J.T. KATZ: Cratylan Particularities

Joshua T. Katz (Princeton University)

Cratylan Particularities

The subject of Plato’s Cratylus is ὄνοματα, for which the most usual translation across Greek texts is “names.”  The meaning of the word in this dialogue about language is, however, vexingly variable: sometimes it refers to proper names, sometimes to all nouns, and sometimes to words generally.  In this paper — a foray rather than a deep reading — I examine a few very particular aspects of what do and do not count as ὄνοματα for Socrates and Plato, exploring possible etymological and/or ludic ventures that involve the smallest elements of language: particles.  To be more specific, I consider three things: (1) what role some individual letters and sounds may play in the determination that certain words, like πῦρ and ὕδωρ, are underivable in Greek terms; (2) how discourse particles like μέν and such other little words as πάνυ may contribute to etymological pursuits; and (3) why Zeus is prepositionally interesting.