Classics@ 15: A Concise Inventory of Greek Etymologies

Edited by Olga Levaniouk


A concise inventory of Greek etymologies (CIGE) is an ongoing publication that will be expanded and revised as time goes on. This project’s goal is to provide access to etymologies that are important for the study of Greek culture and that are often not yet referenced in the conventional dictionaries. CIGE represents an understanding of Greek—and especially Homeric—etymology as part of the formulaic system of early Greek poetry. Poetic function can be of crucial etymological importance, and, conversely, etymology can be essential for understanding poetry, especially when it comes to the Homeric lexicon. This is not because the synchronic meaning of a given word is determined by its etymology, but because traditional cultural systems, such as Homeric poetry, evolve over time and have to be approached not only synchronically but also diachronically. The research of Milman Parry (Collected Papers, 1971) and Albert Lord, as presented in Lord’s monograph The Singer of Tales (1960), proved that Homeric poetry is a system generated by and from oral traditions, which, like other linguistic systems, have building blocks (“words” and “expressions”) and rules or habits for combining them. The building blocks of Homeric poetry are “formulas” on the level of form and “themes” on the level of meaning (Lord 1960:4). Etymological study of Homeric vocabulary cannot be divorced from the analysis of this system. In its formative periods the formulaic system of Homeric poetry was not static but evolving, and the overall etymology of the Homeric lexicon reflects that evolution. Citing the paradoxical pronouncement of Emile Benveniste that the study of the Homeric lexicon is “in its infancy,” dans l’enfance (Benveniste 1969 [II]:58), Leonard Muellner observes that “there are available to us two perspectives and the research methods that flow from them that renew the study of Homer globally: first, the notion that Homeric poetry is the product of a traditional system that functioned to meet the needs of composition in performance, and second, that the rigorous study of the history of the Greek language and of the Indo-European family of languages as a whole is important for Homer because the poetic tradition from which it descends already existed, in form, diction, and even to some extent in function, in Indo-European society.” (Muellner 2005.
It is the goal of the CIGE to assemble examples illustrating these perspectives and these methods and thereby both to take stock of what has been accomplished so far and also to facilitate future research. Not all etymologies featured in CIGE will have equal temporal depth, and the term “etymology” will be understood broadly as a diachronic study of words that sheds light on their meanings. In order to accomplish this goal, an etymology may be, but does not have to be —and often will not be— reconstructed all the way back to Proto-Indo-European. In fact, in some cases it may involve no comparative reconstruction at all. Such an etymology may be discovered entirely by the study of Homeric poetry as a system.
The main content of CIGE is organized in the mode of a dictionary: each entry appears under a heading or lēmma that indicates the basic word to be analyzed. Each entry contains a reference to a fuller analysis, if available, and identifies the author who suggested or advocates the etymology in question. The editors of the individual entries are identified by name-stamp and date-stamp at the end of each entry. Each editor is the owner of his or her own entry as edited. Some entries are divided into parts, numbered A, B, C, D, etc. Occasionally, there are different editors for different parts, in which case the editors of the individual parts are identified by name-stamp and date-stamp at the end of each part. Different analyses may be featured under the same lemma (with authors and editors indicated) and comments may be added to lemma on an on-going basis.
Under separate headings, CIGE also features a selection of short articles and essays on Greek etymologies, broadly understood.

A Concise Inventory of Greek Etymologies

Apóllōn (Ἀπόλλων)

The etymology of Apollo’s name, Apóllōn, has defied linguistic reconstruction for a long time. A breakthrough came with a 1975 article by Walter Burkert, where he proposes that the Doric form of the name, Apéllōn, be connected with the noun apéllai, designating a seasonally recurring festival—an assembly or thing, in Germanic terms—of Dorian kinship groups. The linguistic principles underlying Burkert’s proposal have been definitively restated in a posthumously published work by Alfred Heubeck, who shows that the earliest recoverable form of the name is *apelyōn, built on a noun shaped *apelya: thus the meaning would be something like ‘he of the assembly’. A Cypriote by-form of Apollo’s name is Apeílōn (to-i-a-pe-lo-ni = τῶι Ἀπείλωνι), showing the earlier e-vocalism as opposed to the innovative o-vocalism of Apóllōn. Following a suggestion from Leonard Muellner, we can say that the name of Apollo can be connected, with recourse to this Cypriote by-form, to the Homeric noun apeilḗ, meaning ‘promise, boastful promise, threat’, and to the corresponding verb, apeiléō ‘make a promise, boastful promise, threat’. The meaning of these forms apeilḗ and apeiléō is based on the concept of a speech-act, and on the fact that this concept dovetails with the meaning of apéllai, based on an actual context of speech-acts. Such dovetailing helps explain the essence of Apollo, ‘he of the *apelya’, as the god of authoritative speech, the one who presides over all manner of speech-acts, including the realms of songmaking in general and poetry in particular.
The word apeiléō designates the actual performance of a speech-act, a mûthos, while the word teléō, derivative of télos ‘fulfillment’, guarantees that the speech-act is really a speech-act, in that the course of events, which amounts to actions emanating from the speech-act, bears out the speech-act. We may compare the Homeric instances where apeiléō can be translated as ‘vow’ in the context of prayers addressed to gods (Iliad 23.863, 892).
Burkert draws attention to the fact that Apollo is conventionally represented as beardless and unshorn, looking like an éphēbos ‘ephebe’, that is, like a pre-adult male. Unlike human pre-adult males, however, the god Apollo is a permanent ephebe. Unlike human males, he will never take over from his father. The basic ephebism of Apollo can be connected with the semantics of apéllai. As Burkert points out, the feast of the apéllai at Delphi is technically a “Feast of Ephebes.” Moreover, we may consider the wording of the so-called Great Rhetra of Sparta, attributed to Lycurgus the lawgiver: ὥρας ἐξ ὡρᾶν ἀπελλάζειν ‘to hold assemblies [apéllai], season [hōrā] after season [hōrā]’ (Plutarch Lycurgus 6). In this case the theme of seasonality, as conveyed by hōrā ‘season’, can be connected with the celebration of young boys’ coming of age, that is, of human seasonality, on the occasion of the apéllai of Delphi.
Apollo, ‘he of the *apelya’, is the god of authoritative speech, the one who presides over all manner of speech-acts. Apollo is not only the god of speech-acts: he is also the god of poetry and song. The god of eternal promise, of the eternity of potential performance, he is the word waiting to be translated into action.
Nagy, G. 2004. Homer’s Text and Language, Chapter 7: “The Name of Apollo: Etymology and Essence.” Champaign, IL.
Burkert, W. 1975. “Apollon und Apellai.” Rheinisches Museum 118:1–21.
Heubeck, A. 1987. “Noch Einmal zum Namen des Apollon.” Glotta 65:179–182.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Daniel Miller 2015.12.11 and Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.17

Ariadnē (Ἀριάδνη)

In discussing the Minoan and Mycenaean signatures in the description of Crete at Odyssey 19. 185-193, Nagy points out that the crucial feature in this description is the mention of Amnisos and the cave of Eileithuia that is located there. Eleithuia at Amnisos is actually attested in a Linear B tablet found at Knossos (Knossos tablet Gg 705 line 1). Nagy argues that there is also evidence for human votaries of this goddess, and the ideal case in point is Ariadne, whose connection to the goddess is signaled by the etymology of her name. According to the Alexandrian dictionary attributed to Hesychius: ἁδνόν· ἁγνόν Κρῆτες ‘the Cretans use the word hadno- for hagno-’. So, since hagno– means ‘holy’, Ariadnē means ‘very holy’.
This etymology of Ariadnē correlates with another entry in the dictionary attributed to Hesychius, which reads: Καλλίχορον· ἐν Κνωσσῷ ἐπὶ τῷ τῆς Ἀριάδνης τόπῳ ‘Kalli-khoron was the name of the place of Ariadne in Knossos’. Kalli-khoron, is ‘the place that is beautiful’, and, as Nagy suggests “the word khoros here can designate either the ‘place’ where singing and dancing takes place or the group of singers and dancers who perform at that place.” Ariadne can be seen as a figure who stands for the girls performing sacred songs and dances in a holy place.
Nagy, G. 2015. “A Cretan Odyssey, Part I.” Classical Inquiries September 17, 2015.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Konnor Clark 12.11.15 and Olga Levaniouk 06.04.16

Asōpós (Ἀσωπός)

It is said that when Zeus abducted the nymph Aegina from the banks of the river Asopos, the river god became so angry that his waters overflowed abnormally as he pursued Zeus, who reacted by striking the waters with his flaming thunderbolt, thus restoring the normal flow of the river. And because the fiery thunderbolt of Zeus made this violent contact with the waters of the river, it is said that even now you can see ánthrakes ’glowing coals’ rising up from the depths of these waters. I quote the relevant wording in the retelling of Apollodorus (3.12.6): Ζεὺς δὲ Ἀσωπὸν μὲν κεραυνώσας διώκοντα πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ οἰκεῖα ἀπέπεμψε ῥεῖθρα, διὰ τοῦτο μέχρι καὶ νῦν ἐκ τῶν τούτου ῥείθρων ἄνθρακες φέρονται ‘when Asopos pursued Zeus, Zeus struck him with his thunderbolt and thus restored the river to its familiar course, and that is why even to this day there are glowing coals [ánthrakes] produced by the streams of this river’.
The noun Asōpós can be understood as a compound formation meaning basically ‘having the looks of glowing coals’; in this case, the root as in Asōpos is cognate with the root as in the noun asbolos/asbolē, which refers to the sparks emitted by glowing coals.
Such an etymology of the noun Asōpós indicates that the name of the river god is connected to myths of anthropogony. And this connection is validated by the local Aeginetan anthropogonic myth about the god Asopos as the father of the nymph Aegina, who in turn is the Mother Earth that generates the first human in the land of Aegina.
Nagy, G. 2011. “Asopos and his multiple daughters: Traces of preclassical epic in the Aeginetan Odes of Pindar.” Aegina: Contexts for Choral Lyric Poetry. Myth, History, and Identity in the Fifth Century BC, ed. David Fearn, 41–78. Oxford.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Daniel Miller 2015.11.20

dais (δαίς)

A. Nagy comments on the notion of ‘division’ latent in daís and overt in the Homeric expression δαιτὸς ἐίσης ‘of an equal daís’.
“Not just for Achilles but for any Homeric character, the eating of meat at feasts is by nature a sacrificial occasion: in the words of George M. Calhoun, “every meal was a sacrifice and an act of worship, and every sacrifice a meal.” This statement may be overly one-dimensional in its view of epic action, but it remains a valid observation about the contents of Homeric narrative: feasts where meat is consumed are indeed regularly occasioned by sacrifice. The Homeric word for such occasions is daís/daítē (e.g. Odyssey 3.33/44, etc.), and both nouns are etymologically derived from the verb daíomai ‘divide, apportion, allot’. Consider the following Homeric collocation of verb and noun:
μοίρας δασσάμενοι δαίνυντ᾽ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
Odyssey 3.66
Apportioning moírai [portions], they feasted a very glorious daís [feast].
The notion of ‘division’ latent in daís becomes overt in expressions involving δαιτὸς ἐίσης ‘of an equal daís’ (as at Iliad 1.468, 1.602; 2.431; 7.320; 23.56)—denoting situations where everyone has his proper share at the sacrificial feast.”
Nagy, G. 1979. “The Death of Pyrrhos.” Chapter 7 of The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore.
Calhoun, G. M. 1962. “Polity and Society: The Homeric Picture.” A Companion to Homer, ed. A. J. B. Wace and F. Stubbings, 431–452. London.
B. Achilles has a special relationship to the daís, which is shared by all of this heroic lineage, the Aeacids. The key to this special relationship is the etymological connection of daís to the idea of division and distribution.
“Is there, then, a special relationship of Achilles to the daís? Certainly this seems to be so not only in the case of Achilles but also in the case of all his heroic lineage, according to the Hesiodic passage that describes the Aeacids as follows:
… πολέμῳ κεχαρηότας ἠΰτε δαιτί
Hesiod fr. 206MW
… delighting in war as well as in the daís
The key to such a close relationship of the Aeacids to the daís is the etymological connection of the word with the notion inherent in daíomai ‘divide, apportion, allot’. This notion constitutes a mythological theme that runs through the whole line of Aeacids, starting with the prime ancestor himself. The hero Aiakos, in the words of Pindar, was so fair and just as to be worthy of settling matters pertaining to the gods themselves:
Αἰακὸν … κεδνό-
τατον ἐπιχθονίων. ὃ καὶ
δαιμόνεσσι δίκας ἐπείραινε
Pindar Isthmian 8.22–24
Aiakos ... the most cherished of mortals,
who rendered díkai [judgments, justice] even for the gods
The correlation here of the word díkē with the concept of making fair allotments reminds us of the wording used to describe how the honor of Achilles himself is to be tested one more time in the Iliad. As the actual setting for Agamemnon’s final offer of compensation to Achilles in return for having at the outset deprived him of his fair share, Odysseus proposes the holding of a special daís:
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτά σε δαιτὶ ἐνὶ κλισίῃς ἀρεσάσθω
πιείρῃ, ἵνα μή τι δίκης ἐπιδευὲς ἔχῃσθα
Iliad 19.179–180
But let him [Agamemnon] make amends to you [Achilles] with a rich daís in the tents,
so that you may have no lack in díkē.
It is at this dais, when Achilles is to be tested one more time with the compensation offered by Agamemnon (Iliad 19.268–281), that he even bids his fellow Achaeans to go and feast (Iliad 19.275)—though without his participation. As we now follow the line of Aiakos down to his son Peleus, the association of the Aeacids with the themes of the daís becomes more involved. The singular occasion for the daís of Peleus, where the Olympian gods themselves attended, was the feast of his wedding with Thetis—a traditional theme celebrated by the Cypria as an appropriate setting for the onset of the entire Trojan Cycle (Proclus 102.14–15 Allen). At this daís celebrating a marriage that led to the conception of Achilles himself, Zeus willed that Éris ‘Strife’ would bring about a neîkos ‘quarrel’ among the gods; these specific themes of éris/neîkos at a daís constitute the opening scene of the Cypria in particular and of the Trojan Cycle in general (Proclus 102.13–19: Éris/neîkos at 14/15). Short range, these themes are appropriate to the motivation of the Trojan War; long range, the very same themes also provide a setting for the evolution of Achilles as a heroic figure.”
Nagy, G. 1979. “The Death of Pyrrhos.” Chapter 7 of The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore.
C. Nagy discusses the metonymic meaning of the word daís, which encompasses the whole sequence of events typical of festivals. A case in point is Odyssey 9.3–12.
“As Odysseus himself says later on in Odyssey ix, when he finally identifies himself, there is in fact no greater gratification in the whole world that the combination of good feasting and good singing, and the model for the general reference to singing here is the singer Demodokos:
|3 This is indeed a beautiful thing, to listen to a singer [aoidós] |4 such as this one [= Demodokos], the kind of singer that he is, comparable to the gods with the sound of his voice [audḗ], |5 for I declare, there is no outcome [télos] that has more pleasurable beauty [kháris] |6 than the moment when the spirit of festivity [euphrosúnē] prevails throughout the whole community [dêmos] |7 and the people at the feast [daitumónes], throughout the halls, are listening to the singer [aoidós] |8 as they sit there—you can see one after the other—and they are seated at tables that are filled |9 with grain and meat, while wine from the mixing bowl is drawn |10 by the one who pours the wine and takes it around, pouring it into their cups. |11 This kind of thing, as I see it in my way of thinking, is the most beautiful thing in the whole world.
Odyssey 9.3–12
The feast that is going on here is a continuation of the feast that is already signaled by the word daís at line 429 of Odyssey viii, which basically means ‘feast’. In that context, daís refers short-range to an occasion of communal dining (dórpon ‘dinner’: 395), which will take place after sunset (417). The intended guest of honor at this feast will be Odysseus. This occasion of communal dining leads into the third song of Demodokos (484–485). But this same word daís at line 429 of Odyssey viii is also making a long-range reference: it refers metonymically to a stylized festival that has been ongoing ever since an earlier occasion of communal dining (71–72), which actually led into the first song of Demodokos (73–83). And let me go even further back in time. Leading up to the communal dining, there had been an animal sacrifice (as expressed by the word hiereúein ‘sacrificially slaughter’: 59). Then, the meat of the sacrificed animals (twelve sheep, eight pigs, and two oxen: 59–60) had been prepared to be cooked at the feast (61). The word at line 61 for ‘feast’ is once again daís.
The noun dais ‘feast’ is derived from the verb daíesthai in the sense of ‘distribute’, which is used in contexts of animal sacrifice in referring to the ‘distribution’ of cooked meat among the members of a community (as in Odyssey 15.140 and 17.332). Then, by way of synecdoche, the specific idea of distribution extends metonymically to the general idea of feasting and further to the even more general idea of a festival. Following the logic of this sequence of meanings, we see that the animal sacrifice in Odyssey 8 (59) had led to the cooking and the distribution of the meat (61), which had led to the communal dining (71–72), which had led to the first song of Demodokos (73–83), and so on. In terms of this logic, the metonymic use of the word da í s ‘feast’ marks a whole complex of events that are typical of festivals: animal sacrifice, communal feasting, singing as well as dancing at the feast.”
Nagy, G. 2015. “The Metonymy of a Perfect Festive Moment.” Part 4 of Masterpieces of Metonymy: From Ancient Greek Times to Now. Washington, DC.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Konnor Clark 2015.11.20 and Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.17

Hēsíodos (῾Ησίοδος)

The name of Hesiod is announced in the Hesiodic Theogony (22): it is Hēsíodos (Ἡσίοδος). I interpret the etymology of this name as *hēsíwodos, meaning ‘he who emits the voice’. The first part of this compound formation *hēsíwodos comes from the root of the verb hiénai (ἱέναι) ‘emit’, while the second part comes from the root of the noun audḗ (αὐδή) ‘voice’. And the Muses literally ‘breathe’ (pneîn) into him an audḗ ’voice’ that makes him a poet (31 ἐνέπνευσαν δέ μοι αὐδήν). This poetic voice is his inspiration. There is a semantic correspondence between this etymology of *hēsíwodos meaning ‘he who emits the voice’ and the description of the singing Muses as ὄσσαν ἱεῖσαι ‘emitting the voice’ (Theogony 10, 43, 65, 67), which applies to these goddesses in descriptions of their singing and dancing (7–8, 63).
Nagy, Gregory. 2009. “Hesiod and the Ancient Biographical Traditions.” The Brill Companion to Hesiod, ed. F. Montanari, A. Rengakos, and Ch. Tsagalis, 287–288. Leiden.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Edgar A. García 2015.11.03

Hestíā (ἑστία)

The symbolism of the hestíā ‘hearth’ as the generatrix of authority and kingship is envisioned by Clytemnestra’s dream in the Electra of Sophocles: she dreams the Agamemnon comes back from the dead and plants his scepter in the family hearth. From the hearth, there grows out of the scepter a shoot so vigorous that it covers with its shade all the kingdom of Mycenae (417–423).
This symbolism of the Greek hestíā ‘hearth’ as the generatrix of authority is a matter of Indo-European heritage. Turning to the evidence of other Indo-European languages, specifically the hieratic diction of such disparate organizations as the Atiedian Brethren of Umbrian Iguvium and the Brahmans of the Indic Vedas, we find some striking convergences with the Greek model. Such convergences are likely to represent the actual traces of cognate religious attitudes, or even of cognate institutions.
According to Georges Dumézil, the root *wes- of Greek hestíā ‘hearth’ (ἑστία) and Latin Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth, has a cognate in the Indic form vi-vás-vat-. The mythical figure Vivasvat (vi-vás-vat-), is the first person ever to receive fire on earth, by virtue of being the first sacrificer on earth; he is ipso facto the ancestor of the human race. In Vedic diction, to say sádane vivásvataḥ ‘at the place of the Vivasvat’ (Rig-Veda 1.53.1, etc.) is the same as saying ‘at the sacrifice’. The root of this Indic verb vas- is cognate with the root *wes- of Greek hestíā ‘hearth’ (ἑστία) and of Latin Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth.” There is a further possibility that root *wes- of Greek hestíā could be reconstructed further as *h2wes-, and that this root *h2wes- is a variant of *h2es-.
As a verb, *h2es- must have meant something like ‘set on fire’—or so we might infer from the comparative evidence of various Indo-European languages. Purely on phonological grounds, we may expect the root *h2es- to survive in the Hittite language as ḫaš-, and there is indeed an attested Hittite noun ḫašša- meaning ‘sacrificial fireplace’. This noun, it is generally agreed, is related in form to Latin āra ‘sacrificial fireplace, altar’. There is also a Hittite verb ḫaš- meaning not ‘set on fire’ but ‘beget’. Despite this semantic anomaly, this Hittite verb ḫaš- ‘beget’ may be related to the noun ḫašša- ‘sacrificial fireplace’. The actual context for a semantic relationship between the concepts of “beget” and “fireplace” may be latent in the heritage of myth and ritual. There is a related problem in the semantics of the Hittite noun ḫaššu-, meaning ‘king’, which has been connected in some studies with the verb ḫaš- ‘beget’. Both this noun and ḫašša- ‘sacrificial fireplace’ are derived from the same Hittite verb has- ‘beget’.
Going beyond Dumézil’s position, the root *wes- could be reconstructed further as *h2wes-, despite the absence of any phonological trace of word-initial *h2 before *w in Greek *westiā, whence hestíā ‘hearth’ (ἑστία). Is this reconstruction turns out to be valid, then the root *h2wes- of the Greek noun hestíā ‘hearth’ may possibly be interpreted as a variant of the root *h2es- as in the Hittite noun ḫašša- ‘hearth’—and in the Hittite verb ḫaš- ‘beget’. Such a root-variation *h2es- vs. *h2wes- would be in line with an Indo-European pattern attested in a series of possible examples shaped CeC(C)- vs. Cu̯eC(C)-. Given that Indic vas- ‘shine’ conveys simultaneously the themes of the shining sun, the kindling of sacrificial fire, and the begetting of progeny, the reconstruction *h2wes- of this root would make it a formal variant of *h2es-, as in Hittite ḫaš- ‘beget’ and ḫašša- ‘sacrificial fireplace’.
The Indic verb vas- ‘shine’, tentatively reconstructed as *h2wes-, has a noun-derivative uṣás- ‘dawn’, which in turn can be reconstructed as *h2us-os-. There is an e-grade variant, h2eus-os-, attested in Latin aurōra ‘dawn’ and in Greek aúōs/ēṓs (Aeolic αὔως/ Ionic ἠώς) ‘dawn’. According to this scheme, there is a possibility that both Latin and Greek have words for the macrocosm of ‘dawn’ built from the root *h2ews- and for the microcosm of ‘sacrificial fireplace’ built from the same root, but with a different configuration: *h2wes- as in Greek, hestíā (ἐστία) and Latin Vesta.
In addition to the linking of the hearth with the ideas of generation and kingship, there is, then, an Indo-European pattern of thought that links the rising of the sun at dawn as parallel to the kindling of the sacrificial fire. This parallelism is explicit in the ritual language of the Vedas and it is implicit in the possible affinity between Indo-European roots in words for ‘dawn’, notably Greek ēṓs and Latin aurōra, and in words for ‘hearth’, notably Greek hestíā and Latin Vesta. In other words, the possibility remains that the macrocosm of dawn and the microcosm of sacrificial fire are designated with variants of the same root, with *hews- for ‘dawn’ and *hwes- for ‘fireplace’.
Nagy, G. 1990. “The King and the Hearth: Six Studies of Sacral Vocabulary relating to the Fireplace.” Chapter 6 of Greek Mythology and Poetics. Ithaca, NY.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Fana Yirga, 2015.12.10 and Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.18.

Hómēros (῞Ομηρος)

A. Etymologically, the form is a compound *hóm-āros meaning ‘he who fits / joins together’, composed of the prefix homo- ‘together’ and the root of the verb arariskein (ἀρ-αρ-ίσκειν) ‘fit, join’. So Hómēros is ‘he who fits [the song] together’.
Nagy emphasizes the importance of the word kúklos in building a metaphorical relationship between Homeric poetry, the epic cycle, and the master-carpenter, téktōn. Thus “the etymology of Hómēros, in the sense of ‘fitting together’, is an aspect of this metaphor: a master poet ‘fits together’ pieces of poetry that are made ready to be parts of an integrated whole just as a master carpenter or joiner ‘fits together’ or ‘joins’ pieces of wood that are made ready to be parts of a chariot wheel.”
B. “The etymology of the noun hómēros (ὅμηρος) … [has] the sense of ‘hostage’, which derives from the same compound *hóm-āros meaning ‘he who fits / joins together’.” (2§331)
Further, “a hostage is the visible sign of a pact or agreement between two parties, that is, of a ‘joining together’ or ‘bonding’. Such a meaning evidently derives from metaphors of social bonding inherent in derivatives of ararískein (ἀρ-αρ-ίσκειν) ‘fit, join’: an ideal case in point is arthmós (ἀρθμός) ‘bond, league, friendship’ and related forms. The etymology of the noun hómēros (ὅμηρος) in the sense of ‘hostage’ is in turn compatible in meaning with the etymology of the verb homēreîn/ homēreúein (ὁμηρεῖν / ὁμηρεύειν) in the sense of ‘joining’ the company of someone or ‘accompanying’ someone.” (2§332)
Nagy, G. 2012. “Further Variations on a Theme of Homer.” Chapter 9 of Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Emma Brobeck 2015.11.05
C. The reconstructed noun *hóm-āros can be interpreted as a compound formation meaning ’he who fits [the song] together’, composed of the prefix homo- (ὁμο-) ‘together’ and the root ar- of the verb ararískein (ἀραρίσκειν). As we see from a survey of the oldest attested formations involving the root ar-, this form expresses primarily the idea of woodwork and secondarily the idea of other handicrafts that involve the fitting together of distinct pieces into a unified whole. Moreover, this form extends metaphorically to the art of songmaking. The name Hómēros in its traditional contexts is linked to all these meanings. The name means literally ‘joiner’ or ‘carpenter’. So, etymologically, Hómēros is a master joiner of woodwork; and, metaphorically, Homer is a master joiner of song. (2§282 )
Nagy, G. 2009. “Homer the Classic in the Age of Callimachus.” Chapter 2 of Homer the Classic. Washington, DC.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Milan Vidaković, 2105.11.06

hupokrínesthai (ὑποκρίνεσθαι)

Nagy argues that the verb hupokrínesthai indicates an interesting connection between something that is seen and its interpretation. Beginning with Calchas’s interpretation of the bird sign in Iliad 2, Nagy shows that the verb hupokrínesthai ‘to respond’ implies a “verbal message that responds to a visual message” (Homer the Classic 1§14). This pertains especially to a seer (theoprópos) who is responding to (hupokrínesthai) a vision or an omen. Nagy supports his point by discussing the performative connotations of hupokrínesthai, arguing that hupokrínesthai gives us the word for actor, hupokritḗs, which is best understood “by juxtaposing it with another theatrical word, théātron ’theater’ ” (1§44). Both are quite clearly performative words, and both have to do with seeing and being seen. The form théātron is “composed of verb-root thea– ‘have a vision’ and noun-suffix -tron, indicating an instrument; thus the whole word can be interpreted etymologically as ‘instrument for having a vision [thea-]’. The etymological implications of these two words, théātron and hupokritḗs, can be interpreted together. The audience of theater, of théātron, which is the instrument for achieving théā, or vision, literally sees a vision of a character, such as the Antigone of Sophocles in the drama that is named after her, and this vision of Antigone can then speak for itself. Moreover, the word for ‘audience’ is theātaí ‘spectators’. Thus the mask-wearing actor who is the visualization of, say, Antigone is a hupokritḗs of the theatrical vision of Antigone and of the whole drama that is the Antigone of Sophocles” (1§44).
Nagy’s argument concludes with the idea that hupokrínesthai indicates an act which the seer performs in response to a visual stimulus. “The responsiveness of hupokrínesthai is a matter of performance … The basic idea of hupokrínesthai, then, is to see the real meaning of what others see and to quote, as it were, what this vision is really telling them” (1§158). Nagy argues that hupokrínesthai is particularly relevant to Homeric poetry because this poetry is, by nature, a piece of performance art: “The performance of Homer as a speaker mirrors the performances of the heroes and gods whose speeches he frames. Homer as the framing narrator mirrors the poetic virtuosity of his framed epic characters, especially Achilles. The responsive mentality of speakers in Homeric song extends ultimately to Homer himself, who becomes re-enacted again and again in the traditions of performance. The responsiveness of Homeric poetry, as conveyed by hupokrínesthai, is parallel to the responsiveness of theatrical poetry, as likewise conveyed by the same word hupokrínesthai. Earlier, I argued for the relevance of theatrical contexts of hupokrinesthai in the sense of ‘act’, as in ‘act the role of a persona’, and of hupokritḗs in the sense of ‘actor’. Now I am arguing that Homer himself is such a ‘persona’ in his own right. In that sense, Homer is the embodiment of theater” (1§158–160).
Nagy also discusses hupokrínesthai in Chapter 2 of Homer the Classic (“Homer the Classic in the Age of Callimachus”) in reference to the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. He shows that hupokrínesthai has a performative connotation in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo which is similar to its performative connotation in the Iliad. Says Nagy, “Now we see that the Homeric Hymn (3) to Apollo makes the theatricality [which is implicit in hupokrínesthai] explicit, at verse 163, by way of the word mimeîsthai ’re-enact’. In earlier work, I have argued that the Delian Maidens of the Homeric Hymn (3) to Apollo are in effect offering to make a mī́mēsis of Homer, that is, to ‘re-enact’ him, and Homer responds by making a mī́mēsis of them” (2§29).
Nagy, G. 2009. “Homer the Classic in the Age of Virgil” and “Homer the Classic in the Age of Callimachus.” Chapters 1 and 2 of Homer the Classic. Washington, DC.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Anna Simas, 2015.11.05

Kheirōn (Χείρων, Χίρων, Χέρρων)

Chiron, the son of the nymph Philyra and of Cronus (Pherecydes fr. 2.3 M), is described in the epics as ‘the most righteous among the Centaurs’ (δικαιότατος Κενταύρων, Iliad 11.832) and as ‘having friendly thoughts’ (φίλα φρονέων, Iliad 4.219). His name is attested in three variants: Kheirōn (Χείρων) is the most recurrent in the literary sources (from Homer onward, with a few exceptions, such as Pindar, Euripides fr. 14.13 P, Acusilaus fr. 16.2 DK); Khīrōn (Χίρων) is often attested in the documentary sources (for example, Attic vase paintings of the fifth century BCE and one inscription from Thera in the sixth century BCE); Kherrōn (Χέρρων) occurs only in Alcaeus (fr. 42.9 V).
If Kheirōn (Χείρων) is the original form, the name may be related to Greek kheir (χείρ) ‘hand’ (Kretschmer 1919:58–62), meaning ‘the one who has a special hand’. The form Kherrōn (Χέρρων), if genuine and not the result of a secondary ‘aeolicization’, supports this assumption (compare χέρρες ‘hands’ Sappho fr. 90[1].2 V).
If Khīrōn is the primary form, the etymology is unclear. In this scenario, the forms Kheirōn and Kherrōn should both be explained as secondary formations under the influence of folk etymologies linking Chiron’s name to kheir ‘hand’ (Wachter 2001:263–264).
Without any doubt, ancient literary sources connected Chiron with the ‘healing hand’ and the ‘healing practice’ (kheirourgiā). Indeed, Chiron mentors a number of young heroes connected with both hunting and healing, such as Jason, Aristaeus, Asclepius, and Achilles. Specifically, Pindar says that Chiron ‘taught’ his students ‘the gentle-handed province of medicines’ (Χίρων … τὸν φαρμάκων δίδαξε μαλακόχειρα νόμον, Pindar Nemean 3.53–55). Additionally, the name of Jason (Ἰάσων), one of Chiron’s pupils, actually means ‘healer’ (compare Greek ἰάομαι ‘to treat’, ἰατήρ ‘physician’).
Chiron’s distinctive features are comparable to those of other divine figures who have a healing ‘hand’ (Greek kheir, Vedic hástaḥ, Hittite keššar, from the common Indo-European root *ghes-, enlarged with different suffixes) in other Indo-European traditions, namely the Vedic god Rudra, who has a ‘merciful’ (mr̥ḷayā́kuḥ, R̥gveda 2.33.7) or ‘healing hand’ (bheṣajaḥ … hástaḥ, R̥gveda 2.33.7), and the Hittite ‘Sun-god of the hand’ (Hittite kiššeraš DUTU-uš) invoked in the ritual of the Catalogue des Textes Hittites 402.
The three figures share an association with the activity and equipment of the hunt, that is, of the bow, arrows, and hounds. In the epics, Chiron, who is an experienced hunter, is mentioned in connection with remedies applied to arrow wounds (Iliad 4.217–219); however, he is killed by one of Heracles’ arrows (Diodorus Siculus Library 4.12.8, Hyginus Astronomica 2.38.1). Afterwards, he is transformed either into the constellation Sagittarius (‘the arrow shooter’ Lucan Pharsalia 6.393–394) or into the constellation Centaurus (Hyginus Astronomica 2.38.1). The Vedic god Rudra controls remedies while also causing diseases and death with his arrows. He is the god ‘who possesses good arrow’ (suviṣúḥ, R̥gveda 5.42.11) and ‘good bow’ (sudhánvā, R̥gveda 5.42.11), but he is also ‘men-smiting’ (nr̥hán-, R̥gveda 4.3.6). Additionally, he protects hounds, masters of hounds, and hunters (Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā 16.27–28). In the Hittite Ritual of Allī against Bewitching (Catalogue des Textes Hittites 402), the Hittite kiššeraš DUTU-uš (‘Sun-god of the hand’) is opposed to a hunter clay-figure, who has hounds, arrows, and a bow. In the ritual, the hunter and his arrows represent, like Rudra’s arrows, what the ‘Sun-god of the hand’ has to remove (Mouton 2010).
Chiron and Rudra have further traits in common. They are compared to or called ‘wild beasts’ (Greek φήρ; Vedic mr̥gáṃ ná bhīmám ‘like a fearful beast’, R̥gveda 2.33.11). Furthermore, they are inhabitants of mountains par excellence. Chiron dwells on Mount Pelion in Thessaly (Χείρων ἵν’ οἰκεῖ σεμνὰ Πηλίου βάθρα ‘where Chiron lives, the holy glens of Pelion’ Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis 705), and, like other Centaurs, he is a ‘mountain dweller’ (Greek oreiskōios, of all the Centaurs, Iliad 1.268). Likewise, Rudra is called ‘mountain dweller’ (giriśayá-, Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā 16.29). Finally, Chiron and Rudra are connected with young warriors: Chiron rears several young heroes and is a wise friend of heroes and gods. He bestows upon Peleus his ‘ash spear for the smiting of men’ (μελίην φόνον ἔμμεναι ἡρώεσσιν, Iliad 16.143, 19.390), suggests that he take Thetis as his bride by force ([Apollodorus] Library 3.168), and predicts to Apollo that he will carry away the nymph Cyrene after their consensual union (Pindar Pythian 9). In the R̥gveda, Rudra is the ‘father of the Maruts’ (pitar marutām, R̥gveda 2.33.1), a group of atmospheric deities portrayed as young warriors and young bride wooers, which vaguely recalls Chiron’s role with regard to young and unmarried heroes.
In conclusion, the folk etymological association between Chiron’s name and the ‘healing hand’ might itself be based on a set of associations shared by Greek and two cognate languages, Vedic and Anatolian. Here, (semi-)divine figures dwelling in wild and liminal realms are connected to young age groups, hunting activity, and the healing of arrow wounds, which frequently occur on the occasion of hunting incidents and group fights. Therefore, Chiron, the Greek ‘Mr. (Healing) Hand’, might be interpreted as a continuation of a more ancient ‘Mr. (Healing) Hand’.
Kretschmer, P. 1919. “Mythische Namen.” Glotta 10: 38–62.
Massetti, L. In preparation. “Mr. Hand: On Gk. Χείρων, Rudrá- ‘of healing hand’ and Hitt. kiššeraš DUTU-uš.”
Wachter, R. 2001. Non-Attic Greek Vase Inscriptions. Oxford.
Laura Massetti 2018.05.29

Marsúās (Μαρσύας)

Marsúās (Μαρσύας) is the name of a Phyrgian satyr who picked up the musical wind instrument known as the aulos ‘double-reed, pipe’ that had been thrown away by Athena. The goddess had invented the instrument, but she could not stand the fact that her cheeks were puffed up while she played it (for example, [Apollodorus] Library 1.24). Marsúās is thus recorded as the inventor of the music of the aulos by a variety of classical sources. For instance, in Plato’s Symposium (215ac), Alcibiades mentions the festive custom of peeling the outer layer of Marsyas’s figurines, which concealed smaller figures of gods on their inside. According to Nagy 2017 (ad Odyssey 22.437–479), Marsyas’s figurines probably concealed a smaller Apollo. Thus, in the framework of the ritual re-enactment of Apollo’s punishment, festive merriment counterbalanced the grim death of the outrageous (Greek ὑβριστής) satyr.
The proper name Marsúās has long been interpreted as a loanword (Buck 1909) from Young Avestan maršuiiā̊, genitive singular of a name maršuuī-*, attested only in Yašna 11.1 (yō mąm xvāstąm nōit̰ baxṣ̌ahe [...] / haoiiā̊ vā maršuiiā̊, ‘who does not allot me, when I am ritually prepared [… except] for his own maršuī’). The term is commonly taken to be a Daēuuic word—a word that applies to the daēuuas, ‘the demons’, and to impious worshippers—glossed as Sanskrit duṣṭodaram, ‘bad belly’. In turn, maršuuī-* may be traced back to an Indo-European root *merǵ- ‘to cut’, reflecting a feminine noun built on a u-stem adjective, which derives from an s-stem (Massetti 2016: 122–126).
Some Greek phraseological elements allow us to reconstruct a connection between Marsúās and the image of the ‘belly’. To begin with, the proper name Marsúās is probably related to Greek marsippos/marsuppos (μάρσιππος/μάρσυππος), ‘pouch’, whereby marsip(p)os (μάρσιπ[π]ος) reflects a compound meaning ‘weight of marsu-’ (marsu-*, īpos ‘weight’, see Frigione 2017). This term denotes a leather bag, hanging from and weighing down the waistline like a belly. It is likely that the mythical prototype of the marsipos was the myth of Marsúās’s flaying, encapsulated in the Greek phrase ‘Marsuās’s skin’, (Μαρσύεω ἁσκός, Herodotus Histories 7.26.14; ἀσκός ... Μαρσύου, Plato Euthydemus 285d). According to classical sources, Apollo flayed the satyr alive after defeating him in a musical competition and let his skin hang on a tree. Significantly, Nonnus of Panopolis visualizes Marsyas’s skin as resembling a ‘belly’, using the verb kolpóō (κολπόω) ‘to create a kolpos (bosom, lap, womb, fold)’ to describe it (compare Nonnus of Panopolis Dionysiaca 1.42–43, ἐξ ὅτε Μαρσύαο θεημάχον αὐλὸν ἐλέγξας / δέρμα παρῃώρησε φυτῷ κολπούμενον αὔραις ‘since he (Apollo) humiliated the god-fighting flute of Marsyas / and hung his skin, bellying in the breezes, on a tree’).
To sum up: It is likely that Marsúās, as a mythological character, was shaped on an Iranian loanword, maršuuī-*, meaning ‘belly’, as supported by the Greek phraseological evidence. The ‘skin of Marsúās’ was the first marsup(i)os, ‘pouch (that hangs on the belly)’, since Apollo hung the satyr’s skin on a tree with his belly to the wind.
Buck, C. D. 1909. “Greek Notes.” Indogermanische Forschungen 25:257–264.
Frigione, Ch. 2017. “Ipotesi su gr. Μαρσύας e gr. μάρσι/ύ(π)πος.” In Ancient Greek Linguistics: New Perspectives, Insights, and Approaches, ed. F. Logozzo and P. Poccetti, 811–824. Berlin.
Massetti, L. 2016. “The belly of an Indo-European: Some Greek and Iranian Cognates of IE *merǵ- ‘to Divide, Cut’.” In Proceedings of the 27th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, ed. D. M. Goldstein, S. W. Jamison, and B. Vine, 115–129. Bremen.
Nagy, G. 2017. “A sampling of comments on the Iliad and Odyssey.”
Laura Massetti 2018.05.29

poikílos/poikíllein (ποικίλος/ποικίλλειν)

The adjective poikílos, Nagy argues, generally means ‘varied’, with the specialized meaning ‘pattern-woven’. It is closely related to the verb poikíllein, which means ‘pattern-weave’. The noun poikílma is also derived from the verb poikíllein ’pattern-weave’, and refers to fabric that is “woven … rather than embroidered.” Nagy cites the following comparative evidence for interpreting poikíllein as referring to pattern-weaving: “The verb poikíllein itself, along with the adjective poikílos, meaning ‘varied’, is derived from the root *peik-, also attested in Latin pictūra. So poikíllein means literally ‘make (things) be poikíla’, that is, ‘make (things) be varied’. These words poikílos and poikíllein convey not only the general idea of variation. They convey also the specific idea of a picture, whether static or moving: in fact, they are cognate with the Latin word pictūra. This word evokes for us the celebrated formulation ut pictūra poesis ‘like the painting is the poetry’ in Horace’s Ars Poetica (Epistulae 2.3.361).” In applying this etymology to the epithet of Aphrodite, poikilóthronos (Sappho Song 1.1), Nagy understands Aphrodite poikilothronos as ‘Our Lady of the varied pattern-woven floral love charms’.
Nagy, G. 2009. “Homer the Classic in the Age of Virgil.” Chapter 1 of Homer the Classic. Washington, DC.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Eunice Kim, 2015.11.05

poludeukḗs (πολυδευκής)

The starting point for this examination of poludeukḗs is Odyssey 19.520, where the nightingale is described as follows:
ἥ τε θαμὰ τρωπῶσα χέει πολυηχέα φωνήν

and she pours forth, changing it around thick and fast, a voice with many resoundings,
Aelian in De natura animalium (5.38) records a variant reading “poludeukḗs as an alternative to poluēkhés ‘with many resoundings’ in Odyssey 19 (521) and glosses it as τὴν ποικίλως μεμιμημένην ‘making imitation [mimesis] in a varied [poikílōs] way’. Aelian is interested mainly in the nightingale’s versatility as an imitator, but the epithet poludeukḗa draws attention also to the continuity of the singer’s performance.
If indeed poludeukḗs implies that the nightingale is τὴν ποικίλως μεμιμημένην ‘the one who makes imitation [mimesis] in a varied [ poikílōs ] way’, then this variant epithet poludeukḗs points to the songbird’s capacity for variety. But there is even more to Aelian’s description of the nightingale’s birdsong, since he insists on the notion of mimesis in his definition: τὴν ποικίλως μεμιμημένην ‘the one who makes imitation [mimesis] in a varied [poikílōs] way’. If Aelian is right, then the variant epithet poludeukḗs conveys not only variety but also the very idea of mimesis, which is translated here as ‘imitation’. If he is right, then poludeukḗs is closely parallel in meaning to poluēkhḗs ‘with many resoundings’, since ēkhṓ ‘resounding, echo’ likewise conveys the idea of mimesis. Moreover, there is a deeper meaning of mimesis, which can be understood by discovering the deeper meaning of the epithet poludeukḗs.
Pierre Chantraine in his Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque and Ernst Risch in his Wortbildung der homerischen Sprache are both uncertain about how to explain the meaning of the root *deuk / *duk in poludeukḗs, but they are both quite certain about the morphological relationship of this word with two other words, the negative adeukḗs and the adverb endukéōs. Aelian as well, in his discussion of poludeukḗs as an epithet of the nightingale, treats adeukḗs as the negative of poludeukḗs. He thinks that adeukḗs means ‘incapable of mimesis’. The word mimesis in such a context means more than ‘imitation’: it conveys also a deeper sense of continuity.
Another related word is endukéōs, which is associated with the notion of an uninterrupted sequence, as for example in contexts like the verse in Odyssey xiv (337) involving the action of sending or accompanying someone on a journey (verb pémpein at 333, 334, 338). Conversely, the negative adeukḗs occurs in contexts referring to an interrupted sequence, as in a quoted question about the Achaeans coming home from Troy in Odyssey 4 (489).
The words poludeukḗs, adeukḗs and endukéōs “are all derived from the same root *deuk / *duk that we find in Latin dūcere, dux.”
In their etymological dictionary of Latin, Ernout and Meillet explain dūcere as an old pastoral word conveying the basic idea of pull rather than push (agere): the herdsman or dux is “pulling” or leading (dūcere) the herd when he goes in front, while he is “pushing” or driving (agere) when he is coming up from behind. Going beyond this formulation of Ernout and Meillet, Emile Benveniste adds the notion of a continuum, so that the dux who marches in front of the aggregate is necessarily connected, as the prime linking force, as it were, to the train that follows.
The Latin expression “fīlum dēdūcere ‘draw out a thread [in spinning]’ (e.g. Ovid Metamorphoses 4.36; cf. Tibullus 1.3.86)” is comparable to places where the verbs dūcere or dēdūcere are “metaphorically combined with objects like carmen ‘song’ to mean ‘compose the song’ (e.g. Propertius 4.6.13, Ovid Metamorphoses 1.4).
The association of the root *deuk / *duk with the idea of songmaking takes us back to the meaning of poludeukḗs, variant epithet for the nightingale’s song in Odyssey 19 (521), which we may now interpret as meaning ‘having much continuity’ or ‘having continuity in many different ways’ or even ‘patterning in many ways’ (or ‘many times’). The translation ‘patterning’ highlights the idea of continuity through variety and diversity. And the patterns of continuity through variety and diversity are conceived as the distinctly poetic skills of songmaking in performance. Morevoer, the idea of ‘many different ways’ (or ‘many times’) is an inherently agonistic one, with each new performance ever competing against previous performances. Thus poludeukḗs in the sense of ‘patterning in many different ways’ (or ‘many times’) is an apt description of oral tradition itself.”
Nagy, G. 1996. “The Homeric Nightingale and the Poetics of Variation in the Art of a Troubadour” and “Mimesis, Models of Singers, and the Meaning of a Homeric Epithet.” Chapters 1 and 2 of Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Edgar A. García 2015.12.10 and Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.19

rhapsōidós (ῥαψωιδός)

Nagy identifies the term rhapsōidos, meaning ‘rhapsode,’ as a “compound formation composed of the morphological elements rhaptein ’stitch together’ and aoidē ‘song’ ” (Homer the Classic 2§94). He cites the etymology as part of a web of metaphors which are to be found in the etymologies of terms associated with poetic composition and having relation to any of the Greek tekhnai ’crafts’, explicitly the term prooímion, but with implicit relevance to the terms Hómēros and Hēsíodos as nomina loquentia whose significance draws on metaphors of stitching, carpentry, and joining in imagining poetic composition.
In Poetry as Performance (pp. 61–79), Nagy expands upon the significance and implications of this etymology of rhapsōidós. He cites the opening of Pindar’s Nemean 2 for an explicit rendering of the etymology implicit in the term. Pindar refers to the opening of a Homeric performance by the Homērídai, “a lineage of rhapsodes in Chios who traced themselves back to an ancestor called Hómēros, or Homer”: ὅθεν περ καὶ Ὁμηρίδαι ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων τὰ πόλλ᾿ ἀοιδοὶ ἄρχονται, Διὸς ἐκ προοιμίου … ‘starting from the very point where [hóthen] the Homērídai, singers [aoidoí] of sewn-together [rhaptá] utterances [épē], most often take their start [= verb árkhesthai], from the prooímion of Zeus …’ (Pindar Nemean 2.1–3).
Nagy continues by distinguishing between the metaphor of sewing and a related, but subtly distinct, metaphor in archaic Greek tradition and with Indo-European linguistic traces, that of weaving (65–66): “As we juxtapose these two metaphors for song-making in archaic Greek traditions, weaving and sewing, we discover that the second of the two is more complex than the first. The idea inherent in rhapsōidós, ‘he who sews together [rháptein] the song(s) [aoidḗ]’, is that many and various fabrics of song, each one already made, that is, each one already woven, become re-made into a unity, a single new continuous fabric, by being sewn together. The paradox of the metaphor is that the many and the various become the single and the uniform—and yet there is supposedly no loss in the multiplicity and variety of the constituent parts. In effect, this metaphor conveyed by the concept of rhapsōidós amounts to an overarching esthetic principle, one that may even ultimately settle the ever-ongoing controversy between advocates of unitarian and analytic approaches to Homer.”
The implications for this etymology reveal a model of rhapsodic performance that is at odds with what we see presented in such texts as Plato’s Ion, “where the rhapsode Ion is metaphorically pictured as the last and weakest link in a long magnetic chain of rhapsodes leading all the way back to the real thing, the original magnet, the genius of Homer (535e–536a).” The term rhapsōidós in fact highlights the process of poetic composition as continuous performance of spontaneously produced material that continues the poetic narratives that precede it: “The poet as rhapsode is the ultimate performer, but he is also the ultimate composer—at least from the standpoint of myth. The esthetics of sewing as a metaphor for singing highlight both the technique and the product of poetic craftsmanship.”
Nagy, G. 2009. “Homer the Classic in the Age of Callimachus.” Chapter 2 of Homer the Classic. Washington, DC.
Nagy, G. 1996. “Mimesis of Homer and Beyond.” Chapter 3 of Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Adriana Vazquez 2015.11.06

sêma (σῆμα)

Brugmann’s etymology of the word sēma ‘sign’ connects it to the Indic dhyāma ‘thought’ (Brugmann 1886–1900 2:348); the forms would then reflect an Indo-European *dhiéh2–mn- (Beekes 2010 s.v.). Nagy supports Brugmann’s etymology (Greek Mythology and Poetics Chapter 8):
“The basic form in Greek is sēma ’sign’, a neuter action-noun built on a root-verb that is no longer attested in the language. There is a cognate of Greek sēma in the Indic branch of the Indo-European linguistic family. The form is dhyāma ’thought’, a neuter action-noun, attested only in the late Indic lexicographical tradition. This poorly attested noun is built on a root-verb that is well attested in early Indic. The root is dhyā- ‘think’ (variant of dhī- ‘think’). Even though the morphological relationship of dhyā- and dhyāma is transparent in Indic, and even though Indic dhyāma and Greek sêma would have to be considered cognates on the basis of their parallelism on the level of morphology, students of language are troubled by the apparent lack of parallelism on the level of semantics: how could the meaning ‘sign’ of Greek sēma be connected with the meaning ‘thought’ of Indic dhyāma?” (202)
Nagy thus endeavors “to show that the semantics of sêma are indeed connected with the semantics of thinking” by examining the word “not only in context but also specifically in the contexts of its behavior within the formulaic systems of archaic Greek poetic diction” (202), namely, by considering its relationship to the noun nóos ’mind, sense, perception’, and the derivative verb noéō ’perceive, take note, think, think through’ (203).
Nagy adduces a number of literary examples to demonstrate that in Greek, a sēma serves as a key to recognition, that recognition requires interpretation, and that nóos is the Greek word expressing the “basic faculty of recognition and interpretation” (204). For example, before the chariot race in the funeral games of Patroklos in Book 23 of the Iliad, Nestor gives his son Antilokhos a sign (sêma) when he gives him advice about how to win the chariot race, a sign which Antilokhos understands: “Antilokhos himself uses the verb noéō to express what he is doing (νοήσω 415). What, then, makes Nestor’s sēma work as a key to victory? It is the ability of his son to recognize how the sēma works within its code, which is equated with simply noticing it. And the word for this noticing/recognition is noéō” (209). Nestor’s advice is to turn as closely as possible to the térma ’turning point’ (Iliad 23.327–345), which he says is either the “tomb [sēma] of a man who died a long time ago, or it was a turning post in the times of earlier men” (Iliad 23.331–332) (215). Nagy connects the meaning of sēma ’tomb’ with the meaning ‘sign’: “As a ‘sign’ of the dead hero, the ‘tomb’ is a reminder of the hero and his kléos” (216).
The associations between the meanings of sēma lead Nagy to a discussion of Douglas Frame’s (1978) etymology of the word nóos: “The question is: what do these associations of sêma have to do with the semantics of nóos? As Frame argues in the course of his illuminating hook, nóos is an action-noun derived from the Indo-European root-verb *nes– meaning ‘return to light and life’. . . . The root-verb *nes– is attested in Greek as néomai, but in this case it means simply ‘return’, not ‘return to light and life’. One derivative of néomai is nóstos ’return, homecoming’—and another is nóos. As Frame also argues, the theme of ‘return to light and life’ is recovered by way of the pervasive interplay between the themes of nóos and nóstos within the overall framework of the Odyssey: the key to the nóstos ‘homecoming’ of Odysseus is his nóos, and the nóstos is endangered whenever the nóos is threatened by lḗthē ‘forgetfulness’, as in the story of the Lotus-Eaters. There are in fact two aspects of nóstos in the Odyssey: one is of course the hero’s return from Troy, and the other, just as important, is his return from Hades. Moreover, the theme of Odysseus’s descent and subsequent nóstos ‘return’ from Hades converges with the solar dynamics of sunset and subsequent sunrise. The movement is from dark to light, from unconsciousness to consciousness, as expressed by nóos” (218–219).
Nagy connects this to the language of the Iliadic chariot race:
The sēma of the chariot race in honor of the dead Patroklos is not just a ‘tomb’ that serves as a ‘reminder’ of ‘a man who died a long time ago’. It is also a ‘sign’ that was encoded by the nóos of Nés-tōr ’he who brings about a return’ (cf. Il. 23.305). And the word nóos conveys life after death, not only by virtue of its etymology ‘return to light and life’ but also by virtue of its usage in Homeric diction. (219)
In sum, it seems as if the contextual connections of sēma and nóos reflect not only the etymology of nóos as ‘return to light and life’ but also the etymology of sēma as a cognate of Indic dhyāma ’thought’. The related Indic form dhīyas ’thoughts’ is in fact attested as designating the consciousness of man in awakening and reminding the sun, by sacrifice, to rise, as well as the consciousness of man in being reminded by the rising sun to awaken and sacrifice. This theme is in turn closely linked with Indic concepts of life after death. (220)
In conclusion, Nagy connects the interpretation of to the reading of poetry: “the testimony of Greek poetry about sēma and nóēsis turns out to be a lesson in how to read this poetry: the Greek poem is a sēma that requires the nóēsis of those who hear it” (222).
Beekes, R. S. P. 2010. Etymological dictionary of Greek. Leiden.
Brugmann, K., and B. Delbrück. 1886–1900. Grundriß der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen. Strassburg.
Nagy, G. 1990. “Sēma and Nóēsis: The Hero’s Tomb and the ‘Reading’ of Symbols in Homer and Hesiod.” Chapter 8 of Greek Mythology and Poetics. Ithaca, NY.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Megan O’Donald 2015.12.24

Sígeion (Σίγειον)

A. The meaning of this name can be connected with the presence of the tomb of the hero Achilles in the environs of that city. Confirmed by comparative evidence in another part of the Greek-speaking world, the city of Taras (Latin Tarentum, modern Taranto) in Magna Graecia offers a traditional explanation for the naming of the city after a sacred space of Achilles that was called Sígeion by ‘the Trojans’ who once lived there. The morphology of the place name Sígeion is parallel to that of Akhílleion; the root of the form Sígeion, is cognate with the root of the adverb sîga ’silently’ and of its derivatives, including the verb sigân ’be silent’ and the adjective sígēlos ’silent’. The name Sígēlos is even attested as the secret name of a cult hero (see Alciphron Letters 3.22.3).
The observance of reverential silence in passing by the tomb of a cult hero is relevant to the naming of another Aeolian site, Sigíā, which is directly comparable to the naming of the old Aeolian site Sígeion. The site of Sigíā is associated with rocky heights overlooking the Hellespont and with tumuli marking the burial places of cult heroes. Both Sígeion and Sigía refer to heights imagined as markers of sacred places where tombs of heroes are located. As for the actual meaning of these Aeolic place names Sígeion and Sigía, both signal a sacred space of reverential silence. By metonymy, the naming of these heights Sígeion and Sigíā is connected with the practice of observing reverential silence at the tombs of heroes.
Nagy, G. 2012. “Conflicting Claims on Homer.” Chapter 7 of Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Chad Carver 2015.10.30
B. Sígeion: A site in the Troad near which the tomb of Achilles was said to be located; “Achilles was worshipped as a cult hero at this tomb” (Homer the Preclassic II§44). The root of Sígeion is “cognate with the root of the adverb sīga ’silently’ and of its derivatives, including the verb sigân ’be silent’ and the adjective sígēlos ’silent’ (II§134). According to Nagy, the name of the town has its origins in the ritual silence owed to the sacred spaces of cult heroes; he draws a parallel from a reference in Alciphron Letters 3.22.3 to a cult hero Sígēlos and the custom that ”those who pass by the tomb of the cult hero Sígēlos must observe reverential silence” (II§134). The name Sígeion also parallels that of another Aeolian site, Sigíā, which he connects with the name of one of the old cities in the region, Kolōnai, from the plural of kolōnē, ‘tumulus’ (II§135). Nagy concludes that “both Sígeion and Sigíā refer to heights imagined as markers of sacred places where tombs of heroes are located. As for the actual meaning of these Aeolic place names Sígeion and Sigíā, both signal a sacred space of reverential silence. By metonymy, the naming of these heights Sígeion and Sigíā is connected with the practice of observing reverential silence at the tombs of heroes” (Homer the Preclassic II§136).
Nagy, G. 2012. “Conflicting Claims on Homer.” Chapter 7 of Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley.
Gregory Nagy, edited by Megan O’Donald 2015.10.30