Ancient and Medieval Greek Etymology
eBook - ePub

Ancient and Medieval Greek Etymology

Theory and Practice I

Arnaud Zucker,Claire Le Feuvre

  1. 350 páginas
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Ancient and Medieval Greek Etymology

Theory and Practice I

Arnaud Zucker,Claire Le Feuvre

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This volume on Greek synchronic etymology offers a set of papers evidencing the cultural significance of etymological commitment in ancient and medieval literature. The four sections illustrate the variety of approaches of the same object, which for Greek writers was much more than a technical way of studying language. Contributions focus on the functions of etymology as they were intended by the authors according to their own aims. (1) "Philosophical issues" addresses the theory of etymology and its explanatory power, especially in Plato and in Neoplatonism. (2) "Linguistic issues" discusses various etymologizing techniques and the status of etymology, which was criticized and openly rejected by some authors. (3) "Poetical practices of etymology" investigates the ubiquitous presence of etymological reflections in learned poetry, whatever the genre, didactic, aetiological or epic. (4) "Etymology and word-plays" addresses the vexed question of the limit between a mere pun and a real etymological explanation, which is more than once difficult to establish. The wide range of genres and authors and the interplay between theoretical reflection and applied practice shows clearly the importance of etymology in Greek thought.

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De Gruyter

Part I: Etymological Practices and Philosophical Issues

Naming the Art, or the Art of Naming: The Etymology of τέχνη (technē) in Plato’s Cratylus

Marco Romani Mistretta

1 Introduction

Is there, for Plato, an art of naming?1 And what about etymology, the practice of analyzing names into their originary, fundamental components? Is etymology itself an art? These and related questions will be at the core of my discussion, which focuses on the Cratylus from the perspective of Plato’s conception of art and craftsmanship. First of all, I shall examine the etymology of the word for ‘craft’ itself (τέχνη) provided by Socrates. Through a study of its implications for the theory of language outlined in the dialogue, I intend to show that, besides being deeply intertwined with etymological inquiry, the namegivers’ activity is regarded by Plato as dependent upon philosophical dialectic.

2 The etymology of τέχνη

In the Cratylus, the etymological analysis of τέχνη is part of a series of etymologies concerning morally or intellectually connotated names (such as φρόνησις, γνώμη, δικαιοσύνη, ἀνδρεία, etc.).2 The noun τέχνη itself is introduced by Socrates as one of the ‘many things left to examine, among those that appear to be serious’ (σπουδαῖα). Socrates then etymologizes it compositionally, based on phonetic affinity, as originating from the roots of ἔχειν and νοῦς: hence the meaning ‘possession of intelligence’, or ‘holding onto intelligence’.
ΣΩ. […] ἀλλ’ οὐ γὰρ ἐπισκοπεῖς με ὥσπερ ἐκτὸς δρόμου φερόμενον ἐπειδὰν λείου ἐπιλάβωμαι· ἐπίλοιπα δὲ ἡμῖν ἔτι συχνὰ τῶν δοκούντων σπουδαίων εἶναι.
ΕΡΜ. Ἀληθῆ λέγεις.
ΣΩ. Ὧν γ’ ἔστιν ἓν καὶ “τέχνην” ἰδεῖν ὅτι ποτὲ βούλεται εἶναι.
ΕΡΜ. Πάνυ μὲν οὖν.
ΣΩ. Οὐκοῦν τοῦτό γε ἕξιν νοῦ σημαίνει, τὸ μὲν ταῦ ἀφελόντι, ἐμβαλόντι δὲ οὖ μεταξὺ τοῦ χεῖ καὶ τοῦ νῦ καὶ <τοῦ νῦ καὶ> τοῦ ἦτα;
ΕΡΜ. Καὶ μάλα γε γλίσχρως, ὦ Σώκρατες.
ΣΩΜ Ὦ μακάριε, οὐκ οἶσθ’ ὅτι τὰ πρῶτα ὀνόματα τεθέντα κατακέχωσται ἤδη ὑπὸ τῶν βουλομένων τραγῳδεῖν αὐτά περιτιθέντων γράμματα καὶ ἐξαιρούντων εὐστομίας ἕνεκα καὶ πανταχῇ στρεφόντων, καὶ ὑπὸ καλλωπισμοῦ καὶ ὑπὸ χρόνου. ἐπεὶ ἐν τῷ “κατόπτρῳ” οὐ δοκεῖ [σοι] ἄτοπον εἶναι τὸ ἐμβεβλῆσθαι τὸ ῥῶ; ἀλλὰ τοιαῦτα οἶμαι ποιοῦσιν οἱ τῆς μὲν ἀληθείας οὐδὲν φροντίζοντες, τὸ δὲ στόμα πλάττοντες, ὥστ’ ἐπεμβάλλοντες πολλὰ ἐπὶ τὰ πρῶτα ὀνόματα τελευτῶντες ποιοῦσιν μηδ’ ἂν ἕνα ἀνθρώπων συνεῖναι ὅτι ποτὲ βούλεται τὸ ὄνομα· ὥσπερ καὶ τὴν Σφίγγα ἀντὶ “φικὸς” “σφίγγα” καλοῦσιν, καὶ ἄλλα πολλά (Crat. 414b2–d5).3
SOCR. […] But don’t you perceive how I am, so to speak, driven off the race-course as soon as I reach smooth ground? Yet many things, of the sort that seem serious, still remain to be examined.
HERM. It is true.
SOCR. One of these is to see what “craft” (τέχνη) might mean.
HERM. Yes, indeed.
SOCR. Now, doesn’t this signify “holding on to intelligence” (ἕξις νοῦ), once you take out the taû and insert an between the cheî and the and between the and the ȇta?
HERM. Yes, Socrates, but with great difficulty.
SOCR. My dear friend, don’t you know that, by now, the first given names have been altogether buried by those who wanted to theatricalize them by adding and removing letters for the sake of euphony and by turning them around in all sorts of ways, and also by embellishment and time? As for the “mirror” (κάτοπτρον), doesn’t it seem strange to insert a rhô? But such things, I believe, are the work of those who care nothing for the truth, but shape the mouth in such a way that, inserting many new elements into the first names, they end up preventing any human being from understanding what the name means in the first place: so, for instance, they call the Sphinx “σφίγξ” rather than “φίγξ”, and so on and so forth.
When Hermogenes expresses his rather understandable scepticism concerning Socrates’ etymological explanation (καὶ μάλα γλίσχρως),4 Socrates goes on to explain that the original phonetic shape of the word has been obscured by subsequent embellishments,5 operated over time6 by people who did not care so much for the ‘truth’ expressed by language as they did for language’s potential to be ‘theatricalized’ for the sake of aesthetic pleasure.7 The wise man, on the other hand, must always have τὸ μέτριον and τὸ εἰκός in view when establishing the shape of names:8 a preoccupation with truth is what distinguishes good craftsmen of language from bad ones.
Indeed, one might intuitively understand etymology (a term never used by Plato) as a heuristic search for truth through language, whereby language itself is abstracted from its ordinary use in everyday communication and considered in its pure, originary form. Conceived in this way, etymology seems to presuppose a kind of primeval truth inherently embedded within the fabric of language, which the expert etymologist has to unravel. Throughout the Cratylus, the main issue at stake is not so much whether names are natural or conventional, but precisely whether human language has, in and of itself, any direct access to the knowledge of truth. The Cratylus can thus be read as an investigation of the relationship between linguistic inquiry, construed as a form of specialized knowledge, and philosophy. In this regard, it is striking that very few interpreters to date have tried to relate the etymological passage on τέχνη to the fundamental issue of specialized knowledge in the dialogue and in Plato’s epistemology more generally.9
The importance of the craft analogy in the Cratylus is readily acknowledged when one considers its ‘framing’ role within the dramatic structure of the dialogue. The motif appears time and again in both the opening and the closing scene of the piece,10 thus lying outside the two main ‘elenctic’ sections in which Socrates refutes Hermogenes’ conventionalism and Cratylus’ naturalism respectively. Throughout the dialogue, craftsmanship itself is the operative mode...


  1. Title Page
  2. Copyright
  3. Contents
  4. Introduction
  5. Part I: Etymological Practices and Philosophical Issues
  6. Part II: Linguistic Issues
  7. Part III: Poetical Practices of Etymology
  8. Part IV: Etymology and Word-Plays
  9. Index Notionum
  10. Index Nominum
  11. Index Verborum
  12. Index Locorum