Do You Hate Absurd Etymologies?

Kallierges, Etymologicum Magnum 615

“The name Odysseus has been explained through the following story. For they claim that when Antikleia, Odysseus’ mother, was pregnant she was travelling [hodeuousan] on Mt. Neritos in Ithaka, and it began to rain [husantos] terribly Because of her labor and fear she collapsed and gave birth to Odysseus there. So, he obtained is name in this way, since Zeus, on the road [hodon] rained [hûsen].”

᾿Οδυσσεύς: Εἴρηται ἀπὸ ἱστορίας. ᾿Αντίκλειαν γάρ φασι τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως μητέρα ἐγκύμονα ὁδεύουσαν τὸ Νήριτον τῆς ᾿Ιθάκης ὄρος, ὕσαντος πολὺ τοῦ Διὸς, ὑπὸ ἀγωνίας τε καὶ φόβου καταπεσοῦσαν ἀποτεκεῖν τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα. Οὕτω ταύτης τῆς ὀνομασίας ἔτυχεν, ἐπειδὴ κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὗσεν ὁ Ζεύς.

It is more typical to derive Odysseus’ name from the verb odussomai, which means something like “being hateful, being hated”.  Autolykos, Odysseus’ maternal grandfather, is reported to have named him in the Odyssey (19.407–409).

“I have come to this point hated [odussamenos] by many—
Both men and women over the man-nourishing earth.
So let his name be Ody[s]seus…”

πολλοῖσιν γὰρ ἐγώ γε ὀδυσσάμενος τόδ’ ἱκάνω,
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξὶν ἀνὰ χθόνα βωτιάνειραν·
τῷ δ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς ὄνομ’ ἔστω ἐπώνυμον…

Even in antiquity there was debate about how to interpret odussamenos. A scholion offers three explanations: “[someone] who is hated. Or who has rage. Or has harmed [someone]” (ὀδυσσάμενος] μισηθείς· ἢ ὀργὴν ἀγαγών· ἢ βλάψας.)

And many have seen playing with this name-verb accord earlier in the epic when Athena asks Zeus (1.60-62)

“…Didn’t Odysseus please you
By making sacrifices along the ships of the Argives
In broad Troy? Why are you so hateful [ôdusao] to him, Zeus?”

… οὔ νύ τ’ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
᾿Αργείων παρὰ νηυσὶ χαρίζετο ἱερὰ ῥέζων
Τροίῃ ἐν εὐρείῃ; τί νύ οἱ τόσον ὠδύσαο, Ζεῦ;”

Sophocles gets in on this (Fr. 965):

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly:
For many who have been my enemy hate [ôdusanto] me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν•
πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί

Modern scholars get in on the game too Marót in Acta Antiqua 8 (1960) 1-6 suggests that the name is developed from the scar (οὐλή=oulê) by which Odysseus is recognized, thus explaining in part the Latin (and Etruscan) variant Ulysses.

Image result for Odysseus ancient Greek

For a succinct discussion, see Norman Austin 2009, 92-93 from his essay “Name Magic in the Odyssey” in Lillian Doherty’s Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Homer’s Odyssey (originally printed in California Studies in Classical Antiquity 5 (1972) 1-19, available through JSTOR). See also W. B. Stanford’s “The Homeric Etymology of the Name Odysseus.” Classical Philology 47 (1952) 209-213.

4 thoughts on “Do You Hate Absurd Etymologies?

  1. Kanavou, the names of Homeric heroes, is helpful for this and other Odyssey names. I’m currently puzzled by some arguments, Ziegler, Wohrmann (cited by Austin), that link the supposedly Etruscan Utis (though Uthuze and byforms are more typical, I believe) with Outis. Utis seems by these two authors to be used as a modern transliteration of Outis, which I find confusing. More to the point nobody seems to comment on itself as originary for Outis, though Ziegler claims Utis is a nickname or dialect name that accidently triggers the trick, which nobody (pun unintended, but high five) finds convincing (Worhmann indirectly challenges; does Utis with Odysseus in sound).

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