Etymology and Your Grandfather’s Grandfather

Varro, on the Latin Language (VII. 3)

“It is not surprising [that ancient words have unclear meanings] since not only was Epimenides not recognized by many when he got up from sleep after 50 years, but Teucer as well was unknown by his family after only 15 years, according to Livius Andronicus. But what is this to the age of poetic words? If the source of the words in the Carmen Saliorum is the reign of Numa Pompilius and those words were not taken up from previous composers, they are still 700 years old.

Why, then, would you criticize the labor of an author who has not successfully found the name of a hero’s great-grandfather or that man’s grandfather, when you cannot name the mother of your own great-grandfather’s grandfather? This distance is so much closer to us than the period from now to the beginning of the Salians when people say the Roman’s poetic words were first in Latin.”

Nec mirum, cum non modo Epimenides sopore post annos L experrectus a multis non cognoscatur, sed etiam Teucer Livii post XV annos ab suis qui sit ignoretur. At hoc quid ad verborum poeticorum aetatem? Quorum si Pompili regnum fons in Carminibus Saliorum neque ea ab superioribus accepta, tamen habent DCC annos. Quare cur scriptoris industriam reprehendas qui herois tritavum, atavum non potuerit reperire, cum ipse tui tritavi matrem dicere non possis? Quod intervallum multo tanto propius nos, quam hinc ad initium Saliorum, quo Romanorum prima verba poetica dicunt Latina.

Teucer was a king of Salamis who was absent during the Trojan War.

Epimenides was a poet from Crete who wrote a Theogony. He allegedly went to sleep as a boy and awoke 57 years later. Here’s his strange entry from the Suda.

“Epimenides, son of Phaistos or Dosiados or Agiasarkhos and his mother was Blastos. A Cretan from Knossos and epic poet. As the story goes, his soul could leave his body for however long the time was right and then return again. When he died, after some time his skin was found to be tattooed with words. He lived near the 30th olympiad and he was among the first of the seven sages and those after them. For he cleansed Athens of the plague of Kylôneios at the time of the 44th Olympiad when he was an old man. He wrote many epic poems, including in catalogue form about mysteries, purifications, and other riddling matters. Solon wrote to him asking for the cleansing of the city. He lived 150 years but he slept for 50 of them. “The Epimenidean skin” is a proverb for mysterious writings.”

᾿Επιμενίδης, Φαίστου ἢ Δοσιάδου ἢ ᾿Αγιασάρχου υἱός, καὶ μητρὸς Βλάστας, Κρὴς ἀπὸ Κνωσσοῦ, ἐποποιός· οὗ λόγος, ὡς ἐξίοι ἡ ψυχὴ ὁπόσον ἤθελε καιρόν, καὶ πάλιν εἰσῄει ἐν τῷ σώματι· τελευτήσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ, πόρρω χρόνων τὸ δέρμα εὑρῆσθαι γράμμασι κατάστικτον. γέγονε δὲ ἐπὶ τῆς λ′ ὀλυμπιάδος, ὡς προτερεύειν καὶ τῶνζ′ κληθέντων σοφῶν ἢ καὶ ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς γενέσθαι. ἐκάθηρε γοῦν τὰς ᾿Αθήνας τοῦ Κυλωνείου ἄγους κατὰ τὴν μδ′ ὀλυμπιάδα, γηραιὸς ὤν. ἔγραψε δὲ πολλὰ ἐπικῶς· καὶ καταλογάδην μυστήριά τινα καὶ καθαρμοὺς καὶ ἄλλα αἰνιγματώδη. πρὸς τοῦτον γράφει Σόλων ὁ νομοθέτης μεμφόμενος τῆς πόλεως κάθαρσιν. οὗτος ἔζησεν ρν′ ἔτη, τὰ δὲ Ϛ′ ἐκαθεύδησεν. καὶ παροιμία τὸ ᾿Επιμενίδειον δέρμα, ἐπὶ τῶνἀποθέτων.

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