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Greek and the Love of Words

Over at the LTW Mentor yahoo group, Lisa asked about the varieties of names used for gods and heroes. I wrote this in response and thought people mind find it interesting here too.

You’re going to run into two basic problems with names and characters:

1. Roman vs. Greek
2. Changes over time

Polydeuctes and Pollux are an example of the first, polydeukes being the Greek and Pollux being the Roman name. You see that with some of the Olympians as well, such as Zeus=Jupiter (Zeus Pater), Athena=Minerva, etc.

On the second, it’s hard to keep track of this. The Greeks did not have an authoritative scripture that told them the truth about their gods. So the stories evolved over time, especially before writing. An example of this would be Bacchus (Roman Dionysius), who was not even an Olympian god at the time of Homer.

D’Aulaire apparently leans more on the Romans and Colum leans more on the Greeks.

I would guess you could find some sort of chart on line of the various gods, heroes, etc. that would be easy to use. The Roman names are more commonly used in our western tradition, but the advantage of knowing the Greek names is that they tend to carry more etymological (word roots) value.

For example, Herakles = Hercules. Herakles means something like “the glory of Hera”. I don’t know if Hercules means anything particularly.

I met a guy at church a few weeks ago who helped me appreciate this even more. His name is Demetrios and he moved here from Crete. He lived walking distance from the digs at Knossos and would go there for walks as a kid (are you screaming a little bit inside?).

He told me that De comes from the Greek for earth (Ge or Gaea now) and metrios comes from the Greek for mother, which actually goes back to the Greek for womb (matrix). So Demetrios means earth-mother or, by extension, life-giving earth.

I love stuff like that.

That is why Persephone’s mother is called Demeter.

If you love words, how can you not love Greek?!

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