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Greek εἱαμενή

Alexander Nikolaev

Greek εἱαμενή

The word εἱαμενή ‘meadow’ is attested twice in the Iliad (4.483; 15.631) and goes out of use until its revival in Hellenistic poetry. There is also an apparently synonymous word ἴαμνος, found four times in Nicander’s Theriaca;[1] εἱαμενή and ἴαμνος have been considered variants of the same word, but all attempts to reconcile one with the other have been unsuccessful. The etymological dictionaries are agnostic as to their origin (Frisk: “dunkel”, Chantraine: “inconnue”, Beekes: “probably Pre-Greek”).

It is possible, however, that we are dealing with two different words. Lukaszewicz 1998 plausibly argued that ἴαμνος, used by Nicander in a description of Egypt (Th. 200), is an Egyptian loanword and compared Eg. ym ‘water; sea; basin’.[2] If ἴαμνος ‘watery meadow’ is unrelated to εἱαμενή, one may attribute such glosses as εἱαμεναί· τοὺς καθύγρους τόπους (Sch. A.R. 2.818 p. 189 Wendel) to a later contamination between two similar-sounding words and then venture to reexamine the etymology of εἱαμενή on its own terms.

The word was clearly poetic, and the initial εἰ- is best taken as metrical lengthening of original *ἑαμενή. Now, in Homer the word refers to a pasture: αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὥς τε λέων ὀλοόφρων βουσὶν ἐπελθών // αἵ ῥά τ’ ἐν εἱαμενῇ ἕλεος μεγάλοιο νέμονται (Il. 15.630–1). This paper argues that εἱαμενή may be compared to Vedic (sū-yávasa- ‘pasture’, gáv-yūti- ‘cow pasture’, together with which it goes back to the root *h1i̯eu̯h2- ‘to graze’[3] ( > Greek *heu̯a-). One can further theorize that in Greek there was a verb *ἕϝαμι ‘to put (cattle) to feed in a pasture’, *ἕϝαμαι ‘to feed on grass’ (intr.); its middle participle *ἑϝάμενος, - , -ον would mean ‘that which is grazing, feeding on grass’, hence ‘cattle’. This originally participial form underwent an accent shift comparable to that found in ἀσφόδελος ‘asphodel’ → ἀσφοδελὸς (λειμών) ‘meadow with asphodels on it, flowery meadow’: similarly, ἑαμενὴ (ποίη / βοτανή) ‘grassy meadow with cattle grazing on it’, hence ‘pasture’.


[1] For the meaning of εἱαμενή and ἴαμνος see Finzenhagen 1939: 117–8; Robert 1980: 11–15.

[2] The Egyptian word is itself a loanword from Semitic *yamm, see Vycichl 1983: 63.

[3] On this root see Schindler apud Krisch 1996: 28 n. 54 (contra Forssman 1987); EWAia 1.481; 2.403.

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Greek and Latin Linguistics

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