Previewing a concise inventory of Greek etymologies, Part 2

2016.01.31 | By Olga Levaniouk


In his posting of 2016.01.15, Gregory Nagy previewed CIGE, to be edited by me and to be published by the Center for Hellenic Studies in the online journal named Classics@, Issue 18. CIGE is an ongoing publication that will be expanded and revised as time goes on. As Nagy mentioned in his posting, some of the CIGE entries were assembled and edited by participants in a micro-seminar that I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle in the fall of 2015. The title of the micro-seminar, “Greek Etymology as Cultural History in the Work of Gregory Nagy,” was meant to highlight the relevance of etymological research to the study of poetry, religion, and history. The work of Nagy exemplifies this kind of etymological research, and that is how I view the use of the word “etymologies” in the title of CIGE. 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.[1]

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.

It is hard to overstate the consequences of etymological research for the study of Homer. A case in point is Douglas Frame’s monumental study of Nestor’s twin myth, which, by Frame’s own admission, began with an etymological insight, an observation of

a striking correspondence between the ‘horseman Nestor’ and the Vedic twin gods, which must go back to their common origin in the Indo-European twin myth: the [Homeric] epithet hippota, ‘horseman’, is cognate with the [Vedic] name Aśvinā, ‘horsemen’, and the [Homeric] name Nestōr is cognate with the [Vedic] name Nāsatyā, both of which originally meant ‘he who brings back to life and light’. The two Indo-European roots in question are the noun *ekwos, “horse,” on the one hand, and the verbal root *nes– on the other hand. Nestor’s myth is contained in the phrase hippota Nestōr, which combines the contrasting names of the two Vedic twins in equivalent Greek forms.[2]

Douglas Frame applies the comparative method to uncover both the “common origin in the Indo-European twin myth” of Nestor and the Aśvins and also the diachronic meaning of the derivatives of *nes– in Greek, which include nóos ‘the mind’, to be reconstructed as *nos-os, a derivative from the verbal root *nes-. This etymological research involves, in other words, both reconstructing back to Indo-European and also the study of Homeric poetry as a traditional system.

It is important to note, however, that not all etymologies featured in CIGE will have such 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. An example is Leonard Muellner’s examination of the word íphtīmos, which is glossed as ‘strong’ in most dictionaries. The etymological dictionaries of Chantraine and Beekes, for example, give the conventional translation ‘strong’ for lack of a better option, even as their authors acknowledge that it is based on a false etymology from ἴφι ‘by force’. No alternative etymology has carried conviction, but Muellner shows that íphtīmos means ‘steadfast, loyal’, based on an examination of its formulaic contexts. The formation of this word remains unclear, but its meaning has been clarified, and CIGE will feature it as an etymology.

My own fascination with etymological research dawned as I was reading, as an undergraduate, first Gregory Nagy’s Greek Mythology and Poetics (1990) and then The Best of the Achaeans (1979). This was a formative experience for me as a student. These books demonstrated to me that etymology is important for research on Homer, but also that Homer is important for the study of Greek etymology. It seems fitting, therefore, to start my editorial work on CIGE with etymologies reconstructed by Nagy. In this posting, I have selected several entries, edited by the micro-seminar students as noted above and myself, which, I believe, illustrate especially well the principles I have attempted to outline here.


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, Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.17


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

Apportioning moírai [portions], they feasted a very glorious daís [feast].

Odyssey 3.66

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 Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. “The Death of Pyrrhos.” Baltimore.

Calhoun, G. M. 1962. “Polity and Society: The Homeric Picture.” In 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

. . . delighting in war as well as in the daís

Hesiod fr. 206MW

The key, I submit, 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

Aiakos . . . the most cherished of mortals,

who rendered díkai [judgments, justice] even for the gods

Pindar Isthmian 8.22–24

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

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.

Iliad 19.179–180

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 Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry, Chapter 7: “The Death of Pyrrhos.” 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 daís ‘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. Masterpieces of Metonymy: From Ancient Greek Times to Now. “The Metonymy of a Perfect Festive Moment.” Washington, DC.

Gregory Nagy edited by Konnor Clark 2015.11.20 and Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.17


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 that 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 vivásvat-. 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 *h2usos-. There is an e-grade variant, h2eusos-, 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. Greek Mythology and Poetics. Chapter 6: “The King and the Hearth: Six Studies of Sacral Vocabulary relating to the Fireplace.”

Gregory Nagy edited by Fana Yirga 2015.12.10 and Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.18

poludeukḗs (πολυδευκής)

The starting point for this examination of poludeukḗs is Odyssey 19.521, 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. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Chapter 1: “The Homeric Nightingale and the Poetics of Variation in the Art of a Troubadour” and Chapter 2: “Mimesis, Models of Singers, and the Meaning of a Homeric Epithet.”

Gregory Nagy edited by Edgar A. García 2015.12.10 and Olga Levaniouk 2016.01.19



Benveniste, E. 1969. Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes. 2 vols. Paris.

Burkert, W. 1975. “Apollon und Apellai.” Rheinisches Museum 118:1–21.

Calhoun, G. M. 1962. “Polity and Society: The Homeric Picture.” In A Companion to Homer, ed. A. J. B. Wace and F. Stubbings, 431–452. London.

Frame, D. 2009. Hippota Nestor. Cambridge, MA, and Washington, DC.

Frame, D. 2015. “Echoes of the Indo-European Twin Gods in Sanskrit and Greek Epic: Arjuna and Achilles.” Classics@ 12.

Heubeck, A. 1987. “Noch Einmal zum Namen des Apollon.” Glotta 65:179–182.

Lord, A. B. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960. 2nd rev. edition, 2000.

Muellner, L. 2005. “Discovery Procedures and Principles for Homeric Research.” Classics@ 3.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. “The Death of Pyrrhos.” Baltimore.

Nagy, G. 1990. Greek Mythology and Poetics. Ithaca, NY.

Nagy, G. 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge.

Nagy, G. 2004. Homer’s Text and Language. Champaign, IL.

Nagy, G. 2015. Masterpieces of Metonymy: From Ancient Greek Times to Now. “The Metonymy of a Perfect Festive Moment.” Washington, DC.

Parry, M. 1971. The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry. Oxford.



[1] Muellner 2005.

[2] Frame 20015.