Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment

  Brockliss, William. 2019. Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment. Hellenic Studies Series 82. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BrocklissW.Homeric_Imagery_and_the_Natural_Environment.2019.

Appendix. The Semantics of ἄνθος and ἀνθέω

As we shall see, there are in fact good reasons to endorse more conventional translations of ἄνθος in Homeric poetry. Comparative evidence from other Indo-European languages suggests that the archaic Greek term derived from an earlier Proto-Indo-European root with a floral meaning; and the internal evidence of the Homeric poems offers us still stronger reasons to accept such a meaning for the Homeric noun. While the equivalent verbal root may possess a more general meaning, the primary reference of the Homeric noun ἄνθος is to the concrete concept of “flower(s).”

As we can see from this summary, while some of these scholars associate the root ἀνθο/ε- with the concept of growth, they all cast doubt on the floral associations of the root. However, when we study evidence from historical linguistics and review the testimony from our Homeric texts, we find good reasons to believe not only that the primary and original meaning of the root ἀνθο/ε- was vegetal, but also that the noun from this root, ἄνθος, has the specific meaning of “flower” in Homeric poetry.

This evidence, then, suggests that the floral meaning of the Greek noun ἄνθος is not a later development but rather reflects the early semantics of the term. And as we shall see, the internal evidence of Homeric poetry likewise points us towards more concrete referents for the root ἀνθο/ε-, as opposed to abstractions such as “burstings forth.” Specifically, we observe a distinction between a verbal root associated with vegetation in general and substantival stems referring to flowers. The verbal root ἀνθε-, usually found in participial form, has either a general, vegetal meaning of “flourishing” or a more specific meaning of “blooming,” while in all but a few instances the adjective ἀνθεμόεις and the noun ἄνθος clearly mean “flowery” and “flower” respectively. We have, then, a distinction between verbal and nominal roots similar to that between the verbal root *h 2 endh-, tentatively proposed by Beekes, and the nominal root *h 2 endh es-, reconstructed by Mallory and Adams, which have the meanings “sprout” and “± flower” respectively: it is possible that these Homeric roots reflect the semantics of the original Proto-Indo-European forms.

There are three cases in our versions of the Homeric poems where the noun ἄνθος might carry a more general meaning of “vegetal growth”—though in all of these instances a floral meaning is still very much a possibility. It might seem at first sight that the phrase ἄνθεα ποίης at Odyssey 9.449 and Hymn 30.15 has a more general vegetal meaning—“grassy growths” vel sim. But audiences familiar with early hexameter might not have understood it in this fashion. At Theogony 576 the phrase refers to material used for a garland, which we would expect to be made up of flowers. [14] This suggests that it could carry the meaning “flowers of the grassland.” [15] At Odyssey 7.125–126, a general vegetal sense of ἄνθος is likewise possible: πάροιθε δέ τ’ ὄμφακές εἰσιν / ἄνθος ἀμφιεῖσαι (“before them were unripe grapes / sending a bloom [?] around them”). The juxtaposition of ἄνθος with a reference to ripening grapes is surprising: we would expect the flowers to fall off the vine before any fruit appeared. It may be, then, that these lines attribute some general notion of vegetal flourishing to the grapes. But we should remember that the Phaeacian plantations are no ordinary allotments: as we saw in Chapter 5, their plants grow constantly throughout the year, without the need for human tendance; and the description of unripe grapes in lines 125–126 is immediately followed by a reference to mature grapes. Audiences could readily have imagined that such plants, which are not subject to seasonal variation, would exhibit flowers and fruit at the same time.

From this evidence it seems best to conclude that in Homeric poetry the root ἀνθο/ε- has either a specifically floral or a generally vegetal meaning. Depending on context the verb ἀνθέω can be translated either “bloom” or “flourish.” And in most if not all instances, the substantival forms ἄνθος and ἀνθεμ- refer specifically to flowers.


[ back ] 1. For a second Homeric lexeme commonly translated “flower,” the hapax θρόνα (Iliad 22.441), see Chapter 3 n7.

[ back ] 2. Lakoff and Johnson 2003; Lakoff and Turner 1989. For discussion of their theories, see my Introduction.

[ back ] 3. Stanford 1936:112–114, with quotation from p. 112.

[ back ] 4. Borthwick 1976. Silk (1974:162–163) is likewise at pains to disassociate the use of ἀνθο/ε- at Agamemnon 659 from the connotations of the English word “flower,” but unlike Stanford and Borthwick he believes that the Aeschylean image focuses primarily on a notion somewhat closer to the vegetal realm—that of growth. For the suggestion that ἄνθος means “growth” also in Homeric poetry, cf. Aitchison 1963, Raman 1975, and Clarke 2005, whose essays are discussed below.

[ back ] 5. Raman 1975.

[ back ] 6. Aitchison 1975.

[ back ] 7. Clarke 2005, with quotation from p. 25.

[ back ] 8. I quote these possible cognates and their meanings as they are given by Mallory and Adams (2006:161–162). Boisacq (1938 s.v. ἄνθος) and Pokorny (1959 s.v. andh-, anedh-) also point to a number of possible cognates in the Celtic languages, most of which refer to young women or to young animals. If this is correct, the metaphor of the “flower of youth” discussed in Chapter 7 could be of very early provenance. But it might also be the case that the metaphor developed independently in the Greek and Celtic branches of the Indo-European family.

[ back ] 9. See Frisk 1960–1972 s.v. ἄνθος; Chantraine 1984–1990 s.v. ἄνθος on Skt. ándhas-; Mallory and Adams 2006:161, who note the “vague meanings” of the proposed cognates; Beekes 2009 s.v. ἄνθος, who lists the Albanian form “endë” “‘flour’” [sic]. But see n10 below on the semantics of the proposed Albanian cognates. Some scholars have expressed doubts concerning the relationship of the various possible cognates with Greek ἄνθος: Beekes 2009 s.v. ἄνθος.

[ back ] 10. Meyer (1891 s.v. ąj) cites “ēnde f. ‘Blütenkelch, Blume des Weines,’ auch ‘Freude, Annehmlichkeit’”; Demiraj (1997 s.v. end (t.)/ẽn(d) (g.)) includes forms that cover both the meanings “flour” (“ẽnde”—“‘Kernmehl’”; cf. n9 above on Beekes 2009 s.v. ἄνθος) and “flower” (“énd(ë)”—“‘Blüte,’” “ẽnd”—“‘Blütenstaub, Pollen,’” “éndëz”—“‘Sproß; Blume,’” “endëzón”—“‘blühen’”); Orel (1998) lists “end” “‘pollen’” and “end” “‘to blossom.’” On the basis of such evidence, the Albanian expert Brian Joseph informs me per litteras that there are “good authorities … for maintaining the connection between an [his emphasis] Albanian word having to do with flowers and Greek anthos.”

[ back ] 11. Beekes 2009 s.v. ἄνθος.

[ back ] 12. Mallory and Adams 2006:161–162. Similarly, Pokorny (1959 s.v. andh, anedh) reconstructs earlier forms with either specifically floral or generally vegetal meanings. He lists two forms: a root andh-/anedh- meaning “hervorstechen, spießen, blühen” and a noun andhos meaning “Blume, Kraut.”

[ back ] 13. The Albanian and Greek nouns would either represent a development from a common lexeme shared by the Balkan branches of Proto-Indo-European or a borrowing from one of the branches into the other. Adams (per litteras) wonders, in particular, whether the Albanian term might have been borrowed from a northern dialect of Greek. But if this were the case, “[i]t’s hard to date this early stratum of borrowing.” Nevertheless, “it almost certainly antedates the ‘final’ Ionic recension of Homer.”

[ back ] 14. Cf. the garlands of violets and roses described at Sappho fr. 94.12–13 Voigt. For this poem, see also Chapter 1.

[ back ] 15. For ποίη as “grassland” rather than simply “grass,” see LSJ s.v. πόα 1.4: “a grassy place.”

[ back ] 16. For Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair, see Chapter 2. For ἄνθος = “flower,” see also Hymn to Demeter 425 (flowers gathered by Korē); Hymn to Apollo 139 (the flowers that bloom when Apollo steps on Delos, discussed in Chapter 4); Hymn 7.41 (ivy flowers); Iliad 2.89, 2.468, 9.51 (spring flowers); Hymn to Demeter 401, 472 (also spring flowers, if as suggested in Chapter 4 Korē’s return marks the coming of spring). The noun can also refer to blossom: see Iliad 9.542, 17.56 (the Euphorbus simile, studied in Chapter 8). Given that ἄνθος has the primary meaning of “flower” or “blossom” in these passages and in those listed in the main text, which represent the majority of the Homeric usages of the noun, the other occurrences of the lexeme can be understood in a similar fashion. For example, when ἄνθος refers to the youthful flourishing of humans or gods (Hymn to Demeter 108, Hymn to Hermes 375, Hymn 10.3, Iliad 13.484; see also the similar usage of ἀνθέω at Odyssey 11.320), we should treat the relevant phrases as floral metaphors. Cf. Chapter 7 on the image of the “flower of youth” in Homeric poetry and elsewhere.

[ back ] 17. Given the floral associations of the ἀνθεμο- root in these passages, it is reasonable to follow Bakker (2002:25) in treating the name Ἀνθεμίων, Simoeisius’ father at Iliad 4.473 and 488, in a similar fashion (Bakker renders it “Flowerman”; see also Chapter 8 n14).

[ back ] 18. Cf. Beekes’ (2009 s.v. ἄνθος) tentative reconstruction of a Proto-Indo-European verbal root with a vegetal meaning: *h 2 endh-, “sprout.”

[ back ] 19. For discussion of this passage, see Chapter 8 n37.

[ back ] 20. See Chapter 8 for the Sirens’ flowery meadow and Chapter 5 for a discussion of Hymn to Aphrodite 78 and 169. I comment on Hymn to Hermes 221 and 344 in Chapter 8 n54.

[ back ] 21. The metaphorical development of ἄνθος to embrace the meanings “X covering a surface” or “X bursting forth” also explains the later use of ἐξανθέω to describe eruptions of disease on skin: see Garvie 1986 on Aeschylus Choephori 282, Schironi 2010:344, and LSJ s.v. ἐξανθέω: I.1: “put out flowers”; I.2: “metaph., burst forth from the surface, like an efflorescence”; I.3: “of ulcers, etc., break out.”

[ back ] 22. Raman’s (1975) study of ἄωτος, ἄνθος, χνόος, and ἀκμή, mentioned above, likewise imagines a development from more concrete to more abstract, metaphorical meanings. He argues that ἄνθος originally carried a sense of “surface-growth,” which later developed into the meaning “excellence” in the metaphorical sense of “topmost.”