Fate-Breaker or Bag-boy? Some Odd Etymologies for the Trojan Paris

Major names in the Homeric tradition have some pretty opaque etymological origins. But folk etymologies (really any ‘false’ etymologies that are important to the reception of myths in performance) are viable objects of study both for what they tell us about Greek thoughts on language and for what they tell us about the life of myths outside our extant poems. Some of these are ridiculous–as in “lipless Achilles” or the story of an Odysseus who was born on the road in the rain. But they all tell us something about how audiences responded to traditional tales.

Here are some etymologies for Paris. (and credit to @spannycat for asking about this)


“Ill-passing” [Dusparis] someone named for evil, for example when Paris was born. A bad-nickname. Also, a place that is difficult to pass through [duspariton], unpassable. Xenophon uses it this way in the Anabasis.

Δύσπαρι (Γ 39)· ἐπὶ κακῷ ὠνομασμένε, οἷον ζήσας ὡς Πάρις, δυσώνυμε. καὶ δυσπάριτον χωρίον· τὸ ἄβατον. οὕτως Ξενοφῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Αναβάσει (4, 1, 25).


Etym. Gud. 454.39

“Paris, of Paris [Paridos], the son of Hekabê who was called Alexander and also Paris. The name comes from the fire [Fire] in Ida. For Hekabê believed in a dream that she was giving birth to a torch which would consume the city with fire and the forest on Ida too. For this reason, she exposed him on Ida after he was born.”

Πάρις, Πάριδος, ὁ υἱὸς ῾Εκάβης ἐκλήθη ᾿Αλέξανδρος, ὁ καὶ Πάρις. παρὰ τὸ πῦρ καὶ τὴν ῎Ιδην. ἐν ὁράματι γὰρ ἡ ῾Εκάβη ἐνόμισε δάλον τίκτειν, ὅστις κατέφλεγε τὴν πόλιν, καὶ τὴν ἐν τῇ ῎Ιδη ὕλην· καὶ τούτου χάριν τεχθέντα ἐν τῇ ῎Ιδῃ ἀπέῤῥιψεν.

Etymologicum Magnum 654.37

“Paris: this is from going against [parienai] fate, which means to escape death. Or it is from a pêra which is a kind of bag. It comes from the fact that he was taken care of in a shepherd’s bag.”

Πάρις: Παρὰ τὸ παριέναι τὸν μόρον, τουτέστιν ἐκφυγεῖν τὸν θάνατον· ἢ παρὰ τὴν πήραν, ὃ σημαίνει τὸ μαρσίπιον· ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐν τῇ ποιμαντικῇ πήρᾳ ἀνατραφῆναι.

What is up with all the variant etymologies? It seems that the name Paris is not from Greek origins. As with other famous names, once the origins of a word become obscure, later audiences re-analyze them in some fantastic ways.

“The hero ’ s other name, Paris, is clearly non-Greek. Watkins indicated a possible Luvian attestation of it and related it to the name of his father Priam, which is allegedly of the same etymology (Luvian: Pariyamuvas ‘ supreme in force ’ , from pari(ya)-, which is contracted in the case of Priam).³² It may thus seem that the name Paris is equivalent in sense to Alexandros. However, it is very doubtful that the poem appreciated the meaning of a name in a foreign language…” Kanavou 2015, 85)

Kanavou, Nikoletta. The Names of Homeric Heroes : Problems and Interpretations, De Gruyter, Inc., 2015


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