Etymologies For Tyrant, Update

From the Suda:

“Tyrannos: The poets before the Trojan War used to name kings (basileis) tyrants, but later during the time of Archilochus, this word was transferred to the Greeks in general, just as the sophist Hippias records. Homer, at least, calls the most lawless man of all, Ekhetos, a king, not a tyrant. Tyrant is a a name that derives from the Tyrrenians because these men were quite severe pirates.* None of the other poets uses the name tyrant in any of their works. But Aristotle in the Constitution of the Cumaeans says that tyrants were once called aisumnêtai, because this name is a bit of a euphemism.”

Τύραννος: οἱ πρὸ τῶν Τρωϊκῶν ποιηταὶ τοὺς βασιλεῖς τυράννους προσηγόρευον, ὀψέ ποτε τοῦδε τοῦ ὀνόματος εἰς τοὺς Ἕλληνας διαδοθέντος κατὰ τοὺς Ἀρχιλόχου χρόνους, καθάπερ Ἱππίας ὁ σοφιστής φησιν. Ὅμηρος γοῦν τὸν πάντων παρανομώτατον Ἔχετον βασιλέα φησί, καὶ οὐ τύραννον. προσηγορεύθη δὲ τύραννος ἀπὸ Τυρρηνῶν: χαλεποὺς γὰρ περὶ λῃστείας τούτους γενέσθαι. οὐδεὶς δὲ οὐδὲ ἄλλος τῶν ποιητῶν ἐν τοῖς ποιήμασιν αὐτοῦ μέμνηται τὸ τοῦ τυράννου ὄνομα. ὁ δὲ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐν Κυμαίων πολιτείᾳ τοὺς τυράννους φησὶ τὸ πρότερον αἰσυμνήτας καλεῖσθαι. εὐφημότερον γὰρ ἐκεῖνο τὸ ὄνομα. ὅτι καὶ ἕτεροι ἐτυράννησαν, ἀλλ’ ἡ τελευταία καὶ μεγίστη κάκωσις πάσαις ταῖς πόλεσιν ἡ Διονυσίου τυραννὶς ἐγένετο.

For Aristotle’s distinctions, see Politics, book 3 (1285a)

*According to Louise Hitchcock and Aren Maeir (“Yo-ho, Yo-ho: A Seren’s Life For me.” World Archaeology 46:4, 624-640) the Philistines used the word seren to mean leader; this word may have been related to Hittite tarwanis and was possibly circulated by the ‘sea peoples’. Greek tyrannos may have developed from this. Chaintraine notes that the etymology of turannos is unclear but that it may be related to Etruscan turan or Hittite tarwana.

Hesychius:  anangkomonarkhos “monarch-by-force”: a tyrant

ἀναγκομόναρχος· ὁ τύραννος

Etymologicum Magnum

“This is likely formed from Tursennians*. Or it derives from Gyges who was from a Turran city in Lykia, and he was the first one who was a tyrant. Others claim it is from truô [“to distress, wear out, afflict”], that it was truanos and that the rho and nu switched places through pleonasm. Ancients used to use the word Turannos for kings. There was a time when they used a call the tyrant ‘king’.

Τύραννος: ῎Ητοι ἀπὸ τῶν Τυρσηνῶν· ὠμοὶ γὰρ οὗτοι· ἢ ἀπὸ Γύγου, ὅς ἐστιν ἀπὸ Τύρρας πόλεως Λυκιακῆς, τυραννήσαντος πρῶτον. ῎Αλλοι δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ τρύω, τὸ καταπονῶ, τρύανος· καὶ ὑπερβιβασμῷ τοῦ ρ, τύραννος, κατὰ πλεονασμὸν τοῦ ν. Τύραννον δὲ οἱ ἀρχαῖοι καὶ ἐπὶ βασιλέως ἔτασσον· ἔσθ’ ὅτε δὲ καὶ τὸν τύραννον βασιλέα ἔλεγον.

*A name for Etruscans

s.v. Αἰσυμνητήρ

“An aisiomêtês is one who has proper plans. A tyrant is the opposite.”

ὁ αἰσιομήτης, ὁ αἴσια βουλευόμενος· ὁ γὰρ τύραννος τοὐναντίον.

s.v. Βασιλεύς

“For, a king must truly do noble things. One who does evil, he’s a tyrant.”

δεῖ γὰρ ἀληθῶς βασιλέα καλοποιεῖν· ὁ δὲ κακοποιῶν, τύραννος


Etymologicum Gudianum

“Tyranny: It differs from a kingship and a tyrant is different from a king. For a kingship is something that exercises power according the law. But a tyranny is a force without reason, following its own law. A king is someone who rules according to just laws; but a tyrant, who can never rule justly nor without the boundaries of the law, he steps outside of the laws.”

Tyrannos: from some tyrant, the one who first ruled badly, from the city of Tyre. It means two things: a kind and the man as a tyrant.”

Τυραννὶς, βασιλείας διαφέρει, καὶ τύραννος βασιλέως· βασιλεῖα μὲν γάρ ἐστι κατὰ νόμους ἄρχουσα ἐξουσία τίς· τυραννὶς δὲ ἡ ἄλογος ἐξουσία, αὐτωνομίᾳ χρωμένη· βασιλεύς ἐστιν ὁ κατὰ νόμους δικαίους ἄρχων· τύραννος δὲ, ὁ μήτε δικαίως ἄρχων, μήτε νομίμως, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς νόμους ἐκπατῶν.

Τύραννος, ἀπὸ τυράννου τινὸς, πρώτου κακῶς διακειμένου, ἀπὸ Τύρου τῆς πόλεως· σημαίνει δὲ δύο, τὸν βασιλέα καὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον τύραννον.


Aristotle, Politics 1285a

“Citizens guard their kings with arms; foreigners protect tyrants. This is because kings rule according to the law and with willing citizens while tyrants rule the unwilling. As a result, kings have guards from their subjects and tyrants keep guards against them.”

οἱ γὰρ πολῖται φυλάττουσιν ὅπλοις τοὺς βασιλεῖς, τοὺς δὲ τυράννους ξενικόν: οἱ μὲν γὰρ κατὰ νόμον καὶ ἑκόντων οἱ δ᾽ ἀκόντων ἄρχουσιν, ὥσθ᾽ οἱ μὲν παρὰ τῶν πολιτῶν οἱ δ᾽ ἐπὶ τοὺς πολίτας ἔχουσι τὴν φυλακήν.

Od. 18.83-87

“If this one defeats you and proves stronger,
I will send you to the shore, throw you in a black ship,
And ship you off to king Ekhetos, the most wicked man of all.
He will cut off your nose and ears with pitiless bronze
And after severing your balls, he will feed them raw to his dogs.”

αἴ κέν σ’ οὗτος νικήσῃ κρείσσων τε γένηται,
πέμψω σ’ ἤπειρόνδε, βαλὼν ἐν νηῒ μελαίνῃ,
εἰς ῎Εχετον βασιλῆα, βροτῶν δηλήμονα πάντων,
ὅς κ’ ἀπὸ ῥῖνα τάμῃσι καὶ οὔατα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ
μήδεά τ’ ἐξερύσας δώῃ κυσὶν ὠμὰ δάσασθαι.”

Cf. 22.474-477 where Odysseus and Telemachus have this done to the cow-herd, Melanthios:

“They took Melanthios out through the hall and into the courtyard.
They cut off his nose and ears with pitiless bronze.
Then they cut off his balls and fed them raw to the dogs;
And they cut off his hands and feet with an enraged heart.”

ἐκ δὲ Μελάνθιον ἦγον ἀνὰ πρόθυρόν τε καὶ αὐλήν·
τοῦ δ’ ἀπὸ μὲν ῥῖνάς τε καὶ οὔατα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ
τάμνον μήδεά τ’ ἐξέρυσαν, κυσὶν ὠμὰ δάσασθαι,
χεῖράς τ’ ἠδὲ πόδας κόπτον κεκοτηότι θυμῷ.

Ekhetos is mentioned again at 18.116 and 21.308. The scholia repeat how cruel he is; but most seem to believe that he was made up by Homer.


Laconian Assmen and A False Etymology for Adolescent

Two Comic Fragments

Photius was a ninth century Patriarch and Scholar of Constantinople who is now a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. But he was also a lexicographer who preserved or hinted a fragments of many lost authors.

Laconian Assmen and Theseus (Photius 192.12)

“Laconian Ass-man”: Cleinias, had anal-sex, in the Laconian style. They call intercourse with boyfriends “to act like a Laconian”. This is how Theseus had sex with Helen, according to Aristarchus.

Κυσολάκων: ὁ Κλεινίας ὁ τωῖ κυσωῖ Λακωνίζων· τὸ δὲ τοῖς παιδικοῖς χρῆσθαι Λακωνίζειν λέγουσιν· ᾿Eλένηι γὰρ Θησεὺς οὕτως ἐχρήσατο, ὡς Ἀρίσταρχος.

Some texts have Μελαίνηι instead of ᾿Eλένηι. Some have ᾿Αριστοτέλης instead of Ἀρίσταρχος

An Amusing But Absolutely Impossible Etymology for Adolescent (Photius α 372)

Adoleskhein: indicates talking philosophically about nature while conversing about everything else. The comic poets used the word leschainein for “having a conversation” (dialegesthai). And leskhai are places where people gather to spend the day in conversation.’

᾿Αδολεσχεῖν· σημαίνει μὲν τὸ φιλοσοφεῖν περί τε φύσεως καὶ τοῦ παντὸς διαλεσχαίνοντα. οἱ μέντοι ἀρχαῖοι κωμικοὶ λεσχαίνειν ἔλεγον τὸ διαλέγεσθαι. καὶ λέσχαι οἱ τόποι, εἰς οὓς συνιόντες λόγοις διημέρευον.

Mondays Are Hard: Here’s How to Say “Dildo” in Ancient Greek

From the Suda

Olisbos: Genitals made from leather which the Milesian women used to use as tribades(!) and shameful people do. Widowed women also use them. Aristophanes writes “I did not see an eight-fingered dildo*/ which might be our leathered aid.”** This second part is drawn from the proverb “fig-wood aid” applied to weak people.

῎Ολισβος: αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον, ᾧ ἐχρῶντο αἱ Μιλήσιαι γυναῖκες, ὡς τριβάδες καὶ αἰσχρουργοί· ἐχρῶντο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· οὐκ εἶδον οὐδ’ ὄλισβον ὀκταδάκτυλον, ὃς ἂν ἡμῖν σκυτίνη ‘πικουρία. παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν.


Another proverb from the Suda, s.v. misêtê:

“And Kratinus said somewhere: “hated women use dildoes.”

καὶ ὁ Κρατῖνός που τοῦτο ἔφη: μισῆται δὲ γυναῖκες ὀλίσβωσι χρήσονται


(!) tribades: see the Suda again s.v. Hetairistai:

“Courtesanizers: The women who are called ‘rubbers'” [or ‘grinders’? i.e. Lesbians] Ἑταιρίστριαι: αἱ καλούμεναι τριβάδες. See also Hesychius s.v. dietaristriai: “Women who rub themselves against girls in intercourse the way men do. For example, tribades.” διεταρίστριαι· γυναῖκες αἱ τετραμμέναι πρὸς τὰς ἑταίρας ἐπὶ συνουσίᾳ, ὡς οἱ ἄνδρες. οἷον τριβάδες (Plat. conv. 191 e).

*this is not an eight-shafted instrument but may instead point to the instrument’s length. See the note on the Suda-online.

**Lysistrata 109-110.



The Lexicographer Photius repeats only the following definition:


Olisboi: Leather dicks

῎Ολισβοι: δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα.


The Scholia to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata 109-110 basically presents the same information:
Olisbon: A leather penis. And that is for the Milesian women. He is joking that they use dildos. The next part, “leathery aid” plays upon the proverb “fig-tree aid”, used for the weak. He has changed it to “leathery” because dildos are made of leather. They are leather-made penises which widowed women use.”

ὄλισβον: Αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον. καὶ τοῦτο εἰς τὰς Μιλησίας. παίζει δὲ ὡς τοῖς ὀλίσβοις χρωμέναις. σκυτίνη ἐπικουρία: Παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία, ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν. ὁ δὲ εἰς τὴν σκυτίνην μετέβαλε. σκύτινοι γὰρ οἱ ὄλισβοι. εἰσὶ δὲ δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα, οἷς χρῶνται αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες.


And, the Chaste H. Liddell could do no better than give this a Latin name:

ὄλισβος , ὁ,

A.penis coriaceus, Cratin.316, Ar.Lys.109, Fr.320.13.



Phi is for Friday: Two Proverbs Beginning with Φ

From the Suda:


“You control a lentil’s corner”: A proverb used for weak people. There is also this proverb: “you are chopping a lentil”—something said of things that are endless and imaginary.”

Φακοῦ γωνίαν κρατεῖς• ἐπὶ τῶν ἀδυνάτων. παροιμία• Φακὸν κόπτεις• ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνηνύτων καὶ μὴ ὄντων λέγεται.


“Phôkos: A porpoise. But also a proverb: “A Feast of Phôkos.” This is used for those who accrue harm when they prepare a dinner-party. For there was a man named Phôkos who was trying to marry off his daughter. There were many courting here but when he prepared the feast and entertained the suitors he put off the wedding. Because the suitors were angry about this, they killed Phôkos at his own dinner-party”

Φῶκος. καὶ παροιμία• Φώκου ἔρανος• κατὰ τῶν εὐωχίας συναγόντων ἐπὶ τῷ ἑαυτῶν κακῷ• Φῶκος γάρ τις θυγατέρα ἔχων ἐπὶ γάμῳ, πολλῶν αὐτὴν μνηστευομένων, ἐράνους συνῆγε καὶ ἑστιῶν τοὺς μνηστῆρας ἀνεβάλλετο τὸν γάμον. ὀργισθέντες οὖν ἐκεῖνοι ἐν τῷ συμποσίῳ ἀπέκτειναν τὸν Φῶκον.

(Dis)repute from Hera? Etymologies for Herakles

In a recent post I came across a different etymology for Herakles. Below are the multiple possibilities explored in the Etymologicum Magnum


“Herakles. The hero. His name does not come from “Hera’s fame [Hêras kléos] as many claim, but more likely means’ ignominy thanks to Hera’ [Hêras akleâ]. For there are so many ways he was disreputable because of Hera.  When he was small, for example, Hera sent two snakes bound to kill him. He slaughtered those snakes. Or, perhaps, the name comes from lust and fame [eran kléos], since he was well known for that on the earth too. Or perhaps he was called that from the race of Neilos in the war of the giants, after he killed a nameless fire-breathing giant for Hera, he was named Herakles.

But others claim the name Herakles developed from service [êra], which often functions as a synonym for ‘help’, and fame [kléos]. For this he was called Alkeidês; but he was named Herakles for helping many people—which is what an oracle asserts when it says

Phoibos named you with the name Herakles—
For you will have eternal fame [kléos] for helping men [lit. bringing them êra].

Or the name comes from Hera, which is the goddess’ name and fame [kléos] resulted in Hero-kles like the names Hero-dotus, Hero-philos….[there follows a discussion of vowel reflexes and accent types]

῾Ηρακλῆς: ῾Ο ἥρως· οὐ παρὰ τὸ ἐκ τῆς ῞Ηρας  τὸ κλέος ἐσχηκέναι, ὡς οἱ πολλοὶ λέγουσιν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον παρὰ τὸ ἀπὸ τῆς ῞Ηρας ἀκλεᾶ εἶναι· ὅσον γὰρ κατὰ τὴν ῞Ηραν, ἄδοξος ἦν· μικροῦ γὰρ αὐτοῦ ὄντος, ἐπ’ αὐτὸν ἔπεμψεν ῞Ηρα δράκοντας ὀφείλοντας ἀνελεῖν αὐτόν· οὕσπερ αὐτὸς ἐφόνευσεν. ῍Η παρὰ τὴν ἔραν καὶ τὸ κλέος, ὁ ἐν τῇ γῇ ἔνδοξος. ῍Η ὅτι Νεῖλος ἐκ γενετῆς καλούμενος, ἐν τῷ κατὰ γιγάντων πολέμῳ, ἀνώνυμον ἕνα τῶν γιγάντων πυρίπνοον ἐπερχόμενον ῞Ηρᾳ φονεύσας, ῾Ηρακλῆς ὠνομάσθη.

῎Αλλοι δὲ, παρὰ τὴν ἦρα, τὴν σημαίνουσαν τὴν μετ’ ἐπικουρίας χάριν, καὶ τὸ κλέος, γέγονεν ῾Ηρακλῆς· πρὸ τούτου γὰρ ᾿Αλκείδης ἐκαλεῖτο· ἀλλ’ ἐκ τοῦ πᾶσι βοηθεῖν ἐκλήθη ῾Ηρακλῆς, ὡς καὶ ὁ χρησμὸς δηλοῖ, λέγων,


῾Ηρακλέην δέ σε Φοῖβος ἐπώνυμον ἐξονομάζει·
ἦρα γὰρ ἀνθρώποισι φέρων κλέος ἄφθιτον ἕξεις.

῍Η ἀπὸ τοῦ ῞Ηρα, ὃ σημαίνει τὴν δαίμονα, καὶ τοῦ κλέος, γίνεται ῾Ηροκλῆς, ὡς ῾Ηρόδοτος, ῾Ηρόφιλος· …

Herakles had a chiseled chin and chest even as an infant.

More Byzantine Etymologies: Kas(s)andra


From the introduction to the Scholia to Lykophron’s Alexandra by John Tzetzes and his brother Isaac:

“That is a sufficient beginning. Let us talk now about the title. Why did Lykophron call this poem the Alexandra? It stands apart from the rest of his collective writings. For I said before that he wrote many plays in the tragic form. The name Kasandra is said to derive from “manly helmet” [kasis + anêr] Hektor has—and is written in the Aeolic dialect with two sigmas. Alexandra is from avoiding or fleeing the company of men [aluksô+andras] or otherwise from warding off and helping men [aleksô+andras] and human beings through oracles. But these things are rather [cold?]; still, we have to record them because there are fools who are at a loss about these trifles. Here’s another: what is the reason that he is called Lykophron? They say it is because he is riddling and cunning; wolves are also wise, you see.”

᾿Αλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ἀρκούντως ἐρρέθη, λέξωμεν δὲ καὶ  περὶ τῆς ἐπιγραφῆς· διὰ τί Λυκόφρονος ᾿Αλεξάνδρα ἐπεγράφη τὸ παρὸν ποίημα; πρὸς ἀντιδιαστολὴν τῶν λοιπῶν τοῦ Λυκόφρονος συγγραμμάτων· εἶπον γὰρ ὅτι ξδ′ ἢ μϚ′ τραγωδιῶν ἐποίησε δράματα. Κασάνδρα δὲ λέγεται παρὰ τὸ κάσιν ἀνδρεῖον ἔχειν τὸν ῞Εκτορα αἰολικῶς δὲ γράφεται διὰ δύο ςσ ᾿Αλεξάνδρα δὲ ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἀλύξαι καὶ ἐκφυγεῖν τὴν τῶν ἀνδρῶν συνουσίαν ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἀλέξειν καὶ βοηθεῖν τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἤτοι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις διὰ τῶν χρησμῶν. ταῦτα δὲ καὶ ψυχρά εἰσιν, ὅμως διά τινας τῶν μωρῶν τῶν τοιαῦτα λῆρα ἀπορούντων γραπτέον καὶ ταῦτα. *ὡς* καὶ τὸ διὰ τί λέγεται Λυκόφρων; διὰ τὸ αἰνιγματωδῶς καὶ πανούργως λέγειν· καὶ γὰρ οἱ λύκοι πανοῦργοι.Cassandra

“Pas d’etymologie”: Ancient Traditions on the Lexical Roots of Erinys and Eris

On the discussion board for the course HeroesX, someone asked about the etymology of the word Erinys (Fury).  I had never really thought about this before, so I started to look into it.  The inquirer started by citing some decent etymological texts:

“For Ἐρινύες, Chantraine says there isn’t etymology (DEG p. 371 s. v. ἐρινύς); but A. Carnoy (Dictionnaire étymologique de la mythologie gréco-romaine, Louvain 1957) links the word to ἐρινύειν, arcadic form of ὀρίνω, to stir, raise; so Ἐρινύες should mean “the Furious”.”

I looked more deeply and found nothing really that satisfying.  But, since I enjoy a false etymology as much as anyone, I decided to share some findings here.  The Etymologicum Magnum, a text created in the 12th century in Byzantium, has some interesting things to say about the etymology of Erinys.

“Furies, vengeful goddesses of paternal transgressions. They pursue the children of those who have committed wrong. The name comes from the fact that they live in the earth [era, reconstructed from the form ἔραζε], which means they live in the earth.

Or, something that comes from the earth is called eranus, which becomes erinus. For the Fury is a khthonic goddess.

The name is also said to come from “completing curses” as if aranus (curse-bringer?) also becomes erinus, since she brings curses or fateful things to pass. Another explanation is that the particle eri [inseparable elsewhere as an intensifier] is added to “completing” [to anuein], since she “accomplishes greatly”.

Another explanation is that the name comes from “resting” [to elinuein], which means to be at peace, and that erinus forms from elinus, for the “one who is at peace”.  This is a construction based on an opposite idea, since she is not one who is actually at peace.”

᾿Ερινύες: Θεαὶ τιμωροὶ τῶν πατρικῶν ἀσεβημάτων, ἤγουν τῶν εἰς τοὺς γονεῖς ἁμαρτημάτων· παρὰ τὸ ἐν τῇ ἔρᾳ ναίειν, ὅ ἐστιν οἰκεῖν ἐν τῇ γῇ.

῍Η ἡ ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἀνερχομένη, ἐρανὺς, καὶ ἐρινύς· καταχθονία γὰρ ἡ δαίμων. ῍Η παρὰ τὸ τὰς ἀρὰς ἀνύειν, οἱονεὶ ἀρανύς τις οὖσα καὶ ἐρινὺς, ἡ τὰς ἀρὰς ἢ τὰ αἴσια ἀνύουσα καὶ ἐκτελοῦσα. ῍Η παρὰ τὸ ἐρι καὶ τὸ ἀνύειν, ἡ μεγάλως ἀνύουσα. ῍Η παρὰ τὸ ἐλινύειν, τὸ ἡσυχάζειν, γέγονεν ἐλινὺς καὶ ἐρινὺς, ἡ ἡσυχάζουσα, κατὰ ἀντίφρασιν, τουτέστιν ἡ μὴ ἡσυχάζουσα.

This image is on Pinterest. Seriously.
This image is on Pinterest. Seriously.
  1. I love the fact that there is an entire category for etymologies that come from the opposite of what something really is.
  2. I also love the fact that this text just throws everything out there.
  3. I had always tacitly assumed some connection with Eris, especially since in Hesiod (Works and Days and Theogony), Eris is associated with the earth. The Etymologicum Gudianum (and others) associated Eris with the act of speech: “Eris comes from “speaking” [eirô], which is the same as legô; this is a type of conflict that comes from words…

῎Ερις· παρὰ τὸ εἴρω, τὸ λέγω· ἡ διὰ λόγων φιλονεικία.

On Eris, Chantraine is similarly unhelpful, writing “Pas d’etymologie”…, although he points to ἐρέθω as a possible origin.

Any other ideas?

PS: Chantraine is available online! I cannot tell you how many car-trips, subway journeys, and other odysseys I have made in the past to consult this text.  Do the young know what charmed lives they are living?