Greek in Italy

Project Research Blog

‘Greek in Italy’, the Lexicon of Liddell and Scott, and the ‘what’s-its-name, thingumbob’

Leave a comment

Please scroll down for the lighter and less technical part of this post…, namely the ‘thingumbob’…

Recently, a colleague and friend asked me why it was that Liddell-Scott-Jones (from hereon ‘LSJ’ and, as available through the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, ‘TLG LSJ’) accented τριακντακις ‘thirty-times’ proparoxytone, not τριακοντκις paroxytone like all other adverbs in -κις, ‘-times’. The short answer is that LSJ doesn’t. The misaccentuation suggests that TLG LSJ was tripped up by the abbreviated headwords of the printed edition of LSJ. All that was printed of the headword was -κ̆ις, its accent inferred from τριακοντά-δραχμοι to give τριακοντάκις (rightly). The classic rant on the abbreviation of headwords is John Chadwick’s own in BICS 11 (1994) 1-11, at 2. Whether the accent was placed on TLG LSJ’s headword automatically or manually, I do not know.

It was then that the entry for τρῐᾱκοντάμερος came to my attention:

Dor. word, dub. sens. in IG14.256.27 (Phintias Geloorum); cf. Jahresh.4 Beibl.21.’.

This inscription is from Phintias of the people of Gela, which was the settlement that ‘replaced’ Gela, the Rhodo-Cretan colony where Aeschylus had his lethal encounter with a tortoise: something of a hotspot of Greek in Italy).

Entries that contain ‘dub.sens.’ are always intriguing, and this one is especially so in that its general meaning, if not its precise application and referent, are clear from the elements that form this compound: the two stems seen in τριάκοντα ‘thirty’ and ἁ̄μέρᾱ (or, as here, ἀ-) ‘day’ [Attic ἡμέρᾱ]. All this was put right in the 1996 Revised Supplement, which adapted a comment in the 1968 Supplement: (as a new word) ‘τριακοντά̄μεροι, οἱ, prob. a board of officials performing duties for thirty days,…; cf. πεντάμεροι’. The original entry is then signalled for deletion.

Of greater interest (and amusement) and of no less relevance is the entry for τραγέλαφος ‘goat-stag’. Apart from ‘a what’s-its-name, thingumbob‘ (s.v. I 3), there is also the quaint charm of the transition from (s.v. I 1) ‘a fantastic animal, represented on Eastern carpets and the like‘ to (s.v. II) ‘later, a real animal of Arabia, or on the Phasis, prob. a kind of wild goat or antelope, LXX Jb.39.1, D.S.2.51, Plin.HN8.120, etc.‘.

This word is thought by some to have appeared on the Nile Mosaic of Palaestrina (s.v. Wikipedia), whose captions were published as IG XIV 1302 (but see also SEG XLV 1452)  and feature other lexical and animal rarities, including the non-standard form ἄρκος, ‘bear’, known from the Zenon papyri, a Carthaginian curse tablet, and the Greek Bible. The mosaic has been dated either to 120-110 BCE or to the time of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE). A large and high-resolution image of the mosaic is available through Wikimedia Commons.

In the detail below, the ‘lynx’, ΛΥΝΞ (not the standard spelling, λύγξ), is clear, as are the letters ΔΓΕΛΑΡΥ (underline for underdot to mark a letter as difficult to read). However, that label is not closely associated with a depiction of any animal.


Georg Kaibel, the editor of IG XIV 1302, conjectured [ΤΡ]<Α>ΓΕΛΑ<ΦΟ>[Σ], which requires a certain amount of charity from the viewer-reader and their acceptance of an invisible ‘thingumbob’.

The re-reading, <Α>ΓΕΛΑΡΧ[ΟΣ] (see SEG XLV 1452), the ‘leader of the pack’, makes better use of the letters that are visible. But, a pack of what, exactly? Perhaps, the leader (bottom left of the following detail) of the relatively-distant three hunters (bottom right).

leader of the pack

An amusing alternative is that this label continues that for the lynx, who, then, is the leader of the pack of monkeys depicted elsewhere.

For more on the mosaic itself as well as its captions, see P.G.P. Meyboom, The Nile Mosaic of Palaestrina: Early Evidence of Egyptian Religion in Italy (Leiden, New York, and Cologne: E.J. Brill, 1995). For the reading and re-reading, see Meyboom, The Nile Mosaic, 25 and 238-239.

Since the mosaic is thought (at some stage) to have depicted an elephant (Meyboom, the Nile Mosaic, 25), we may recall that some time ago, Katherine posted about words for ‘elephant’. I encountered those boves lucas while teaching Lucretius last term (DRN 5.1302) in relation to the remarkable compound anguimanus, ‘such that has a snake for a hand’: itself a lexical rarity (an accusative plural of a fourth-declension adjective to boot!) and once described, as one of my supervisors used to quote, as ‘an atavistic zoonym harking back to a protohabitat, proper to an animal with an prominent appendage of ophidian resemblance’.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s