Previewing a concise inventory of Greek etymologies, Part 3

2016.06.10 | By Olga Levaniouk

In his posting of 2016.01.15, Gregory Nagy previewed A concise inventory of Greek etymologies (CIGE), to be edited by me and to be published by the Center for Hellenic Studies ( in the online journal named Classics@, Issue 18. This first preview was followed by another one, by myself, in a posting of 2016.01.31. Both previews included a sample of entries that will feature in CIGE and that were produced by the participants in a micro-seminar “Greek Etymology as Cultural History in the Work of Gregory Nagy” that I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle in the fall of 2015. This posting of 2016.06.10 represents the final installment of etymologies compiled by the seminar students. All future additions to the CIGE will be added directly to Classics@, Issue 18.



Ariadnē (Ἀριάδνη)

In analyzing the Minoan and Mycenaean signatures to be found 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. 2015.09.17. “A Cretan Odyssey, Part I.” Classical Inquiries

Gregory Nagy edited by Konnor Clark 12.11.15 and Olga Levaniouk 06.04.16


anthrōpos (ἄνθρωπος)

An anthropogonic myth about the notionally autochthonous population of the Athenian deme of Akharnai reflects a connection between anthrakes ‘glowing coals’ amd anthrōpoi ‘humans’. In this local Acharnian myth, ridiculed by Aristopahens in the Acharnians, the local human population was created from anthrakes ‘glowing coals’ contained in a sacrificial brazier.

In terms of this localized anthropogonic myth, the noun anthrōpos ‘human being’ can be understood as a compound formation meaning basically ‘having the looks of glowing coals’. There are a number of semantic parallels in Indo-Iranian myths about the creation of humans from the glowing coals of sacrificial fire.

Similarly, the noun Asōpos can be understood as a parallel compound formation meaning basically ‘having the looks of glowing coals’; in this case, the root as in Asōpos is cognate with the root in the noun asbolos / asbolē, which refers to the sparks emitted by glowing coals.

Nagy, G. 2011. “Asopos and His Multiple Daughters: Traces of Preclassical Epic in the Aeginetan Odes of Pindar.” In Fearn 2011:41–78.

Gregory Nagy edited by Konnor Clark. 10.30.15 and Olga Levaniouk 06.04.2015


Dōrikhā (Δωρίχα)

Richard Martin argues persuasively that “Dōrikhā means something like ‘tiny little gift’, derived from dōron ‘gift’ (“Sappho, Iambist: Abusing the Brother”: in Bierl and Lardinois 2016). Such a meaning, in the context of a diminutive suffix like -ikhā, would produce a fitting name for a courtesan or prostitute. This name is closely connected to two others: Larikhos and Kharaxos, the names of two of Sappho’s brothers. All three names are diminutive, generic, and in line with the meaning of Sappho as ‘sister’. The intimacy of such baby talk, replete with diminutives, can be imitated in choral song, and the verb thruleîn, which is conventionally translated as ‘chatter’, can refer to such baby talk.

The name Dōrikhā is given in Sappho’s songs to the sexually-irresistible courtesan loved by Sappho’s brother Kharaxos. This courtesan, named Dōrikhā in the songs of Sappho, was renamed or even rethought as Rhodōpis in the narrative of Herodotus (2.134–135). The context for this double naming is the Greek-Egyptian cultural syncretism that evolved in the city of Naucratis during the sixth century BCE. The poet Posidippus of Pella, who lived in the third century BCE, composed an epigram that memorializes the life and times of the courtesan from Naucratis who was passionately loved by Kharaxos, brother of Sappho. In this epigram the name of the courtesan is not Rhodōpis, as she is called by Herodotus, but Dōrikhā. The epigram is quoted by Athenaeus (13.596c), who lived in the third century CE—and whose native city was in fact Naucratis. In the context of this quotation, the text of Athenaeus accuses Herodotus of being unaware that Rhodōpis and Dōrikhā are different women. But Rhodōpis is in fact an alternative name for the same woman who is called Dōrikhā in the epigram of Posidippus, and the wording of the epigram actually recognizes the name Rhodōpis as an alternative to Dōrikhā. Further, we cannot be sure that Dōrikhā was the only name for this courtesan in Sappho’s songs. Granted, Dōrikhā is understood to be the only name in the text of Athenaeus. But, aside from this one source, we find in no other source any indication that the names Dōrikhā and Rhodōpis were mutually exclusive. By contrast, in the reportage of Strabo (17.1.33 C808), it is clear that the names Dōrikhā and Rhodōpis are used interchangeably with reference to the same woman.

Nagy, G. 2015.07.01. “Herodotus and a Courtesan from Naucratis.” Classical Inquiries

Nagy, G. 2015.07.08. “Sappho’s ‘fire under the skin’ and the erotic syntax of an epigram by Posidippus.” Classical Inquiries.

Nagy, G. 2015.10.01. “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited—with special reference to the “newest Sappho.” Classical Inquiries.

Gregory Nagy edited by Emma Brubeck 12.10.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.05.2016


humnos (ὕμνος)

A. In the case of the noun humnos / ὕμνος, conventionally translated as ‘hymn’, the most convincing etymology is that it derives from the verb root of huphainein / ὑφαίνειν, meaning ‘weave’ (on humnos / ὕμνος as derived from the verb root *webh– / *ubh-, as in huphainein / ὑφαίνειν ‘weave’, see Schmitt 1967:300). In Bacchylides Epinicians 5.9–10, humnos / ὕμνος ‘hymn’ is attested as the object of huphainein / ὑφαίνειν ‘weave’, as if it meant ‘the thing woven’. Alternatively, humnos may derive from a different verb root, referring to the stitching together of distinct pieces of cloth to make a unified article of clothing.’ In terms of this explanation, the verb root of humnos / ὕμνος would be *syu-, the derivatives of which mean ‘sew’ in some Indo-European languages (for references, see Nagy 2002:70–72). From the standpoint of Indo-European linguistics, still other explanations are possible (for an overview, see Vine 1999:575–576, who also offers his own explanation). Whichever explanation ultimately proves to be right from the standpoint of Indo-European linguistics, it is worth noting that the association of the noun humnos with the verb huphainein in archaic Greek poetry was probably in effect already in prehistoric phases of the Greek poetic language. The most convincing explanation is that this association does in fact point to the right etymology. (Nagy 2008:229–230).

The metaphor inherent in the etymology of humnos is latent in the context of the expression ἀοιδῆς ὕμνον ‘the humnos of the singing [aoidē]’ at verse 429 of Odyssey viii: just as the weaving of a web is a process of making connections, so too is the making of songs. The metaphor is also latent in the context of the expression οἶμος ἀοιδῆς at verse 451 of the Homeric Hymn (4) to Hermes: we see here the attestation of both οἶμος ἀοιδῆς and ὕμνος ἀοιδῆς in the manuscript tradition. Both textual variants can be considered formulaic expressions, and the second of the two, ὕμνος ἀοιδῆς, is evidently cognate with the formulaic expression ἀοιδῆς ὕμνον as attested at verse 429 of Odyssey viii. In terms of metaphors comparing the making of song with the making of fabric, I interpret the combinations of humnos and oimos with aoidē ‘song’ to mean respectively the ‘weaving’ of song and the ‘threading’ of song.

B. There is a convergence in meanings between humnos and prooimion as poetic terms, and this convergence extends to the metaphorical world that generated the poetic terminology. Both humnos and prooimion are derived from roots referring to the making of fabric (Nagy 2008:229).

C. The word humnos is associated with the idea of fluidity, which is made explicit in the Hesiodic Theogony. In fact, the idea of fluidity is the ultimate source of self-definition for this poetic composition. In Theogony 35–45, we see that the Muses of Mount Helicon, as they perform their humnos (37 ὑμνεῦσαι), are heard by Zeus himself in the heights of Mount Olympus (37). There is an emphasis on the ‘voicing’ of the Muses’ song (39 φωνῇ and αὐδή, 41 ὀπί, 43 ὄσσαν) and on the ‘sweetness’ of this voice that literally ‘flows’ from their mouths, as if from a spring (39–40).

The ultimate source of this Olympian humnos, equated with the Theogony in the course of its being performed, is the authority of Zeus as king of the immortals (71–74), and it emanates from there to the Olympian Muses (75–79), especially to the Muse Kalliope (79–80). Further, the authority emanates from the Muses to kings (75–93). Literally, the authority flows from them (Theogony 83–84):

τῷ μὲν ἐπὶ γλώσσῃ γλυκερὴν χείουσιν ἐέρσην,
τοῦ δ’ ἔπε’ ἐκ στόματος ῥεῖ μείλιχα

For this man [= for this ideal king] they [= the Muses] pour [kheîn] sweet dew,
and from his [= the king’s] mouth flow [rheîn] sweet words.

Once again, the theme of fluidity expresses the idea that the humnos must have a perfect beginning. The humnos flows from a perfect source, and so it becomes the perfect performance. In this context as well, the actual performance is equated with the making of the humnos (101 ὑμνήσει).

In the Homeric Hymn (3) to Apollo, faced with the absoluteness of the god, the performer experiences a rhetorical hesitation: how can I make the subject of my humnos something that is perfect, absolute?

Homeric Hymn (3) to Apollo 19:

πῶς γάρ σ᾿ ὑμνήσω πάντως εὔυμνον ἐόντα;

For how shall I hymn you, you who are so absolutely [pantōs] good for hymning [eu-humnos]?

This idea of the hymnic subject as the source of poetic perfection is all-pervasive in the history and prehistory of the humnos. Such is the theology, as it were, of the humnos. (Nagy 2008:194–197).

Nagy, G. 2008. Homer the Classic. Washington, DC.

Gregory Nagy edited by Daniel Miller 11.06.2016 and Olga Levaniouk 06.06.2016


Kharaxos (Χάραξος)

Kharaxos is a diminutive name derived from the noun kharā ‘delight, joy’. We see this word kharā in line 6 of Sappho’s Song 5 (καὶ φίλοιϲι ϝοῖϲι χάραν γένεϲθαι ‘let him become a joy [kharā] to those who are near-and-dear [philoi] to him’), where the voice of Sappho wishes that Kharaxos become a ‘joy’ to her and to the whole family. It is as if the name of Kharaxos were a wish-fulfillment for the sister who has experienced so much pain in worrying about her errant brother. And here we may consider also the festive context of kharma ‘delight’ in Song 9 line 5 ([χάρμ’ ἐ]παμέρων, ‘a delight [kharma] for [us] mortals, creatures of the day that we are’). So, Kharaxos is the would-be ‘tiny little joy’ or ‘tiny little delight’ for the family. This theme seems to be picked up by the poet Posidippus (122 ed. Austin and Bastianini, quoted in Athenaeus 13.596c) when he describes Kharaxos at line 3 as kharieis ‘charming’ (χαρίεντα … Χάραξον).

Nagy, G. 2015.10.01 “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited—with special reference to the ‘newest Sappho’” Classical Inquiries.

Gregory Nagy edited by Fanaye Yirga 11.20.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.05.2016.


klisíā (κλισία)

The word klisiā appears together with stathmos and sēkos in a single verse of the Iliad (XVIII 589). When we compare the etymologies of these three words with the contexts of their usage in other pastoral settings, we find that their reconstructed meanings are interrelated: stathmos, derived from the root *sta- meaning ‘stand up’, is the makeshift post of a herdsman’s shelter or tent; klisia, derived from the root *kli- meaning ‘lie down’ or ‘lean’, is the space in the shelter where the herdsman reclines—or, alternatively, it is a ‘lean-to’ covering that affords a makeshift shelter; and sēkos, derived from the root *sak- meaning ‘fill [an empty space]’, is the enclosure where the herdsman’s herd is penned in. By way of metonymy, the klisia is not only an aspect of the shelter but also the entire shelter; likewise, the stathmos is not only the post of the shelter but also the entire shelter and everything contiguous with the shelter, including the sēkos. In this sense, then, the stathmos is the herdsman’s ‘station’. In the Iliad, the word klisia refers to the abode that a hero like Achilles frequents in life: his klisia is his shelter, which marks the place where his ship is beached on the shores of the Hellespont during the Trojan War (VIII 224, XI 7, and so on).The station of Achilles on the coast of the Hellespont is marked by the space where his klisia ‘shelter’ stands at the beach (again, VIII 220–226 and XI 5–9). (Nagy 2012: 152–153)

Nagy, G. 2012. Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley.

Gregory Nagy edited by Megan O’Donald 11.20.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.06.2016


Lárikhos (Λάριχος)

In Sappho’s Brothers Song the brother called Kharaxos is mentioned by name, and so too is another brother called Larikhos. The names Dōríkha, Kháraxos, and Lárikhos can all be explained in terms of generic namings, much as the name of Sappho herself can be explained as generically meaning ‘sister’. Like Dōríkha, the name Larikhos contains the diminutive suffix ikh‑. Larikhos is a diminutive name derived from the adjective laros, which in Odyssey ii 350 is associated with the delicious taste of wine. It is as if the name of this brother meant something like ‘tiny little delicacy’. Such an interpretation can supplement the argumentation of André Lardinois in Chapter 7 of the Newest Sappho book (Bierl and Lardinois 2016). He highlights the testimony of Athenaeus (10.425a), who says: Ϲαπφώ τε ἡ καλὴ πολλαχοῦ Λάριχον τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐπαινεῖ ὡc οἰοχοοῦντα ἐν τῷ πρυτανείῳ τοῖc Μυτιληναίοιϲ ‘The beautiful Sappho in many contexts praises her brother Larikhos, because he poured the wine for the Mytileneaeans in their presidential hall’. In the Scholia T for Iliad 20.234, we read further: ἔθοc γὰρ ἦν, ὡc καὶ Ϲάπφω φηϲι, νέουc εὐγενεῖc εὐπρεπεῖc οἰνοχοεῖν ‘For it was the custom, as even Sappho says, for good-looking young aristocrats to serve as wine-pourers’.

Nagy, G. 2015.10.01. “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited–with special reference to the ‘newest Sappho.’” Classical Inquiries.

Gregory Nagy edited by Anna Simas 12.10.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.05.2016


mérops (μέροψ)

We may note that méropes is a common Homeric epithet for ánthrōpoi ‘humans’ (cf. Koller 1968) and that the sons of Mérops Perkṓsios are said to hold sway over a place called Pitúeia, at Iliad II 829. The latter name is surely derived from the noun pítus ‘pine’. We may perhaps compare the semantic oscillation between ‘oak’ and ‘fir’. What we see in these associations are perhaps traces of an ancient local myth that equated the First Man with the First Mántis ‘Seer’ (on the anthropogonic theme of First Man as First Sacrificer, Nagy 1990:110). Given the anthropogonic themes inherent in the possible etymology of ánthrōpos as ‘he who has the looks of embers’, we may consider the possible etymology of mérops as ‘he who has glowing looks’; cf. Merópē as the name of a star at Hesiod F 169.3 MW. I suggest that Μαῖα, the name of another star mentioned in Hesiod F 169.3, be emended to Μαῖρα = Maîra, from root *mer– as in marmaírō ‘glow, flash’; cf. marī́lē ‘embers of charcoal’. The proposed explanation of mérops as ‘he who has glowing looks’ may be pertinent to the discussion of Indic márya– at Nagy 1990:250. (Nagy 1990:198n120)

Nagy, G. 1990. “Thunder and the Birth of Humankind.” In Nagy 1990:181–201.

Gregory Nagy edited by Edgar Garcia 10.29.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.06.2016


Murmidōn (Μυρμιδών)

In Aeginetan traditions, Zeus, in order to create human company for his lonely son Aiakos, changed into humans the ants native to the Mother Earth that is Aegina (Hesiod F 205, Apollodorus 3.12.6). We know from sources such as Strabo (8.6.16 C375) that the autochthonous people of Aegina were actually known as Myrmidons (Murmidones). West mentions that “Zeus created a people for him [= Aiakos], the Myrmidons [Μυρμιδόνες], out of ants, μύρμηκες [murmēkes]. In terms of West’s thinking, a myth about the creation of Myrmidons (Murmidones) from ants (murmēkes) was a Thessalian myth that was relocated from Thessaly to Aegina, and the myth about the creation of the Aeginetans from ants in the Hesiodic Catalogue (F 205) results from such a relocation. A closer look at Thessalian and Aigenetan traditions reveals that Aiakos can be considered a native to both Thessaly and Aegina. Τhere is no reason to presuppose a single myth about humans called Myrmidons who are created from ants. The linking of the name Murmidōn with murmēx, the word for ‘ant’, is attested elsewhere as well: for example, there is a myth that tells how Zeus transformed himself into a murmēx ‘ant’ in order to impregnate a nymph named Eurymedousa, who gave birth to Murmidōn (Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 2.39.7). And we know also of other anthropogonic myths about the creation of humans from ants: for example, there is a myth that tells of a heroine named Melite, eponym of an Attic deme (δῆμος), who was the daughter of Murmēx, the Ant par excellence (Hesiodic Catalogue F 225). There are also typological parallels. Anthropogonic myths about autochthonous populations generated from colonies of ants or termites are attested in a variety of cultures that have no historic or prehistoric connections with the ancient Greeks, especially in Africa (Baumann 1936:27, 46, 87–88, 144, 179, 181, 215, 216–219, 224, 283, 371).

Nagy, G. 2011. “Asopos and His Multiple Daughters: Traces of Preclassical Epic in the Aiginetan Odes of Pindar.” In Fearn 2011: 41–78.

Gregory Nagy edited by Charles Carver 10.29.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.06.2016


peplos (πέπλος)

The noun peplos is to be understood as a ‘folding’, in other words, something that is traditionally folded. An important point of comparison for understanding the basic meaning of this noun peplos, derived from the root *pl- ‘fold’, is the adjective haploûs ‘simple’, derived from a combination of the elements *sṃ- ‘one’ and the same root *pl- ‘fold’. The meaning of Greek haploûs ‘simple’ is cognate with the meaning of Latin simplex ‘simple’, which is derived from the same combination of the elements *sṃ- ‘one’ and the root *pl- ‘fold’. The meaning of sim-plex is ‘one fold’ in the sense of having one fold, that is, unfolded, which is not the same thing as ‘folded once’ (which would be folded in two). Similarly, du-plextwofold’ means folded as two, that is, folded in two, which is not the same thing as ‘folded twice’ (which would be folded in four). The same point applies to Greek haploûs ‘simple’, that is, ‘unfolded’, the meaning of which can be contrasted with the meaning of diplax ‘fabric folded in two’.

The are two Iliadic passages involving the word diplax that are linked with a third Iliadic passage, which involves the peplos presented by the Trojan women to Athena in Iliad VI (289-295). The first of these passages captures the essence of pattern-weaving as an overall metaphor for Homeric narrative:

Iliad XXII 437–441

Ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἄλοχος δ’ οὔ πώ τι πέπυστο
Ἕκτορος· οὐ γάρ οἵ τις ἐτήτυμος ἄγγελος ἐλθὼν
ἤγγειλ’ ὅττί ῥά οἱ πόσις ἔκτοθι μίμνε πυλάων,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ ἱστὸν ὕφαινε μυχῷ δόμου ὑψηλοῖο
δίπλακα πορφυρέην, ἐν δὲ θρόνα ποικίλ’ ἔπασσε.

So she [= Hecuba] spoke, lamenting, but the wife [= Andromache] had not yet heard,
Hector’s wife: for no true messenger had come to her
and told her the news, how her husband was standing his ground outside the gates.
She [= Andromache] was weaving [huphainein] a web in the inner room of the lofty palace,
a purple [porphureē] fabric that folds in two [= diplax], and she was inworking [en-passein] patterns of flowers [throna] that were varied [poikila].

Archaeological research has shown that the artistic technique being represented here is not embroidery, as is commonly assumed, but pattern-weaving. The technique of weaving the fabric called diplax in this passage is analogous to the technique of weaving a peplos. A case in point is the peplos presented by the Trojan women to the statue of Athena in her temple on the acropolis of Troy. In the description of this peplos there is a direct reference to the special technique of pattern-weaving in the original making of this peplos: the fabric is the result of poikilmata (Iliad VI 294). This noun poikilma (plural poikilmata) is derived from the verb poikillein ‘pattern-weave’.

The sequence of throna that are pattern-woven by Andromache is telling its own love story, but this story is overtaken by the overall story of the Iliad. The story is already in the making when Helen is seen for the first time in the Iliad, in Iliad III, where we find Helen in the act of weaving her own web. She too is pattern-weaving, but the patterns she weaves into her fabric are not throna, love charms that thread a story of love. The varied patterns are instead athloi ‘ordeals’, a transverse threading of a story of war. It is the story of the Trojan War:

Iliad III 125–128

τὴν δ’ εὗρ’ ἐν μεγάρῳ· ἣ δὲ μέγαν ἱστὸν ὕφαινε
δίπλακα πορφυρέην, πολέας δ’ ἐνέπασσεν ἀέθλους
Τρώων θ’ ἱπποδάμων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων,
οὕς ἑθεν εἵνεκ’ ἔπασχον ὑπ’ Ἄρηος παλαμάων·

She [= Iris] found her [= Helen] in the palace. She was weaving a great web,
a purple [porphureē] fabric that folds in two [= diplax], and she was inworking [en-passein] many ordeals [athloi]
of Trojans, tamers of horses, and of Achaeans, wearers of bronze khitons,
—ordeals that they suffered at the hands of Ares all because of her.

The story patterns narrating the Achaean and Trojan ‘struggles’ (athloi) that Helen ‘sprinkles into’ (en-passein) her web in Iliad III (126) are “woven into the cloth and not embroidered on afterwards” (Kirk 1985:280, relying on Wace 1948).

In the case of the diplax, its narrative is linked with the narrative of the Iliad. In the case of the peplos presented by the Trojan women to Athena in Iliad VI, its pattern-woven narrative is likewise linked with the narrative of the Iliad. The linking of the pattern-woven narrations of Helen and Andromache with the poetic narration of the Iliad is a matter of metonymy. As for the actual parallelism of this poetic narration with the craft of pattern-weaving, it is a matter of metaphor. In terms of the metaphor, the pattern-weaving of a fabric is the narrating of an epic. This metaphor is embedded in the narrative of Homeric poetry, and we see it at work in the Iliadic passages showing Andromache and Helen in the act of pattern-weaving at their looms. In these passages, the act of epic narration is figured metaphorically as an act of pattern-weaving. There is an analogous metaphor embedded in the etymology of humnos: this noun humnos is derived from the verb root *huph- as in huphainein ‘weave’.

Epic narration is visualized not only generally as the craft of weaving but also specifically as the specialized craft of pattern-weaving. Even more specifically, the epic narration of Homeric poetry is figured metaphorically as the specialized craft of pattern-weaving the Panathenaic Peplos of Athena. This craft goes back in time all the way back into the Bronze Age.

Nagy, G. 2010. Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley.

Gregory Nagy edited by Adriana Vazquez 11.20.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.06.2016


prooimion (προοίμιον)

In the case of the compound noun prooimion / προοίμιον, conventionally translated as ‘proemium’, the element –oim– / -οιμ- is derived from a root that we find also attested in two simple nouns, oimos / οἶμος and oimē / οἰμή. The Attic by-form of prooimion / προοίμιον, which is phroimion / φροίμιον, elucidates the prehistory of the root: we must reconstruct it not as *oim- but as *hoim-, from *soim-. This reconstruction helps elucidate the surviving contexts of both oimos / οἶμος and oimē / οἰμή, which do not always give a clear picture of the basic meaning of either form. In some contexts, the meaning seems to be ‘song’ (for example, Odyssey viii 74 and xxii 347) while in others it seems to be ‘way, pathway’ (for example, Hesiod Works and Days 290). With the help of comparative evidence, however, the primary meaning of oimos and oimē can be reconstructed as ‘thread, threading’, and the meanings ‘song’ or ‘way, pathway’ can be explained as secondary: that is, ‘song’ and ‘way, pathway’ are metaphorical generalizations derived from the meaning ‘thread, threading’. And it is such a primary meaning ‘thread, threading’ that we find in comparable forms attested in other Indo-European languages: for example, the form *soimos that we reconstruct from Greek oimos is attested as Old Icelandic seimr, meaning ‘thread’ (for this and other examples, see Durante 1976:176). In terms of such a primary meaning, the etymology of the compound noun prooimion ‘prooemium’ can be interpreted as a metaphor referring to the ‘initial threading’ of a song. A close semantic parallel to the etymology of Greek prooimion ‘proemium’ as an ‘initial threading’ of a song is the etymology of Latin exordium, which likewise means ‘proemium’ in poetic and rhetorical contexts: the meaning of this noun as well can be traced back to the basic idea of an ‘initial threading’ (see Durante 1976:177 on Latin ex-ordium as a semantic equivalent of Greek pro-oimion). The poetic and rhetorical concepts of both Greek prooimion and Latin exordium in the sense of ‘proemium’ have a common Indo-European ancestry. (Nagy 2008:230–231).

Nagy, G. 2008. Homer the Classic. Washington, DC.

Gregory Nagy edited by Charles Charver 12.10.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.06.2016


Rhodṓpis (Ροδώπις)

It is possible to reconstruct, based on Egyptian sources, an Egyptian myth that tells about a beautiful queen named Nitōkris, renowned for her fair complexion. This queen gets credit—one way or another—for the building of the third pyramid at Giza. The same Egyptian woman Nitōkris is named Rhodōpis in the Greek language. The naming is apt, since the Greek form Rhodōpis means ‘she with the rosy face’, and thus the Greek renaming of Nitōkris as Rhodōpis actually matches the primary aspect of this woman’s beauty as described in terms of the Egyptian tradition preserved by Manetho: ‘she was fair [xanthē] in complexion [khroia].’

But the question remains: how did Nitōkris get a Greek name that translates, as it were, a description of her appearance that is based on Egyptian rather than Greek traditions?

For an answer we need to reconstruct the Egyptian tradition forward in time, all the way from the early era of the queen Nitōkris in the Sixth Dynasty, that is, in the third millennium BCE, up to the far later era of a courtesan named Rhodōpis who lived under the rule of the Egyptian pharaoh Amasis in the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, in the sixth century BCE. Here it becomes essential to highlight a detail in the relevant narrative of Herodotus, at 2.134–135: according to this narrative, as we have already seen from the start, Rhodōpis made her living as a courtesan in the city of Naucratis. This city was a Greek enclave in Egypt and it had been created through the patronage of the pharaoh Amasis, whom Herodotus describes elsewhere as a philellēn ‘phil-Hellene’. In the sixth century BCE, which was the era of Rhodōpis, this city Naucratis functioned as a grand emporium (emporion) consolidating the economic and political efforts of various Greek city-states, and two of these member states were Mytilene, the most important city on the island of Lesbos, and the island-city of Samos. Mytilene was the city of Sappho’s brother Kharaxos, who was the lover of Rhodōpis, while Samos was the city of Iadmōn and Xanthēs, who had once been the slave-owners of this same Rhodōpis. It is in the cosmopolitan context of this Greek city Naucratis-in-Egypt, as it flourished during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amasis in the sixth century BCE, that we can finally come to terms with the kind of Greek-Egyptian cultural convergences that could lead to the translation of Nitōkris, as a concept, by way of a name like Rhodōpis.

The Thracian hetaira or ‘courtesan’ named Rhodōpis was not the model for this concept. Just the opposite, Rhodōpis was modeled on the courtesan or princess or queen of pre-existing Egyptian traditions centering on the multivalent figure of Nitōkris. That is why, even though the courtesan loved by Sappho’s brother was named Dōrikhā in the songs of Sappho, she was renamed or even rethought as Rhodōpis in the narrative of Herodotus. True, the historian did not accept the identification of this Rhodōpis with the queen who built her own pyramid in the Egyptian traditions, but he still thought of such an exotic Rhodōpis as the model for the courtesan so dearly loved by Sappho’s brother.

Nagy, G. 2015.07.01. “Herodotus and a courtesan from Naucratis.” Classical Inquiries.

Gregory Nagy edited by Milan Vidaković 11.28.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.05.2016


Sapphō (Σαπφώ)

The poetics of sisterly affect are so deeply rooted in the songs of Sappho that even her identity as a choral personality is shaped by such poetics. The name of Sappho seems to be a function of her poetic role as a sister. On the basis of linguistic evidence concerning the form Sapphō her name can be derived from a word that actually means ‘sister’. And this word for ‘sister’ is a term of affection, a baby word that derives from affectionate baby talk.

There is a pattern of alternation, attested in Greek epigraphical texts stemming from the Roman era, in the formation of names given to women. The point of reference here is the name Sappho in contexts where the naming apparently has nothing to do with the famous Sappho. For example, we find a name like Aurēliā Sapphō (Αὐρηλία Σαπφώ) coexisting with names like Aurēliā Apphion (Αὐρηλία ᾿Απφίον) and Aurēliā Apphiā (Αὐρηλία ᾿Απφία). Such coexistence is most suggestive. As we know from the Greek lexicographical tradition, the noun apphion (ἀπφίον) is a neuter diminutive variant of the onomatopoetic form appha (ἄπφα), which means ‘sister’. Clearly, both appha (ἄπφα) and apphion (ἀπφίον) are onomatopoetic baby words, meaning something like ‘little girl’. Another derivative of appha (ἄπφα) is apphiā (ἀπφία), which can be explained as a feminine adjective. So, we can see that the names Apphion (᾿Απφίον) and Apphiā (᾿Απφία) are based on these baby words apphion (ἀπφίον) and apphiā (ἀπφία) respectively. And such baby words can apply not only to sisters in particular but also to beloved little girls in general—or even to beloved women. For example, the words apphion (ἀπφίον) and apphiā (ἀπφία) are both explained by lexicographers as hupokorismata ‘terms of endearment’ (ὑποκορίσματα) referring to a ‘young mistress of the household’ (νέας δεϲποίνης). Another traditional way of defining the diminutive apphion (ἀπφίον) is to say that it is a hupokorisma ‘term of endearment’ (ὑποκόρισμα) for a girl or woman who is an object of sexual desire (ἐρωμένης). Lastly, the word apphō (ἀπφώ), morphologically symmetrical with the name Sapphō (Σαπφώ), is explained by lexicographers as another word for ‘sister’. In such variations as Aurēliā Apphion (Αὐρηλία ᾿Απφίον) and Aurēliā Sapphō (Αὐρηλία Σαπφώ) the names are as symmetrical with each other as are the nouns apphion (ἀπφίον) and apphō (ἀπφώ), both of which could mean ‘sister’.

What is still missing in this set of linguistic evidence is a common noun shaped *sapphō (*σαπφώ), which would mean ‘sister’ (common noun being a noun that is not a name, as opposed to a proper noun, which is a name). In the case of a proper noun like Apphion (᾿Απφίον), however, we know for sure that it is based on the neuter diminutive common noun apphion (ἀπφίον), meaning ‘little sister’ or ‘little girl’. The proper noun Sapphō (Σαπφώ) was likewise based on a similar common noun *sapphō (*σαπφώ), so far unattested, which would be a variant of the attested common noun apphō (ἀπφώ), meaning ‘sister’.

But the question remains: why is the form Sapphō (Σαπφώ) attested only as a proper noun? My answer is that the form Sapphō (Σαπφώ) survived phonologically as a proper noun only because it was a functional variant of another proper noun, Psapphō (Ψαπφώ), which is attested as a variant form of Sapphō (Σαπφώ) in the textual tradition of Sappho. If Sapphō (Σαπφώ) had not been a functional variant of Psapphō (Ψαπφώ), it would have become Apphō (*᾿Απφώ) at an early stage in the history of the Greek language when word-initial s- (as in *s-apphō) became h (as in *h-apphō), which in turn became simply a glottal stop (as in –apphō) by way of ‘psilosis’. I propose, then, that the form Psapphō was in fact a playfully affectionate phonetic variant of the form Sapphō. The variation of Psapphō / Sapphō (Ψαπφώ / Σαπφώ) is comparable to such variations as psitta / sitta (ψίττα / σίττα), which are onomatopoetic calls. We read in the Onomasticon of Pollux (9.122.3, 9.127.1) that psitta Maliades psitta Rhoiai psitta Meliai (ψίττα Μαλιάδεϲ ψίττα Ῥοιαί ψίττα Μελίαι) is a game played by parthenoi ‘girls’ as distinct from gunaikes ‘women’. According to Pollux, the Maliades and Rhoiai and Meliai are nymphs, and girls call out their names, punctuated by the intervening calls of psitta, in footraces that they run, urging each other to speed ahead. Also, in Theocritus 8.69, a herdsman calls out sitta (σίττα) to his herd, and the scholia (5.3b) explain that sitta (σίττα) as well as a variant form psitta (ψίττα) is a sound made by a herdsman when he calls out to his herd.

The point is, just as the variant form psitta (ψίττα) prevents, by analogy, a phonological change in the variant form sitta (σίττα), which would otherwise be expected to change from sitta (σίττα) to *hitta (*ἵττα) to *itta (*ἴττα), so also the variant Psapphō (Ψαπφώ) prevents, again by analogy, a phonological change in the variant Sapphō (Σαπφώ), which would otherwise be expected to change from *sapphō (*σαπφώ) to *happhō (*ἁπφώ) to apphō (ἀπφώ) in the case of common nouns—but not in the case of hypocoristic names where the alternation of Psapphō / Sapphō (Ψαπφώ / Σαπφώ) is maintained.

The name Sapphō, then, like the names Apphion and Apphiā, was originally an onomatopoetic baby word derived from terms of endearment addressed to a sister. There is an interesting parallel in English usage—such women’s names as Sissy, even Sister, are attested in some regions of the United States.

Nagy, G. 2016. “A Poetics of Sisterly Affect in the Brothers Song and in Other Songs of Sappho.” In Beirl and Lardinois 2016.

Gregory Nagy edited by Fanaye Yirga 11.05.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.06.2016


Sarpēdṓn (Σαρπηδών)

The name Sarpēdṓn applies not only to the hero but also to various places associated with the mythological theme of abduction by winds or by birdlike Harpies. This theme is expressed by way of various forms containing the verb-root harp– ‘snatch’ (as in hárpuia ‘Harpy’ and harpázō ‘snatch’), which may be formally connected with the element sarp– of Sarpēdṓn.

As Emily Vermeule observes, “It is not too surprising that Homer makes Sarpedon the subject of the only big snatch in the Iliad, though he transformed the carriers from lady birds to Sleep and Death, to match more familiar configurations of epic mortality” (Vermeule 1979:169).

The snatching of Sarpedon’s body by Húpnos ‘Sleep’ and Thánatos ‘Death’ (XVI 454, 672, 682) can he correlated with the manner in which the hero faints and dies. As in the case of other Homeric heroes, Sarpedon loses his psūkhḗ when he dies (XVI 453) as also earlier when he falls into a swoon from a terrible wound (V 696). Nowhere in Homeric poetry, however, is a hero ever described as regaining his psūkhḗ when he is revived from a swoon. This rigorous stricture in Homeric diction implies that the reintegration of the psūkhḗ with the body is understood as immortalization, the overt expression of which is programmatically avoided in the Iliad and Odyssey. Still, the manner in which Sarpedon recovers from his swoon seems to be a latent expression of this hero’s destiny of immortalization: Sarpedon is revived by a blast from Boreas the North Wind (V 697). We note that it was to a rock named Sarpēdṓn that Boreas snatched Oreithuia away (scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes 1.211 = Pherecydes FGH 3 F 145).

Nagy, G. 1990. “The Death of Sarpedon and the Question of Homeric Uniqueness.” In Nagy 1990:122–141.

Gregory Nagy edited by Daniel Miller 10.30.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.07.2016


sun-khrous (σύγχρους)

The adjective sun-khrous, which appears at verse 4 in Epigram 122 of Posidippus, can be interpreted as ‘having one’s complexion make contact with someone else’s complexion’. In describing Dōrikhā in Posidippus’ epigram, this adjective captures the moment when the beautiful courtesan embraces with one arm her lover Kharaxos under the cover of her perfumed shawl while she reaches out with the other arm for yet another sip of wine after having spent a whole night of lovemaking that now extends, like some unending aubade, into the light of dawn. The element –khrous in this compound formation sun-khrous comes from the noun khrōs– / khrōt– meaning ‘complexion’, while the prefix sun– expresses the experience of mutual contact: that is why I translate sun-khrous here as ‘skin to skin, complexion making contact with complexion’.

Nagy, G. 2015.07.08. “Sappho’s ‘fire under the skin’ and the erotic syntax of an epigram by Posidippus.” Classical Inquiries.

Gregory Nagy edited by Eunice Kim 12.10.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 07.06.2016


tarkhúō (ταρχύω)

This word appears in Iliad XVI 674–675 to describe Sarpedon’s funeral rites:

ἔνθα ἑ ταρχύσουσι κασίγνητοί τε ἔται τε
τύμβῳ τε στήλῃ τε · τὸ γὰρ γέρας ἐστὶ θανόντων

and there his relatives and comrades will give him a funeral [verb tarkhúō]
with a tomb and a stele, for that is the privilege of the dead.

The conventional translation, ‘give a funeral to’, for the verb tarkhúō is inadequate. If indeed this story of Sarpedon—as also other Homeric stories—is a faithful retelling of a genuine tradition, then its Lycian setting assumes added significance. As it happens, the Lycian language is Indo-European in origin and closely related to Hittite and Luvian. In Lycian, there is a word trqqas, which designates a god described as one who smashes the wicked; this form is directly related to Luvian Tarḫunt-, which is the name of the storm-god who is head of the Luvian pantheon. There is also a Hittite version, attested as Tarḫu– in theophoric names; it is also attested as the adjective tarḫu-, meaning ‘conquering, victorious’. This whole family of noun-formations stems from the verb tarḫ– ‘conquer, overcome’, which can be reconstructed as the Indo-European root *terh2– (Laroche 1958: 90–99). To sum up the point of this brief etymological survey: all indications are that the Greek verb tarkhúō is a second-millennium borrowing from an Anatolian language, and that the form borrowed was something like tarḫu– ‘conquering, victorious’. This explanation of tarkhúō has been tentatively accepted in Pierre Chantraine’s authoritative Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque.

We are still left, however, with the problem of translating Greek tarkhúō. Since the form tarḫu-, as we have seen, can designate a divinity in the Anatolian languages, Chantraine follows Paul Kretschmer’s example in interpreting the Greek expression ἔνθα ἑ ταρχύσουσι at Iliad XVI 456 = 674 as ‘and there they will treat him like a god’. We may compare the Hittite expression designating the death of a king or queen in the royal funerary ritual: DINGIRLIM-iš kišat ‘[he or she] becomes a god’. The adverb ἔνθα ‘there’ in the Greek expression ἔνθα ἑ ταρχύσουσι refers to the dêmos ‘district’ of Lycia (Iliad XVI 455, 673; cf. 683).

A survey of formulas involving the concepts of tīmḗ and dêmos leads to the following conclusion: the hero who gets tīmḗ from the dêmos is said to be ‘like a god’ because he is thereby being treated as a cult figure. In Homeric poetry, of course, the generic hero is predominantly a figure of epic, and his dimension as a figure of cult has to be latent—basically because he is still alive. Once he is dead, however, the perspective may change, as in the case of Sarpedon: the verb tarkhúō, designating what his relatives and comrades do to the dead hero, conveys the notion that he is being treated like a god—which is the epic way of saying that he is being treated like a cult figure.

The action conveyed by this verb tarkhúō (XVI 456, repeated at 674) is presented as a compensation for the death that Sarpedon must experience. From the other contexts that concern the theme of compensation for mortality, we also see that the verb tarkhúō entails the theme of immortalization after death. That is to say, the verb tarkhúō indicates not only that the relatives and comrades of Sarpedon will treat him like a cult figure but also that he will thereby attain some form of immortalization after death.

This explanation of tarkhúō is corroborated by the evidence of comparative linguistics. The Indo-European root *terh2-, which survives as Hittite tarḫ– ‘conquer, overpower, overcome’, also survives as Indic tar(i)- ‘overcome, cross over’, which takes the shape -tur- in compounds (e.g. ap-túr– ‘crossing over the water’). The latter formation corresponds to the ‑tar– of Greek nék-tar, the substance that sustains the immortality of the Olympian gods; furthermore, the root nek– in nék-tar is the same as in Latin nex ‘death’ and Greek nék-us/nek-rós ‘corpse’.  Thus the word nék-tar must once have meant something like ‘overcoming death’; in fact, there is a kindred combination of concepts, even words, in archaic sacral Indic poetry, where the verb tar(i)- ‘overcome’ is actually attested in a context where mr̥tyú– ‘death’ is its direct object (Atharva-Veda 4.35.1d–6d).

This evidence not only provides yet another argument for the heritage of an Indo-European poetic language. More immediately, it also gives us a broader perspective on the semantics of Greek tarkhúō. To put it another way: the meaning of Greek ‑tar– in nék-tar, where the root is directly inherited from Indo-European, may help us comprehend the meaning of Greek tarkhúō, where the stem tarkhu– is indirectly inherited from Indo-European by way of a Greek borrowing from the Anatolian language family.

The corresponding Anatolian form tarḫu– appears in Hittite tarḫu– ‘victorious’ and in Luvian Tarḫunt-, the name of the storm-god who is head of the Luvian pantheon—and who wields the thunderbolt as his attribute. Perhaps these formations convey the theme of overcoming not just evildoers or other such immediate obstacles, but also the ultimate obstacle of death itself.

A parallel figure is Zeus himself, head of the Greek pantheon and wielder of the thunderbolt in his own right. With his thunderbolt, Zeus can cause both the death and the immortalization of heroes. We may take for example the poetic tradition that tells how Semele became immortalized as a direct result of dying from the god’s thunderbolt (Pindar Olympian 2.25, in conjunction with Hesiod Theogony 942). Then there is the case of Herakles, son of Zeus, who is struck by the thunderbolt of his divine father and thereby elevated to Olympus as an immortal (Diodorus Siculus 4.38.4–4.39.1). Finally, there is yet another son of Zeus, none other than the Lycian king Sarpedon, whose dead body undergoes a process designated by the verb tarkhúō. This process entails immortalization of the hero after death.

Nagy, G. “The Death of Sarpedon and the Question of Homeric Uniqueness.” In Nagy 1990: 122–142.

Gregory Nagy edited by Anna Simas 10.29.2015, Milan Vidaković 10.29.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.07.2016


terpesthai (τέρπεσθαι)

The verb terpesthai ‘feel delight’ has a programmatic function in referring to festive moments of singing and dancing or athletic competitions accompanied by feasting at a festival. An example of festive moments signaled by the word terpesthai ‘feel delight’ is a passage describing a picture created by the divine artisan Hephaistos in the process of his metalworking the Shield of Achilles in Iliad XVIII. In this picture, we will see a festive moment of singing and dancing, and the key word describing the reaction of all those attending is terpesthai ‘feel delight’ at verse 604 of Iliad XVIII. In Odyssey viii, the reaction of all those who attend an agonistic choral event is delight, as expressed by the verb terpesthai, meaning ‘feel delight’, and such a reaction is best exemplified by the disguised Odysseus as the primary character attending the performance of Demodokos in concert with the choral singers-dancers: it is said that Odysseus, in reacting to this performance, terpeto ‘felt delight’ (368), and the same delighted reaction was experienced, it is also said, by everyone else attending the performance (368–369). Again in Odyssey xiii, where Demodokos is performing as a lead singer for the last time, the entire community is described as terpomenoi ‘feeling delight’ (27).

As in the case of singing, athletics too can be seen as a source of ‘feeling delight’, terpesthai, to be experienced at a festival. A case in point is the set of verses 146–150 in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, concerning the festival of the Delia: ‘ But when, O Phoebus [Apollo], in Delos more than anywhere else you feel delight [terpesthai] in your heart [thūmos], there the Ionians, with tunics [khitōn plural] trailing, gather with their children and their wives, along the causeway [aguia], and there with boxing [pugmakhiē] and dancing [orkhēstus] and song [aoidē] they have you in mind and make you feel delight [terpein], whenever they set up a competition [agōn]’.

The idea of ‘feeling delight’ on a festive occasion, as expressed by the Greek verb terpesthai, is built into a related form that we find attested in the Hittite language. It is the noun tarpa-, attested in a Hittite text dating from the second millennium BCE. This particular text (Keilschrifttexte aus Boghazköi XXIII 55 I, 2–27), analyzed by Jaan Puhvel, is describing a festive occasion. There is to be an animal sacrifice (four rams and an unspecified number of bulls), and there are athletic events, which include boxing and wrestling. As Puhvel notes, “a military gathering in the iconic presence of the solar deity seems to be the occasion” (Puhvel 1988:29). And the word that refers to this occasion is tarpa-. This word, Puhvel suggests, “would then be the ‘pleasure part’ of the event, the distribution, celebration, and enjoyment of winnings, perhaps even etymologically cognate with the Greek terp[esthai], ‘to delight’, which crops up so often in the Homeric vocabulary of sports.” In making this argument, Puhvel cites a number of Homeric verses that feature this word terpesthai, and among them is verse 131 of Odyssey viii, where the Phaeacians are said to be ‘feeling delight’ in response to the spectacular aethloi/aethla or ‘contests’ that are then taking place. These contests are athletic competitions, which as we have just seen are imagined as part of the ongoing festivities that are narrated in Odyssey viii. At verse 131, the word terpesthai ‘feel delight’ focuses on athletics as one particular aspect of the festivities, whereas later on at verse 429 the same word focuses on another aspect, which is the singing of Demodokos. In both verses, the overall context is a stylized festival.

Nagy, G. 2016. Masterpieces of Metonymy. Washington, DC.

Gregory Nagy edited by Anna Simas 11.19.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 07.06.2016


therápōn (θεράπων)

Τhe Greek word therápōn is a borrowing, sometime in the second millennium, from one of the Indo-European languages spoken at that time in the area of Anatolia (Van Brock 1959). The given language may have been Hittite, Luvian, or some unattested near-relative, but in any case the evidence that we have for the word that was borrowed as therápōn comes primarily from Hittite: there the word appears as tarpan(alli)- or tarpašša-, corresponding to Greek therápōn and its by-form theráps respectively. In Hittite the word means ‘ritual substitute’. The entity requiring substitution is as a rule the king himself, and the tarpan(alli)-/tarpašša– is his alter ego (“un autre soi-même,” says Van Brock), a projection upon whom the impurities of the king and of the community that he represents may be ritually transferred.

This evidence is applicable to the death and funeral οf Patroklos; there is a Greek reflex of the Hittite semantics in the Iliadic application of the title therápōn to Patroklos (Iliad XVI 244, etc.), the hero who was killed while wearing the armor of Achilles and who functions in the Iliad as the actual surrogate of Achilles.

Nagy, G. “The Death of Sarpedon and the Question of Homeric Uniqueness.” In Nagy 1990: 122–142.

Gregory Nagy edited by Emma Brobeck 10.29.2105 and Olga Levaniou 07.06.2016


thelgein (θέλγειν)

At Odyssey viii 509 the Trojan horse is called a ‘great artifact [agalma]’. It is relevant to ask: how exactly is the Wooden Horse an agalma, an ‘artifact’? As we read in the Odyssey (viii 509), this agalma is a thelktērion ‘charm’ of the gods. By comparing this Greek story of the Wooden Horse with similar stories attested around the world, we find a common theme in this “international tale type”: the purpose of such a “gift horse” is to enchant those to whom it is given as a gift (Hansen 2002:169–176). It is relevant that the noun thelktērion ‘charm’ is derived from the verb thelgein, which means ‘put a trance on’ or ‘enchant’ or ‘charm’. More than that, the contexts of thelgein in Homeric poetry include one particular way of being metaphorically ‘entranced’ or ‘enchanted’ or ‘charmed’— through the beauty and the pleasure of poetry (Odyssey xvii 521). And one particular way of being physically ‘entranced’ or ‘enchanted’ or ‘charmed’ is through the eyes: in Homeric diction, the eyes are conventionally featured as the direct object of thelgein (Iliad XIII 435, 343; Odyssey v 47, xxiv 3). The prehistory of the meaning of thelgein has its uncertainties, but the most plausible etymological explanation is that this Greek verb is cognate with the Lithuanian verb žvelgiù ‘look’ (Chantraine DELG s.v. θέλγω). If this explanation is valid, then the meaning of thelgein has to do with visual attraction. That is, thelgein conveys the basic idea of being riveted by a vision, a vision of something that enchants those who see it, putting them into a trance. That kind of vision is an inner vision, the vision of the imagination, activated by the sound of verbal art.

Nagy, G. 2008. Homer the Classic. Washington, DC. 125–126.

Gregory Nagy edited by Konnor Clark 11.04.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.07.2016


throna (θρόνα)

The word throna (singular thronon) can refer to floral patterns that are woven into the fabric. Further, as we know from Theocritus (2.59) and other sources, throna are love charms (Petropoulos 1993). A case in point is the following passage, which captures the essence of pattern-weaving as an overall metaphor for Homeric narrative:

Iliad XXII 437–441

Ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἄλοχος δ’ οὔ πώ τι πέπυστο
Ἕκτορος· οὐ γάρ οἵ τις ἐτήτυμος ἄγγελος ἐλθὼν
ἤγγειλ’ ὅττί ῥά οἱ πόσις ἔκτοθι μίμνε πυλάων,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ ἱστὸν ὕφαινε μυχῷ δόμου ὑψηλοῖο
δίπλακα πορφυρέην, ἐν δὲ θρόνα ποικίλ’ ἔπασσε.

So she [= Hecuba] spoke, lamenting, but the wife [= Andromache] had not yet heard,
Hector’s wife: for no true messenger had come to her
and told her the news, how her husband was standing his ground outside the gates.
She [= Andromache] was weaving [huphainein] a web in the inner room of the lofty palace,
a purple [porphureē] fabric that folds in two [= diplax], and she was inworking [en-passein] patterns of flowers [throna] that were varied [poikila].

Archaeological research has shown that the artistic technique being represented here is not embroidery, as is commonly assumed, but pattern-weaving (Wace 1948). The word en-passein, referring to the weaving of Andromache, means that she is ‘inworking’—or, literally, ‘sprinkling’—various patterns into her web by way of pattern-weaving. These varied patterns are called throna (XXII 441), ‘patterns of flowers’. Each flower in the sequence of flowers woven into the web is a love charm, an incantation that sings its own love song. Each flower is different from the next, and the sequence of flowers becomes a variety of love songs within a single sustained narrative, a single love story, which is the pattern-woven web in its entirety.

Nagy, G. 2010. Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley. 273–275.

Gregory Nagy edited by Emma Brobeck 11.20.2015 and Olga Levaniouk 06.07.2016




Baumann, H. 1936. Schöpfung und Urzeit des Menschen im Mythus der afrikanischen Völker. Berlin.

Bierl, A., and Lardinois, A., eds. 2016. The Newest Sappho (P. Obbink and P. GC Inv. 105, frs. 1–5). Studies in Archaic and Classical Greek Song 2. Leiden: Brill.

Durante, M. 1976. Sulla preistoria della tradizione poetic greca. Vol. 2, Risultanze della comparazione indoeuropea. Incunabula Graeca 64. Rome.

Fearn, D. 2011, ed. Contexts for Choral Lyric Poetry. Myth, History, and Identity in the Fifth Century BC. Oxford.

Hansen, W. F. 2002. Ariadne’s Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature. Ithaca, NY.

Kirk, G. S., ed. 1985. The Iliad: A Commentary . Vol. 1, Books 1–4. Cambridge.

Laroche, E. 1958. “Etudes de vocabulaire VII”. Revue Hittite et Asianique 63:85–114.

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

            . Greek Mythology and Poetics. Ithaca, NY.

            . 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge.

            . 2002. Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens. Washington, DC

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

            . 2015. Masterpieces of Metonymy: From Ancient Greek Times to Now. Washington, DC.

Puhvel, J. 1988. “Hittite Athletics as Prefigurations of Ancient Greek Games.” The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity (ed. W. J. Raschke) 26–31. Madison, WI.

Vermeule, E. 1981. Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry. Berkeley.

Van Brock, N. 1959. “Substitution rituelle.” Revue Hittite et Asianique 65:117–146.

Vine, B. 1999. “On ‘Cowgill’s Law’ in Greek.” Compositiones Indogermanicae in memoriam Jochem Schindler (eds. H. Eichner and H. C. Luschützky) 555–599. Prague.

Wace, A. 1948. “Weaving or Embroidery?” American Journal of Archaeology 52:51–55.