Some “Night” Compounds from Ancient Greek


When I was in graduate school I lived in Astoria, Queens and walked every day past a bar that has long since closed, named Nukterides.  Even though there were little pictures of bats on the awning and I had spent years studying ancient Greek, it took me almost three years of walking by that awning before it dawned on me that “nukterides”—which in Ancient Greek would mean “daughters of the night”—meant bats.

(And, of course, the bar was populated almost exclusively by elderly Greek and Italian men. I really do miss that neighborhood…).

This morning I was trying to figure out how one might talk about sleep-walking in Ancient Greek and I got distracted by the sheer number of nukti-compounds in the LSJ.  Some of these only appear once in Greek literature, but I am glad they survived.Here are some of my favorites:

νυκτάλωψ: “night-blindness”

νυκτερευτής: “night-hunter”

νυκτίγαμος: “night-wedding”

νυκτιλαθραιοφάγος: “eating-secretly-at-night”

νυκτιπαταιπλάγιος: “going-here-and-there-at-night”

νυκτίφοιτος: “night-walking”

νυκτιχόρευτος: “of night-dancing”

νυκτιβατία: “night-walking”

νυκτιδρομία: “night-running”

νυκτικλοπία: “night-theft”

νυκτόμαντις: “nighttime-prophet”

νυκτοπλανής: “night-wandering”


Another site in Astoria whose name evaded me for years was the bakery Lefkos Pyrgos. I didn’t even think what it meant until one day I looked at the building and realized it appeared to be an old “White Castle”.  Guess what Lekfos Pyrgos means in Greek?

Go for the Pastries. Stay for the translation jokes.

5 thoughts on “Some “Night” Compounds from Ancient Greek

  1. A bar named “daughters of the night” should totally be a Goth-style bar where all the employees are female and dressed like vampires.

    Or they could actually *be* vampires.

    Actually, I think I’ll use that in a story somewhere…

    I think my favorite of those compounds is “night-wedding.” It probably just means “a wedding at night” or “the wedding night” but I can’t help thinking it meant something a little more shady, like an elopement or a shotgun wedding. (Well, the ancient equivalent of same…a spearpoint wedding, I guess?)

  2. If i may, in this instance, Lefkos Pyrgos may be a reference to the White Tower of Thessaloniki, a memento of Ottoman rule which came to the symbol of the city. The baker’s or their family’s home town possibly?
    Thanks for the post, always a pleasure to read.

  3. My understanding about Astoria is that you will not be able to go home again-that it is being gentrified out of recognition like other NYC neighborhoods before it. I love your theory of the origin of Lefkos Pyrgos. The best Falafel place in Cambridge is Falafel Palace, which is in an old Krystal Palace (Krystal Palace was a competitor of White Castle back in White Castle’s pre-WWII heyday). I love how this sort of evolution happen.

    1. Astoria was gentrifying while I was there–but just from what I can see from Google street view, it probably looks like everywhere else now too–most of the old Italian and Greek places are gone! Nukterides, Zugos–it even turns out the Lefkos Pyrgos had to move and is now a Time Warner cable center!

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