythology, but what they show most of all is potential overlap with the above elements of bringing light and expression.

Regardless, given that the classical Apollo is a very multifaceted figure, it is easy to approach the name Grannus from various angles and being able to twist it into some sort of workable connection. What I have attempted is to highlight a few possibilities that I feel are worth consideration without getting too creative or hypothetical. Also, given that I’ve approached these from three linguistic paradigms, it is vitally important to mention that Grannus—above all—is a Gallo-Roman god with a difficult backstory that can’t be unravelled without any hope of finding a 100% clear explanation for the name and its cultural or linguistic paradigm. Personally, my favourite has to be “the expressive Apollo”, which I also read as the Apollo who is present in people expressing themselves; artistically or otherwise. Secondly, are the notions of the sun—or in the case of Granus Serenus—the seed of healing under a clear sky; the perfect conditions for sowing. These could also be linked to conveying a creative spark or seed. In this way, I’m combining all three explanations into a coherent whole upon which to base my Grannus-related practices.

  1. http://ancientworld.hansotten.com/germany/aachen-aquae-granni/
  2. Ley, Judith. The Granus Tower. Online. http://rathaus-aachen.de/en/tour-2/the-granus-tower/
  3. Barney, Stephen A., Lewis, W. J., and Beach, J. A., eds. 2006. The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Matasović, Ranko. “sun” and “Moon” in Celtic and Indo-European.— Online. https://www.ulster.ac.uk/data/assets/pdffile/0004/937345/0212.pdf
  5. A statement I should qualify with that I have very little knowledge on Celtic sound changes.
  6. For this formation, the I becomes emphasised to a short e, and the a in the middle—being weakest—gets phased out.
  7. https://carolus-thermen.de/en/aachen-mineral-thermal-water/
  8. Kroonen, Guus. 2013. Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic.— Leiden, Boston: BRILL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: