We all know such words and phrases as trojan horse, achilles heel, and odyssey, which trace back to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. This week features less-familiar words that trace back to characters mentioned in the Iliad. We open with:
stentorian - extremely loud: a stentorian voice (after Stentor, a loud-voiced Greek herald in the Iliad)
quote:A personal note from Wordcrafter:
When student mumbled in uncertainty, Ms. Anderson, my old-maid eighth-grade teacher, would stand with arms akimbo, fix a baleful stare on him, and pronounce, "Stentorian tones, Mr. _______; stentorian tones."
Inconsistent definitions here:
AHD: a faithful follower who carries out orders without question
M-W: a soldier or a subordinate civil officer who executes cruel orders of a superior without protest or pity
The Myrmidons were the fierce tribe who accompained Achilles, their king, to the Trojan War. By fable they were ants changed into men (Greek myrmex = "ant"), suggesting a swarming horde.
Cassandra: one whose accurate warnings of doom fall on deaf ears
(note: AHD says "one who utters unheeded prophecies", omitting "accuracy")
After Cassandra, a daughter of King Priam of Troy. Apollo in infatuation with Cassandra bestowed upon her gave her the gift of prophecy, but when she spurned the god he converted the gift to a curse by fating that she would not be believed. Thus her curse was to know of future disasters and yet be powerless to prevent them.
The Iliad mentions Cassandra, but it is the Aenied that tell how she was helpless to warn her countrymen of the danger concealed in the Trojan Horse:
Yet, mad with zeal, and blinded with our fate,
We haul along the horse in solemn state;
Then place the dire portent within the tow'r.
Cassandra cried, and curs'd th' unhappy hour;
Foretold our fate; but, by the god's decree,
All heard, and none believ'd the prophecy." (Aeneid 2.323, Dryden translation)
The word is use, in a review of a biography of Rudyard Kipling:
The UK newspaper The Daily Mirror used to have a columnist who wrote under the name of Cassandra. In my youth I wondered why a middle-aged man (evidenced by his photo at the top of the article) would use a woman's name.
When I learnt the meaning of Cassandra a few years later, I wondered at the pessimism of a man who presumably thought that no-one would take any notice of what he wrote.
If he were still writing today, I would imagine that 90% of the Mirror's readership would ask themselves the first question. The other 10% wouldn't notice.
Of course in the case of the Daily Mirror's Cassandra someone was listening.
The libel case Liberace v. Daily Mirror and William Connor is quite famous.
I'll bet at the time William Connor (Cassandra) wished that nobody had been listening after all.
si hoc legere scis nimium eruditiones habes
Read all about my travels around the world here.
nestor or Nestor: a venerable and wise old man (AHD); one who is a patriarch or leader in a field. (M-W) After the character Nestor in the Iliad:
quote:(Lattimore translation. The Butler translation appears commonly on-line, but with an error: it ends with "see if between them they could find any way of the Achaeans from destruction", omitting the word "saving".)
hector (transitive): to intimidate or dominate in a blustering way
hector (intransitive): to behave like a bully; swagger
In the Iliad, Hector was the son of Priam, and the leading warrior defending Troy. On-line references confirm that his name is indeed the source of the english verb.
But the meaning has oddly mutated. In the Illiad, Hector is an admirable, noble character, a worth opponent. His name derives from Greek ekho, or "protect", and Homer often refers to him as Troy’s "protector". (Book XXIV 485-501 , after Hector's death [Ian Johnston modern translation]: Then Priam made his plea, entreating: "Godlike Achilles, I fathered the best sons in spacious Troy, yet I say now not one of them remains. But I had one left, guardian of our city, protector of its people. You've just killed him as he was fighting for his native country. I mean Hector. For his sake I've come here, to Achaean ships, to win him [his body] back from you.")
The word in use:
chimerical: merely imaginary; fanciful; fantastic; wildly or vainly conceived; as, chimerical projects. (M-W) Also: given to unrealistic fantasies; fanciful.(AHD)
M-W seems to have cribbed its definition from Johnson (1755): "imaginary; fanciful; wildly, vainly, or fantastically conceived".
Also chimera: a fanciful mental illusion or fabrication.
Chimera (greek mythology): a fire-breathing she-monster usually represented as a composite of a lion, goat, and serpent; from the Greek meaning "she-goat".
I stretch a bit to call this an "Iliad word". In Iliad Book VI, Glaucus proudly recites that he is the grandson of Bellerophon, who killed the Chimera.
The word in use:
Results of some googling:
"Chimera" has acquired another meaning, in modern-day cloning research. A chimera combines the DNA of two distinct species (as a sheep and a goat); a clone, in contrast, is genetically identical to the single "parent".
(Parenthetically: chimera is also sometimes used where the two genetic parents are of a single species -- as where the nuclear DNA from one sheep is inserted into a cell from another sheep. The progeny will appear identical to the former parent, like a clone, but will have the mitochodrial DNA [that is, the DNA outside the cell nucleus] from the latter parent. I haven't found a definition of "chimera" precise enough to include such a "single species chimera" but exclude an offspring produced by combining DNA of a mother and father in [ahem] the ordinary and familiar way.)
I found pending legislation in both Great Britain and Canada regarding human-animal chimeras.
The word in use:
"Princeton’s 'Smart Fans,' have railed at season’s end against thersitical cheers and jouncing the stands at basketball games." Princeton Spectator, Tuesday, March 3, 1998
thersitical - loud and abusive; foul-mouthed, scurrilous
An extremely rare word, not in AHD or M-W, from Iliad Book II:
quote:But reflect: Thersites is literature’s first common man to stand up against to abuses of the royalty. I view him as heroic. Homer (whose audience was the nobility, after all) gave him bad press, but put in his mouth a wholly valid argument ("We do all the work, and you get all the benefit"), to which the nobles can respond only by beating him.
"Clone" was originally a botanical term, referring to a plant produced by asexually means. H. J. Webber, in 1903, said "Clons..are groups of plants that are propagated by the use of any form of vegetative parts." (dictionary.oed.com)
The GardenWeb Glossary of Botanical Terms defines "clone" and "chimera" thusly:
A group of plants all originating by vegetative propagation from a single plant, and therefore genetically identical to it and to one another.
chimara (alt. chimera, alt. chimaera)
A plant formed of the tissues of two different species mingled together and being intermediate in characteristics between the two parents.
The Texas Tech University Plant and Soil Science Department says a chimera is a type of mutation:
"Bud sports may be expressed as chimeras which are mutations that occur in particular cell layers." That's a new definition to me, and I question its validity.
Switching from the plant to the animal kingdom, I looked up "chimera" in the Genome Glossary (from the Human Genome Project Information site):
Chimera (pl. chimaera)
An organism that contains cells or tissues with a different genotype. These can be mutated cells of the host organism or cells from a different organism or species.
I also found out that a chimera is any fish of the family Chimæridæ (rabbit-fish).
tinman: "Chimera (pl. chimaera) An organism that contains cells or tissues with a different genotype. These can be mutated cells of the host organism or cells from a different organism or species."
Yesterday NPR radio had a fascinating story on human chimeras. It's suspected that the phenomenon is much more common than previously supposed, but is only detected in extraordinary circumstances such as in the story.
A woman needed a kidney transplant, so she and her sons were given genetic testing for possible match. Incredibly, her gene type was inconsistent with her being their mother.
It was not a matter of "switched at birth". Further testing revealed that she was a chimera. Apparantly her mother had conceived fraternal twin girls, but the fertilized eggs had combined in utero to develop a single individual - some of whose cells bore the genes of one "girl," and some of the other. Thus genetically she was two separate persons, in one body. The cells her sons inherited from her were from one girl; the cells in her genetic test for the transplant happened to be from the other.
I highly recommend the 8½ minute audio of the broadcast.
And by the way, I learned that chimera is pronounced ky-MEE-ra.
[This message was edited by Hic et ubique on Tue Aug 12th, 2003 at 7:51.]