M. CHRITI & E. TSOLAKOPOULOS: The philosophy of etymology in Orion

Maria Chriti (Centre for the Greek Language, Thessaloniki, Greece)

Elias Tsolakopoulos (Ionian University, Corfou, Greece)

The philosophy of etymology in the Περὶ ἐτυμολογιῶν of Orion of Thebes

This contribution aims at shedding light on the etymological practices which seem to have been followed in the etymological “lexicon” by the grammarian Orion of Thebes (5th c. AD). The direct textual transmission of this alphabetically arranged group of entries (rather short or more extensive) provides us only with a version of an epitome of the original work. The initial length and structure remains unknown. The title Περὶ ἐτυμολογιῶν given in one manuscript may be interpreted either as of a dictionary or of a treatise; in either case, Orion exploits earlier sources and, given that the Byzantine etymological dictionaries represent his indirect transmission, Orion’s entries need to be contextualized into the ancient tradition of etymological approaches. As it has been stressed by eminent contemporary scholars, such as D. Sedley (1998, 140-142) and I. Sluiter (2015, 1-4), ancient etymology regarded semantics: ancient etymologists were not interested in the reconstruction of a word, but in explaining the relation between a word and the respective meaning, a meaning which was taken for granted. In that sense, it is particularly interesting to investigate a text that dates back to an era which has been explored regarding the grammatical/philological tradition, but not concerning the philosophy of language. Orion’s etymological practices have never been evaluated from the perspective of their possible “ludicrous” character, or as revealing certain interpretations and considerations of his present philosophical milieu, following the nature of his previous respective treatments related to a “synchronic” and not a diachronic reflection on the bond between utterances and the respective meanings. Therefore, an attempt is made in this paper to estimate the extent to which Orion’s etymologies reveal philosophical and exegetical inquiries, despite the fact that the work was written by a grammarian. Just like most ancient “etymological discourses”, his approaches actually have an exegetical, interpretational and argumentative character, by rationalizing and presenting the motive of the “name-giver”. Orion is concerned with the causal connection between the signifier and the signified and endeavors to classify data of reality on the basis of their nominations. Thus, “correctness” of names is evaluated in the Περὶ ἐτυμολογιῶν according to the “motive” of the name-giver, while “successful” etymologies reveal that certain names were rightfully attributed to the respective contents. A characteristic example (combining both direct and indirect transmissions) of this practice is the entry “ἄνθος” from the Byzantine etymological dictionary Et. gen. α 882 L&L; this etymology is a word-play based on vocal sound similarities, which are related to physical qualities of the etymologized object. Hence Orion considers the issue of whether the existence of the same attributes in other objects demands the same nominations or not.