Friday, May 9, 2008

Personal Names in Homer

Personal names in Homer are particularly interesting; etymologically they are quite close to the character of the figure they are ascribed to. Often names in Greek have both a short and a long form: Ekhlos and Ekhelawos, for example. The short form either has the suffix -os or -eus. On the basis of this observation, let us take a quick glance at some figures from the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Meneleus: This is obviously the short form of the name. The long form would thus be Menelawos. If we seperate these into their constituent parts Mene-lawos, two Pre-Greek words emerge. 'Mene' has the sense of 'standing fast' or 'abiding' and 'lawos' means 'the people. So, Meneleus is 'he who makes the people stand fast'.

Atreus: The 'a' at the beginning of the name is an alpha privative, which denotes negation. The root 'tres-' means 'panic striken flight'; in Sparta the word 'tresas' was a term for a deserter. Thus Atreus means, 'he who doesn't flee.'

Achilles (Gr. Akhileus): Same principle here; long form is Akhi-lawos. The word 'akhos' means 'pain', and 'lawos', people. Achilles is 'he who causes pain to the people'.

Odysseus: This one is a bit trickier. There is evidence for a Pre-Greek prefix 'o-' meaning 'on, onto, into'. Also, there is evidence for an ancient stem 'dukj-', meaning 'lead'. The original short form could be constructed as *odukjeus. In Linear B, the cluster 'kj' would be written as a 'z' series, thsu producing *oduzeu. The move into Attic/Ionic could be accounted for as follows: kj>ts>ss. (re. my post below where I discuss this shift.). Odysseus is 'he who leads (to home)'

For a more through discussion of this see Palmer's The Greek Language.

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