The Great Seal

Epic poetry is everywhere. The Great Seal of the United States, found (among other places) on the back of the one-dollar bill, contains two Latin mottoes on its reverse, which is on the left side of the bill. The seal was officially adopted by the U.S. government in 1782. I had never looked into these … Continue reading The Great Seal

The “Shiva Sutras”

In his most famous work, Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight Chapters"), the ancient Indian grammarian Pāṇini laid out his analysis of Sanskrit grammar in a comprehensive and impressively compact manner, outlining rules for everything from noun compounding to accentuation to sandhi. In sections dealing with individual sounds, the author is able to refer to whole groups of specific vowels … Continue reading The “Shiva Sutras”

An ancient word for ‘earthling’?

Many Indo-European languages exhibit a word for 'human being' that is built off of PIE *dʰéɡ́ʰom- 'earth, ground.' Celtic *gdonyo- (Irish duine 'person,' Welsh dyn 'man') < *dʰɡ́ʰom-yo- Germanic *guman- 'man' (Old English guma 'man,' English [bride]groom; Old High German gomo 'man,' German [Bräuti]gam) < *dʰɡ́ʰm̥-mon- Latin homō, -minis 'person' < *dʰɡ́ʰm-on- (whence also hūmānus) Phrygian ζεμελως 'man … Continue reading An ancient word for ‘earthling’?

Etymology: cyclops

As the defining characteristic of this creature is its single eye, for a long time it was taken for granted that cyclops—Greek κύκλωψ—was an old compound meaning 'round-eye': *kʷékʷl-h3ōkʷ-s = *kʷékʷlo- + *h3ōkʷ- *kʷékʷlo- 'circle, ring' (cf. κύκλος; English wheel) *h3ōkʷ- 'face, eye' (cf. ὄψομαι 'see (fut.)') In more recent years another, perhaps better, etymology … Continue reading Etymology: cyclops

Homeric Greek πέλωρ ‘monster’

One of my favorite words is τὸ πέλωρ. The first of its two occurrences in the Odyssey is in apposition to Κύκλωψ 'Cyclops' (referring to Polyphemus, the only such creature with which Odysseus comes into contact): "τοὺς ἀκέων συνέεργον ἐυστρεφέεσσι λύγοισιν, τῇς ἔπι Κύκλωψ εὗδε πέλωρ, ἀθεμίστια εἰδώς, σύντρεις αἰνύμενος" "Without speaking, I fastened [the … Continue reading Homeric Greek πέλωρ ‘monster’