In a choral ode from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, we find a folk etymology implied for Helen’s name. Where I have translated “killer”, the Greek has versions of the aorist of αἵρεω (εἶλον) which, without its augment looks like the beginning of Helen’s name (ἑλ-).
Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696
“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois
For a bloody strife.”
Ancient etymologies do not follow this Aeschylean play.
“Helenê. From attracting [helkein] many to her beauty. Or it is from helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos].”
“Helenê: A heroine. From helô,helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos]. Or because she was thrown in a marshy [helôdei] place by Tyndareus once she obtained some divine prescience and she was taken back up by Leda. Helenê was named from pity [heleos].”
Modern linguistics show that Helen’s name is just really hard to figure out.
Some Modern Material
In Lakonia, Helen was original spelled with a digamma. (And this may have extended to Corinth and Chalcidice too Cf. R. Wachter Non-Attic Vase Inscriptions 2001, §251).
74 Von Kamptz 1958, 136 suggests that her name is a “cognate of σέλας” to evoke a sense of “shining”, as in her beauty. Cf. Kanavou 2015, 72
Vedic Saranyu: Skutsch 1987, 189; Puhvel 1987, 141–143 (The initial breathing in Greek often points to a lost initial *s but the digamma in certain dialects confuses this) The Vedic name means swift. The PIE root suggested here is *suel-.
Helen has variously been suggested as coming from a vegetation goddess (see Helena Dendritis, Paus. 3.19.9–10; Herodotus 6.61; cf. Skutsch 1987) or a goddess of light.
“Apopholios properly means someone who is not worthy to be numbered among men as a complete person, one who is lacking the use of words or deeds for the proper occasions. They also call schools phôleoi. Therefore, someone who has not gone to school is called useless, i.e. unschooled”
φωλεύεω, “to lurk in a hole or a den”….“to lie hidden”
More Etymologies: Notes (from Perseus)
 ἀποφώλιος. The derivation of this word is most uncertain; it is commonly compounded of “ἀπὸ-ὄφελος” [from ophellos, “use”], while others refer it to a root “φα”, ‘to blow,’ or to “ἀπάφεσθαι”, ‘to cheat.’ Autenrieth proposes to refer the latter part of the word to the same root as “φύω” and “φώς”, so as to mean, ‘grown out of shape.’
Crapulous:def. 2: Sick from excessive indulgence in liquor.
From the Suda:
“Kraipalê: The pounding that comes from drinking too much wine. We also have the participle “carousing” which is when someone acts poorly because of drinking, or just being drunk. It derives from the word “head” (kara) and “pound” (pallein). Or, it could also come from screwing up (sphallesthai) timely matters (kairiôn)
Kraipalôdês: “Prone to drunkenness”: The ancients knew well the weaknesses of the spirit, weather it was a person who was prone to excessive drinking or a love-seeker who has his brain in his genitals.”
“Wine (being of a wet nature) stretches those who are slow and makes them quick, but it tends to restrain those who are quick already. On that account, some who are melancholic by nature become entirely dissipated in drunken stupors (kraipalais). Just as a bath can make those who are all bound up and stiff more readily able to move, so does it check those who are already movable and loose, so too does wine, which is like a bath for your innards, accomplish this same thing.
Why then does cabbage prevent drunkenness (kraipale)? Either because it has a sweet and purgative juice (and for this reason doctors use it to clean out the intestines), even though it is itself of a cold nature. Here is a proof: doctors use it against exceptionally bad cases of diarrhea, after preparing it by cooking it, removing the fiber, and freezing it. It happens in the case of those suffering from the effects of drunkenness (kraipalonton) that the cabbage juice draws the wet elements, which are full of wine and still undigested, down to their stomachs, while the body chills the rest which remains in the upper part of the stomach. Once it has been chilled, the rest of the moist element can be drawn into the bladder. Thus, when each of the wet elements has been separated through the body and chilled, people are likely to be relieved of their drunkenness (akraipaloi). For wine is wet and warm.”
“Those who are suffering bodily from drinking and being hungover can find relief from sleeping immediately, warmed with a cover. On the next day, they can be restored with a bath, a massage, and whatever food does not cause agitation but restores the warmth dispelled and lost from the body by wine.”
“But why am I standing here, a sweating fool?
Maybe I should leave here for Venus’ temple to sleep off this hangover
I got because I drank more than I intended?
Neptune soaked us with the sea as if we were Greek wines
And he hoped to relieve us with salty-beverages.
Shit. What good are words?”
sed quid ego hic asto infelix uuidus?
quin abeo huc in Veneris fanum, ut edormiscam hanc crapulam,
quam potaui praeter animi quam lubuit sententiam?
quasi uinis Graecis Neptunus nobis suffudit mare,
itaque aluom prodi sperauit nobis salsis poculis;
quid opust uerbis?
Plautus, Stichus 226-230
“I am selling Greek moisturizers
And other ointments, hangover-cures
Little jokes, blandishments
And a sycophant’s confabulations.
I’ve got a rusting strigil, a reddish flask,
And a hollowed out follower to hide your trash in.”
uel unctiones Graecas sudatorias
uendo uel alias malacas, crapularias;
ac periuratiunculas parasiticas;
robiginosam strigilim, ampullam rubidam,
parasitum inanem quo recondas reliquias.
Advice more useful the day before
John of Damascus, Sacra Parallela 96.161:
“When the membranes become full of the vapors which wine produces when it is vaporized, the head is stricken with unbearable pains. No longer can it stay upright upon the shoulders, but it constantly drops this way and that, slipping around upon its joints. But who would say such things to those stricken by wine? Their heads are heavy from drunkenness (kraipale), they nod off, they yawn, they see through a fog, and they feel nauseous. On that account, they do not listen to their teachers yelling out to them all of the time. Don’t get drunk on wine, in which there is profligacy. Therein lie trembling and weakness, the breath is beaten out by immoderate indulgence in wine, the nerves are slackened, and the entire mass of the body is put into disorder. “
In a post, Palaiophron talks about seeing me lecture and kindly does not make it clear that when a student first asked me for the etymology of Nausikaa, I was flabbergasted and admitted it. The context was a discussion of the names Nausithoos (“swift-in-ships”) and Nausinoos (“ship-minded”) in the Homeric and Hesiodic traditions. Why wouldn’t I think that the offering of two etymologies might prompt an audience member to wonder about a third, when I mentioned the name as a parallel?
The embarrassing truth is that for some unknown reason I had never really thought about the meaning of the name Nausikaa. So, on the spot, I suggested Ναυσι+ καίω for something like “ship-burner”. Palaiophron rightly reacted that this would be preposterous for the narrative of the Odyssey and eventually dug up the records of the ancients who tied the name to either a form of καίνυμι (to excel, or surpass) or from κοσμέω (to arrange, adorn).
So, he cites Pseudo-Zonaras, in his Lexicon, writes: “Nausikaa. Excelling in ships.” (Ναυσικάα. ταῖς ναυσὶ κεκασμένη) confirmed by Etymologicum Magnum which adds Nausikaa: “Excelling (that is, honored [or, an ornament to?]). Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη). Kallierges repeats this (598.28): Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη) ταῖς ναυσί.
Someone asked me to put together a post on nostos. Here’s what I got. I am happy to add anything someone else can find. This is far from exhaustive.
The Greek noun nostos (“homecoming”) is mostly reconstructed as a reflex of a verbal root neomai (“to come or go”) but its semantic range drifts to include ideas of salvation and rescue.
From Beekes’ Etymological Dictionary of Ancient Greek (2010)
In early Greek poetry, nostos is a song that is about homecoming. On this, see Nagy 1999 , 97; Murnaghan 2002, 147. Douglas Frame (1978) argues that it also means “return to light and life” whereas Anna Bonifazi adds “salvation not death”. For more on the nostoi as a tradition, see the discussion and bibliography in Barker and Christensen 2015. Gregory Nagy surveys the meaning of the term nostos in the Odyssey as return and a song of homecoming in his Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.
In later Greek, the term retained much of this meaning but, as I will show below, it can also mean “sweetness”. The thematic and proverbial power of the poetic tradition seems to have kept this specialized meaning as primary as the language developed.
From E.A. Sophocles “Dictionary of Byzantine Greek”
Our English word nostalgia comes from a post-classical Latin compound which has deep resonance with Greek epic, especially Odysseus. Odysseus has thematic associations with algea (neuter plural for algos, “grief, pain”). Our modern meaning of “acute longing for familiar surroundings” or “sentimental longing for a period of the past (OED online)” may draw on ancient poetic associations. A nostos is a return to the home, which is symbolically a return to the past. Ultimately, it is partly a futile wish because neither home nor person (neither the past, nor the rememberer) remain the same.
Nostalgia was originally coined by Johannes Hofer in 1688 for a pathological mental disorder, a type of mania that involved longing for the past. Some modern psychological studies still examine the phenomenon. It has been described as both parafunctional in undermining a sense of well-being and rootedness in the future (Verplanken 2012) and as a useful resource of memory which can help reinforce identity against existential threats (Routledge et al 2012 and Sedikedis and Wildschut 2016).
The ancient etymological dictionaries pretty much provide the same information as the Byzantine Suda:
Suda, Nu 500
“Nostos: The return to home. From the sweetness of a homeland. Or it comes from the giving of flavor. But also “the poets who sang the songs of Return follow Homer to the extent they are capable. It seems that not only one poet composed and wrote the homecoming of the Achaeans, but some others did too.
“Homecoming: in regular use it is “sweetness”, applied to edibles. This comes from the [sweetness] of returning and coming back again home. From the sweetness of your homeland, for nothing is sweeter than your fatherland, according to Homer. From nostos in customary use we also have nostimon, which can mean “pleasant”, “sweet”. And there is a certain god, Eunostos, a divinity of the mill. The poetic term nostos comes from neô [to go], in, for example “now I am not going home.” This means “I do not return” [epanerkhomai]. There is also the form nostô, which provides the compounds palinostô, and aponostô.”
“Epikhairekakía: is pleasure at someone else’s troubles”
ἐπιχαιρεκακία δὲ ἡδονὴ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς
Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 7. 114
“Pleasure is irrational excitement at gaining what seems to be needed. As a subset of pleasure, are elation, pleasure at someone else’s pain (epikhairekakía) and delight, which is similar to turning (trepsis), a mind’s inclination to weakness. The embrace of pleasure is the surrender of virtue.”
“There are some vices whose names are cloaked with evil, for instance, pleasure at evils [epikhairekakía], shamelessness, and envy; and there are deeds too: adultery, theft, and manslaughter. All these things and those of this sort are called evil on their own, it is not an indulgence in them or an improper use that is wrong.”
“Terra (earth) is, the same as humus (soil). Thus, they say that Ennius meant “to the earth” when he said: “they were striking the soil with their elbows”. Because the earth is soil, the man who is dead and covered with earth (terra) is said to be inhumed (humatus).
Based on this correlation, if some Roman is cremated and if his burial place is not covered with clods of earth or if a bone has been excluded for the purification of the family of the dead, the family remains in mourning until the bone or body is covered by soil (humus) for the purpose of purification—the period of time during which, as the priests say, the body is uncovered [or exhumed? Inhumatus]. Also, a man who inclines toward the soil (humus) is called “more humble”; the lowest character is called most humble (humillimus) because the humus (soil) is the lowest thing in the world.”
Terra, ut putant, eadem et humus; ideo Ennium in terram cadentis dicere: Cubitis pinsibant humum; et quod terra sit humus, ideo is humatus mortuus, qui terra obrutus; ab eo qui Romanus combustus est, si in sepulcrum, eius abiecta gleba non est aut si os exceptum est mortui ad familiam purgandam, donec in purgando humo est opertum (ut pontifices dicunt, quod inhumatus sit), familia funesta manet. Et dicitur humilior, qui ad humum, demissior, infimus humillimus, quod in mundo infima humus.
“Aristotle defines the period in this way: The period is a statement which has beginning and an end. He has defined it very well and properly. For, saying the word “period” emphasizes that it begins in a place and ends in a place and is moving toward some goal, like runners once they take off, since the end of the race is already clear to them from the beginning.
This is where the name “period” comes from, an analogy from the circular paths which wind around to an end. Generally speaking, a period is nothing other than a certain kind of composition of words. If you take away its arrangement and circular nature, the subjects remain the same but it is no longer a period.”
Greek kôlon (κῶλον) can mean body part (as in segment, member), so isocolonic can mean having equal-lengthed phrases or equal-lengthed limbs. But our colon (as in the segment between intestines and anus) comes from Greek kolon (κόλον). To make matters more confusing, later Greek, influenced by the closeness of the two, does present kôlon for the body part.
Here’s Beekes Etymological Dictionary 2010 on each:
“But no grief over the Trojans weighs as heavy on me,
Not even for Hekabê herself or lord Priam or
Any of my brothers who have died in their great, fine numbers
In the dust at the hands of wicked men,
As my grief for you, when one of the bronze-dressed Akhaians
Will lead you off and steal away your day of freedom.”
“So glorious is the reclamation of freedom that not even death should be avoided when freedom must be regained.”
Ita praeclara est recuperatio libertatis ut ne mors quidem sit in repetenda libertate fugienda
Naevius, fr. 5-6
“I have always considered freedom more powerful than money.”
potioremque habui libertatem multo quam pecuniam.
Sidonius, Letters 7.7
“We have been made slaves as the price of others’ security”
facta est servitus nostra pretium securitatis alienae
Sallust, Second Letter to Caesar 12
“I consider freedom more precious than fame”
Libertatem gloria cariorem habeo
Demades On the Twelve Years 45
“Freedom is not well prepared for espionage”
Ἐλευθερία ὠτακουστὴν οὐκ εὐλαβεῖται.
[also proposed via twitter: “freedom does not respect eavesdropping”; more literal, less provocative!]
Cicero, Letters to Brutus 5.2
“I [said] everything for the sake of freedom: without peace, it is nothing. I used to believe that peace itself could be achieved through war and weapons.”
ego omnia ad libertatem, qua sine pax nulla est. pacem ipsam bello atque armis effici posse arbitrabar.
“This is the nature of the crowd: it serves humbly or rules arrogantly. Freedom, which is between these two things, they cannot manage to take or keep moderately. And there is no lack of indulgent assistants of their rage, men who provoke eager and unbalanced minds to blood and murder.”
Ea natura multitudinis est: aut servit humiliter aut superbe dominatur; libertatem, quae media est, nec suscipere modice nec habere sciunt; et non ferme desunt irarum indulgentes ministri, qui avidos atque intemperantes suppliciorum animos ad sanguinem et caedes inritent;
“It is impossible to be free if you are a slave to the senses and ruled by them” Attributed to Pythagoras
[The grammar is a little strange in this one, but I think the translation is right. Michael. Apostol provides a slightly different version: τῷ δὲ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι τῆς Θερσίτου παῤῥησίας ἔλαττον ἔμελλεν, ἢ χελώνῃ μυῶν. Here I prefer the dative χελώνῃ but not ἔλαττον ἔμελλεν]
Tacitus, Histories 1.16
“You will be ruling over a people who cannot endure total servitude, nor total freedom.”
sed imperaturus es hominibus qui, nec totam servitutem pati possunt nec totam libertatem.
Epicurus (Gnom. Vat. Epic, fr. 77)
“Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency”
Τῆς αὐταρκείας καρπὸς μέγιστος ἐλευθερία.
Publilius Syrus, 61
“To accept a bribe is to offer freedom for sale”
Beneficium accipere libertatem est vendere.
Epictetus, Diss 1.12.10
“What, then, is freedom insanity? May it not be so, for freedom and insanity do not overlap!”
“What is the profit of these beliefs? The very thing which is the most noble and ennobling for those who are truly educated, tranquility, lack of fear, freedom. For we must not trust the masses who say that it is only possible for the free to be educated. No, we must heed the philosophers who say that only the educated can be free.”
Old English freodom “power of self-determination, state of free will; emancipation from slavery, deliverance;” see free (adj.) + -dom. Meaning “exemption from arbitrary or despotic control, civil liberty” is from late 14c. Meaning “possession of particular privileges” is from 1570s. Similar formation in Old Frisian fridom, Dutch vrijdom, Middle Low German vridom. Freedom-rider recorded 1961 in reference to civil rights activists in U.S. trying to integrate bus lines.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” Kris Kristofferson “Me and My Bobby McGee”