ὁπάων and ὁπάζω: A Study in the Epic Treatment of Heroic Relationships

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II. Etymology of Opaōn

We have introduced etymological considerations from time to time in the analysis up to this point. It may be helpful, however, to examine the etymology of opaōn more closely.
Chantraine traces opaōn back within Greek to an attestation of the dative form in Linear B texts as o-qa-wo-ni. [1] This forms suggests that there was at one time a digamma, and that the -p- in opaōn is the result of a labiovelar. The root *sok w– may be posited, and placed alongside the e-grade * sek w– seen in hepomai (This root is also seen in cognate forms, Sanskrit sacate and Latin sequor). [2] *sek w is found in the Mycenean word e-qe-ta. The Mycenean evidence for the presence of the labiovelar is crucial for establishing a connection between opazō and hepomai. [3] Frisk suggests that opaōn with the stem * opa is a verbal noun from hepomai, and he makes note of the psilosis in forms from the o-grade. Between opaōn and opazō he posits an intermediary development of a verb * opao, which was extended as opazō. [4]
With the connection between opazo and hepomai established on etymological grounds, a basic meaning ‘to accompany’ must be understood for opazo, even within the meaning ‘to give, grant’. [5] The original meaning of the root system * sek w -/ * sok w would be, not ‘to give’ or ‘to grant’, but as has never disappeared from hepomai, ‘to go along with’. Any instances in which opaōn appears to mean ‘to give’ therefore reflect a secondary semantic development, and must be reexamined in light of the primary meaning of the root. A principal step in the development is the shift in syntactic patterns. With hepomai we see,

subject (person or object) + hepomai + indirect object (the person followed)

which contrasts to patterns with opazō,

subject (person) + opazō + direct object (kudos, etc.) + indirect object.

Bearing in mind the sense of accompanying attached to both verbs, we see from the syntactic patterns that opazō contains a causative notion, ‘to cause to accompany’. Hepomai, however, contains a stative sense, ‘to be with’. Equating ‘to accompany’ with ‘to be with’, when I cause something to be with someone, I give it to that person. In this way opazō may come to mean ‘I give’ as well as ‘I cause to accompany.’

Sources closer to the Homeric tradition than we are provided insight into how opaōn, opazō, and the entire family of words were thought of in the tradition. The Lexicon of Hesychius defines opazō, its forms and related words. The following glosses appear: [6]

  • ὀπαδός· ἀκόλουθος: ‘follower, attendant’
  • ὀπάζε· παρεῖγε, ἐδωρεῖτω, ἐδιώκεν: ‘he granted, gave, pursued’
  • ὀπάζει· κατόπιν διώκει: ‘he pursues after’
  • ὀπαζόμενος· ἑπόμεναι, θεραπεύουσαι: ‘to follow
  • after, to be a therapōn
  • ὀπάονα· ἀκόλουθον, παρὰ τὸ ἕπεσθαι: ‘attendant, one who follows along’
  • ὀπάων· ἀκολουθών: ‘attendant’
  • ὀπάσαι· δούναι: ‘to give’ (aorist infinitive)
  • ὄπασεν· ἔδωκεν: ‘he gave’ (aorist indicative) [7]

A distinction between ‘to follow’ and ‘to give’ is evident here; it follows the lines of the distinction between the present and the aorist. It is interesting that for the imperfect form, opaze, Hesychius gives the fuller range of meanings, including both the notion of ‘to follow’ and that of ‘to give’. The gloss for the noun corresponding to opazo, opaōn, is only ‘attendant’, but it has been preceded by the accusative form, opaona, glossed not only as ‘attendant’, but also as ‘one who follows along’. A synchronic link between opaōn and opazo is underlined by the synonymous glosses. And opazomenai, with the gloss therapeuousai ‘to be a therapōn’, suggests the connection of opaōn with therapōn.

From the attestations and applications of opaōn in Homeric tradition, it is not difficult to perceive the idea of accompaniment in the noun. The mortal opaōn accompanies, is with the hero to whom he is an opaōn; Mērionēs accompanies Idomeneus, first to Troy, and then in battle. The opaōn, moreover, is especially designated as a special person who accompanies the hero, apart from the others. The immortal and divine opaōn also ‘is with’ the community or special group. Hecate in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter is called opaōn.

τῆσιν δ’ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθ’ Ἑκάτη λιπαροκρήδεμνος·
πολλά δ’ ἀρ’ ἀμφαγάπησε κόρην Δημήτερος αγνῆν
ἐκ τοῦ οἱ πρόπολος καὶ ὀπάων ἔπλετ’ ἄνασσα
And richly-veiled Hecate came near to them [Demeter and Persephone] and greeted the holy daughter of Demeter with much affection, and from that time the queen was propolos and opaōn to her.
Cer. 438-40

In the double specification, propolos and opaōn, propolos reinforces and limits the meaning of opaōn. The root of propolos is * k w ol , the o-grade of *k w el- pelomai. [8] The original sense of the root was ‘to turn’, as reflected in polos ‘an axis’. The range of meanings of pelomai reveals how this original meaning became ‘to be’, ‘to turn out to be, come to be, come into being, and to be’. The basis of propolos is then ‘to be’, and the sense of opaōn as a companion who is almost identical to the hero emphasizes the fidelity expressed by propolos. By looking at the entire line,

ἐκ τοῦ οἱ πρόπολος καὶ ὀπάων ἔπλετ’ ἄνασσα
Η. Cer. 440

this sense is reinforced further by the main verb, eplet’, which repeats the root, but in the e-grade, *k w el . The pro prefix in propolos limits the meaning by stating that Hecate is ‘before’ Persephone. Richardson, in his commentary on the Hymn, mentions that there is a red-figure bell crater depicting Hecate leading Persephone up from Hades, and walking before, pro , her. [9] Hecate, the opaōn, thus accompanies Persephone by walking before her.

This characterization of Hecate must be connected with the passage in the Theogony describing her, since four of the five attestations of opazō in the Theogony appear there.

καί τέ οἱ ὄλβον ὀπάζει, ἐπεὶ δύναμις γε πάρεστιν
Th. 420
νίκην προφρονέως ὀπάσαι καὶ κῦδος ὀρέξαι
Th. 433
ῥεῖα φέρει χαίρων τε, τοκεῦσι δὲ κῦδος ὀπάζει
Th. 438
ῥηιδίως ἄγρην κυδρὴ θεὸς ὤπασε πολλήν
Th. 442

The latter three cases, which all involve kudos in some form, are introduced by the following passage:

ὧ δ’ ἐθέλει, μεγάλως παραγίγνεται ἠδ’ ὀνίνησιν
ἔν τε δίκῃ βασιλεῦσι παρ’ αἰδοίοισι καθίζει,
ἔν τ’ ἀγορῇ λαοῖσι μεταπρέπει, ὅν κ’ ἐθέλῃσιν
And whom she wishes, she attends upon and aids greatly, and she sits beside worshipful kings in justice and distinguishes among the people in the assembly whom she wishes.
Th. 429, 434, 430

She distinguishes whom she wishes by granting kudos to them in whatever is the appropriate sphere. In Th. 442 it is not said that Hecate grants kudos to the fishermen, but in the epithet of Hecate, kudrē, the idea of kudos is present in the expression. [10]

It is interesting that Hecate’s actions are expressed so often by the verb opazō when in H. Cer . 440 she is described as an opaōn. In the introductory passage quoted above, in Th. 429 Hecate attends upon, paragignetai (or perhaps more literally, is present around) the person whom she wishes to assist. We have seen how closely the actions of Mērionēs as opaōn are linked to those of Idomeneus, how he, the opaōn, is present and attends upon Idomeneus. The opaōn, therefore, appears to grant kudos (kudos opazei) to the hero, as in the case of Hecate, or as with Mērionēs, to assist the hero so that the hero wins kudos. The noun opaōn also suggests an enduring quality, since the opaōn is with the hero not only at given moments, but consistently, as an abiding presence. [11]


[ back ] 1. Chantraine, Dictionnaire, p. 807 and Alfred Heu beck, “Griech. βασιλεύς und das Zeichen Nr. 16 in Linear B”, Indogermanische Forschungen (v. 58, 1958) p. 116.
[ back ] 2. Chantraine, Dictionnaire, p. 361.
[ back ] 3. Heubeck, p. 116 .
[ back ] 4. Hjalmar Frisk, Griechisches etymologisches Worterbuch (Heidelberg: C Winter, 1960-72) pp. 401-2.
Richard John Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (Norman, Okla.: University Oklahoma Press, 1977), s.v.
[ back ] 6. To the glosses I have added definitions from LSJ.
[ back ] 7. Hesychius Alexandrinus, Lexicon, ed. Maurice Schmidt (Jenae: H. Dufftii, 1858-64), s.v.
[ back ] 8. Chantraine, Dictionnaire, pp. 877-78.
[ back ] 9. Nicholas James Richardson, in his edition of The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974) p. 205 notes the only other instance in which opaōn refers to a woman or female divinity: ἀμφίπολον γεράων ἔμεναι καὶ ὀπάονα νύμφην (IG 14. 1389; 52). amphipolos exhibits the same root as propolos, and here refers to an attendant of Faustina/Demeter. The poem then compares her to Iphigenia, the propolos of Artemis. amphipolos reinforces the sense of fidelity in opaōn more than propolos does, since the pre-verb amphi- suggests that there is some control point, an axis, about which (amphi-) things turn. An amphipolos is thus someone who turns about someone, an attendant whose existence turns about her mistress. The semantics are similar to those of the epithet ozos Areos. ozos means, as Chantraine, Dictionnaire, p. 777, points out, ‘sitting with’ and is a compound of o- + *sod-, the zero grade of *sed- ‘sit’, o- being a prefix denoting ensemble. Thus ozos Areos denotes not a branch or shoot of Ares, but a person who ‘sits with’ Ares.
[ back ] 10. Chantraine, Dictionnaire, p. 358. The relation of kudos, a simplex noun, kudi- in compound nouns, and kudros, an adjective reflects a predictable Indo-European pattern.
[ back ] 11. opaōn is attested later in inscriptions relating to a cult god, Opaōn Melanthios. In Cyprus at Amargetti in the district of Paphos, nine dedications to Opaōn Melanthios were discovered as well as one to Apollo Melanthios, and three which lack a divine name. Previously a male votary was found in Cyprus, probably in Amargetti, The inscription of the reverse reads

ὑπὲρ Εύ
(Olivier Masson, Les inscriptions chypriotes syllabiques: secueil et critique et commente, Paris, 1961, p. 144).
The identity and function of this god are uncertain. T. B. Mitford in “Religious Documents from Roman Cyprus”, Journal of Hellenic Studies 66 (1946) p. 39 writes “It is generally agreed that Opaōn Melanthios was a fertility god of ancient lineage, but the cult is derived from Arcadia, whereas to others it is of ancient origin.” It is tempting to connect the cult god, Opaōn Melanthios, with Melanthios in the Odyssey. There Melanthios is the goatherd and attendant of the suitors. The striking brutality of his death at the hands of Odysseus (χ 135–94, 474) might suggest that he is a sacrificial victim, but for the purpose of sacrifice, is unclear.