Augmented Triad.

Another interesting Laudator post, on an IE topic I’d forgotten about if I ever knew it; from M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 117-119:

A special case of Behaghel’s Law that is distinct and easily recognizable is what I call the Augmented Triad. It consists of the construction of a verse from three names (or occasionally other substantives), of which the third is furnished with an epithet or other qualification. I have devoted a paper to this topic and collected there numerous examples from the Vedas, the Indian epics, the Avesta, Hesiod and Homer, and the Germanic and Celtic literatures (West 2004). A few will suffice here by way of illustration. I can now add one from Hittite and a couple from Latvian.

If he has seen something with his eyes,
or taken something with his hand,
or trodden something with his powerful foot. (CTH 760 V iv 1 ff.)133

Diyaúr, Vánā, Giráyo vṛkṣákeśāḥ.

The Sky, the Forests, the Mountains tree-tressed. (RV 5.41.11)

Tváṣṭā, Savitā́, suyámā Sárasvatī

Tvaṣtṛ, Savitṛ, easy-guided Sarasvatī. (RV 9.81.4)

Daityānāṃ Dānavānaṃ ca Yakṣāṇāṃ ca mahaujasām.

Daityāna and Dānavāna and Yakṣāṇā of great might. (MBh. 1.2.76)

Βῆσσάν τε Σκάρφην τε καὶ Αὐγειὰς ἐρατεινάς.

Bessa and Skarphe and lovely Augeae. (Il. 2.532)

Heorogār ond Hrōðgar ond Hālga til.

Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga the good. (Beowulf 61)

Vara sandr né sær né svalar unnir.

There was not sand nor sea nor the cool waves. (Vọluspá 3)

Nōe, Ladru Lergnaid, luath Cuar.

Nóe, Ladru Lergnaid, the swift Cuar. (Campanile (1988), 29 no. 6. 3)

Simtiem dzina govis, vēršus, | simtiem bērus kumeliṇus.

Par centaines elle menait les vaches, les taureaux,
par centaines les bruns chevaux. (LD 33957; Jonval (1929), no. 144)

Līgo bite, līgo saule, | līgo mana līgaviṇa.

Sing, bee, sing, sun, | sing, O my bride. (LD 53542)

In the Indian, Greek, Germanic, and Celtic traditions we often find such triadic lines within longer catalogues of names. Catalogues are typical of heroic poetry, as they are of genealogical and other antiquarian verse. They may have been a feature of Indo-European heroic poetry, and the augmented triad a traditional device in them.

But triads also appear where there is no longer list but just a trio of names. Sometimes it is explicitly noted that the last name is the third: Il. 14.117 ‘Agrios and Melas, and horseman Oineus was the third’, cf. 15.188; Campanile (1988), 33 no. 17.3 f. ‘from a branch of Galian’s line (came) Find fer Umaill (i.e. Find and his father Umall); an active hero was Trénmór as third’;134 Grípisspá 37.3–4 ‘Gunnarr and Hǫgni and you, prince, as third’.

Sometimes the trio of names is preceded by the announcement that they are three. There is one especially common type, where three sons are recorded as sprung from one father, for example:

Τρωὸς δ᾽ αὖ τρεῖς παῖδες ἀμύμονες ἐξεγένοντο,
Ἶλός τ᾽ Ἀσσάρακός τε καὶ ἀντίθεος Γανυμήδης.

From Tros three fine sons were born:
Ilos and Assarakos and godlike Ganymedes. (Il. 20.231 f.)

trayas tv Aṅgirasaḥ putrā loke sarvatra viśrutāḥ:
Bṛhaspatir Utathyaś ca Saṃvartaś ca dhṛtavratāḥ.

But of Angiras, three sons renowned everywhere in the world:
Bṛhaspati and Utathya and Samvarta the resolute. (MBh. 1.60.5)

Tri meib Giluaethwy ennwir,
tri chenryssedat kywir:
Bleidwn, Hydwn, Hychdwn hir.

The three sons of false Gilfaethwy,
three champions true:
Bleiddwn, Hyddwn, Hychdwn the tall. (Math vab Mathonwy 281–3 Ford)

trī meic Nōe nair cech neirt:
Sem, Cam, Iafet aurdairc.

Three sons of Noah, of every (kind of) strength:
Shem, Ham, Japheth the glorious. (Lebor Gabála Érenn 189 f.)

In these and in many other cases we have a more or less identical pattern: the words ‘three sons’, with the father’s name in the genitive, with or without a verb such as ‘were born’; a general qualification of the sons as ‘fine’, ‘renowned’, etc.; and then their individual names in an Augmented Triad.135

It is hard to avoid the inference that this was a traditional formula from the common poetic inheritance. Here we seem to find a remnant of the Indo-European storyteller’s building work: a recognizable structural component, with the lineaments of its verbal patterning still in place.

Go to the link for footnotes, and for more quotes on the topic by J. Fraser and Joshua T. Katz; the latter writes:

Also desirable are investigations into the status of these triads as a purely Indo-European phenomenon (is it really?) and also into their relationship with the wider Gesetz, whose rhetorical effects are said to be visible in languages all over the world and occur by no means just in poetry.

A good point, and I don’t know how you’d be able to distinguish actual IE inheritance from the more widespread rhetorical phenomenon.


  1. Most of West 2004 is previewable on Google Books

  2. Oh, I though this was going to be about a different sort of Augmented Triad.

    mmmm SPICY! [starting about 0:20]

  3. Trond Engen says

    Asbjørnsen og Moe: Per og Pål og Espen Askeladd.

    Evert Taube (1890-1976):

    Byssan lull

    Byssan lull, koka kittelen full,
    Där kommer tre vandringsmän på vägen.
    Den ene, ack så halt,
    Den andre, o så blind,
    Den tredje säger alls ingenting.

    Byssan lull, koka kittelen full,
    På himmelen vandra tre stjärnor.
    Den ena är så vit,
    Den andra är så röd,
    Den tredje är månen den gula.

    Byssan lull, koka kittelen full,
    Där blåser tre vindar på haven,
    På Stora ocean,
    På lilla Skagerack
    Och långt upp I Bottniska viken.

    Byssan lull, koka kittelen full,
    Där segla tre skutor på vågen.
    Den första är en bark,
    Den andra är en brigg,
    Den tredje har så trasiga segel.

    Byssan lull, koka kittelen full,
    Sjökistan har trenne figurer.
    Den första är vår tro,
    Den andra är vårt hopp,
    Den tredje är kärleken, den röda.

    Byssan lull, koka kittelen full,
    Tre äro tingena de goda.
    Den första är Gud Far,
    Den andra är hans Son,
    Den tredje mild Jungfru Maria.

    (Publ. 1919 — Taube claimed that the song was improvised on a summer night in Skagen in Denmark.)

  4. David Marjanović says

    What surprises me is the Greek pattern: 1 te 2 te kai 3. I’ve never seen *1-que 2-que et 3 in Latin…

  5. It is well to point out that augmented triad is a term used ubiquitously in the analysis of western music. In traditional harmony there are four kinds of triad or three-note chord. In their canonic root position (as opposed to their inversions) they are built as follows, taking in each case C as the root:

    C E G
    major triad
    [interval of a perfect fifth between C and G; a minor third is stacked on top of a major third]

    C E♭ G
    minor triad
    [perfect fifth between C and G; minor third plus major third]

    C E♭ G♭
    diminished triad
    [diminished fifth between C and G♭; two minor thirds]

    C E G♯
    augmented triad
    [augmented fifth between C and G♯; two major thirds]

    Using just the notes of a major scale all the possible triads are major or minor, except for the diminished triad based on the seventh note (taking C major as our key):
    B D F
    Rather similarly for the notes of a natural major scale (think A minor, which has the same notes as C major).

    Using just the notes of a harmonic minor scale two major triads, two minor triads, two diminished triads, and one augmented triad may be formed. The augmented triad in C minor:
    E♭ G B

    Chords based on augmented triads are the least used and hardest to work with compositionally, of all the “three-note” chords. They call for special treatment of the chord that is to follow, stricter even than the demands of chords based on diminished triads. Like the latter, they may introduce ambiguity. With varied “spelling” they can suggest a quite different key. For example our B may be heard or construed as C♭:
    E♭ G B (B heard as the seventh note, in C minor)
    E♭ G C♭ (G heard as the seventh note, in A♭ minor)

    The situation is more complex once we introduce notes foreign to the key. For example, a very useful augmented triad is often built on G in C major, using a foreign (“chromatic”) D:
    G B D♯

    Here endeth the musicke lesson.

  6. Maybe I was also thrown by the musical homonym, but reading this reminded me of the Indian classical concept of the tihai, a rhythmic cadence based on three repetitions used to emphasize the end of a movement or conclude a piece:

  7. Augmented triads aren’t too uncommon in jazz and related musics, especially as part of a minor chord with an added major seventh (e.g. C Eb G B). The harmony of I’ll Be Seeing You contains quite a few of these. Charlie Parker was fond of them too, e.g. the descending arpeggio in Dewey Square (at 0:16 and 0:27). And Michel Legrand has a very pretty one in this song from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (on the words préambule, (poèt)e s´amuse, (sollicit)ait sa main).

  8. The intimation that this figure was characteristically Indo-European seemed peculiar to me. I was pretty sure that such “augmented” lists of three appeared regularly in the Kalevala. (Important things in the Kalevala often come in groups of three—for example, the three major heroes.) Granted, I have only read the poem in English, not Finnish. Moreover, the extant Finnish form of the Kalevala is hardly pristine epic Finno-Ugric, free of Indo-European linguistic and cultural influences. However, there are many examples of “augmented triads,” such as,

    Hallapyora’s near to Yaemen,
    Katrakoski in Karyala;
    Imatra, the falling water,
    Tumbles, roaring, into Wuoksi.

    On the summit of each birch-tree
    Sits a golden cuckoo calling,
    And the three sing, all in concord:
    “Love! O Love!” the first one calleth;
    Sings the second, “Suitor! Suitor!”
    And the third one calls and echoes,
    “Consolation! Consolation!”

    There were then three mountain castles,
    One of horn and one of ivory,
    And the third of wood constructed;

  9. @Brett: only the first of those looks like an IE-style “A and B and (epithet) C” triad, but that’s an artifact of the very loose translation. A more literal translation (here):

    Halläpyörä is in Hame,
    Karjala has Kaatrakoski,
    But they do not match the Vuoksi,
    There where Imatra is rushing.

    The other two passages also don’t look like augmented triads in the original:

    Yksi kukkui: “lemmen, lemmen!”
    Toinen kukkui: “sulhon, sulhon!”
    Kolmas kukkui: “auvon, auvon!”

    — literally “One sang… The second sang… The third sang…” And

    yksi puinen, toinen luinen,
    kolmansi kivinen linna

    “One wooden, a second bony, a third stony castle”. (“Horn and ivory” seems to be a flat-out lie, and would of course be very interesting to Homeric scholars if it weren’t. Wiki tells me that this translator, John Martin Crawford, based his work on a previous German translation, so I don’t know who the culprit is.)

  10. Arhippa Perttunen (Russian: Архип Иванович Перттунен; Ladvozero village, now a part of the Republic of Karelia 1769 – c. 1841) was a Karelian folk singer.[1]

    Around 1834, Elias Lönnrot met Perttunen for three days, while on his fifth field trip collecting poems for his Kalevala.[2] Perttunen would have sung in the Karelian dialect, so it was necessary for Lönnrot to make some modifications to make the poems more understandable to Finnish readers.[3]

    Said a Word, Uttered Thus: Structures and Functions of Parallelism in Arhippa Perttunen’s Poems
    (free access)

  11. PlasticPaddy says

    Looking for et/atque phrases on PHI:

    nam ita mihi Telamonis patris atque Aeaci et proaui Iouis
    Ennius, Telamo (v. CIC. N.D. 3.79).

    Optumum atque aequissumum oras optumusque hominum es homo.
    Plautus, Captivi, 332-333

    ut potissimum quod in rem recte conducat tuam, id petam idque persequar corde et animo atque viribus.
    Plautus, Captivi, 387

    et quidem Alcumeus atque Orestes et Lycurgus postea una opera mihi sunt sodales qua iste.
    Plautus, Captivi, 562-563

    Stat propter virum fortem atque fortunatum et forma regia;
    Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 10

    Huc accedit summus timor quem mihi natura pudorque meus attribuit et vestra dignitas et vis adversariorum et Sex. Rosci pericula.
    Cicero, Pro S. Roscio Amerino, 9.1

    I would say
    1. This is a known construction in Latin (but maybe influenced by Greek?)
    2. There is a more frequent (and natural?) construction: A AND B, C AND D (e.g., apples and oranges, plums and pears)
    3. The A et/atque B et/atque C is the basic form; the case where C contains a qualifier is a poetic modification (for metrical or artistic reasons)

  12. Trond Engen says

    It’s a very simple poetic or rhetoric device. The first two elements build up to something. That something is delivered by the epithet, the extra emphasis, or the general deviation in form. I think I do that professionally — in e-mails, letters and written reports. It would be interesting to see a corpus study.

  13. In classical music, some of the best-known augmented triads must be those of Ride of the Valkyries. The Ring seems likely ground for augmented triads in West’s sense as well, but I haven’t managed to put my finger on any. Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle… sounds like it could be one, but isn’t.

  14. It’s a very simple poetic or rhetoric device.

    Exactly, hence my “I don’t know how you’d be able to distinguish actual IE inheritance from the more widespread rhetorical phenomenon.” It’s one of those things that are suggestive and impressive but can’t be pinned down.

  15. Trond Engen says


    Heorogār ond Hrōðgar ond Hālga til.

    Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga the good.

    Surely “Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga too”?

    Which reminds me of Asbjørnsen & Moe (again). Til lands, til vanns, og i luften med. I now learn is not from the published fairytale and must have been added for the 1961 animated short film. That’s a data point in its own right.

    Hat: Exactly

    Yes, I meant to support that point, but the reference got lost somewhere on the way.

  16. Surely “Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga too”?

    No, this is OE til ‘good.’

  17. Trond Engen says

    Yes, but it does look like a “too” rather than an adjective, maybe because I’d expect the weak declension in what I read as a definte position.

    (Looks like to me, I mean. My Old English instincts are not much to navigate by.)

  18. David Marjanović says

    Looking for et/atque phrases on PHI:

    These are both preposed words for “and”. I was struck by the sudden switch from postposed to preposed “and” in the Greek construction, where two such words even collide.

    (Looks like to me, I mean. My Old English instincts are not much to navigate by.)

    If it’s any consolation, my West Germanic instincts are discombobulated by postposed adjectives without articles.

  19. Trond, you’re not alone — when I teach Beowulf, I always have to take a moment to straighten out line 61. But it definitely is a proper adjective in OE.

    Its etymology was probably something like ‘fitting, suitable’ (likely related to words like _tide_ and _time_). That adjective is related to a group of nouns that includes German Ziel ‘goal’ and English till (and the -til part of until). Obviously till is no longer a noun, but its denominal origin is reflected in Norse, where the (very common) preposition _til_ governs the genitive (til lands ‘to land’) — presumably something like ‘the goal of the land’ (or whichever sense of *tilaⁿ featured at the relevant stage) was grammaticalized into a preposition.

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