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The Prehistory of Eternity

Alexander Dale

The prehistory of eternity

The Greek words meaning ‘always, forever’ are generally thought to derive from an originally acrostatic u-stem *h2oi̯u-, *h2ei̯u- ‘vital force, eternity’. From the same root we get Greek αἰών ‘time, lifetime’; Skt. áyu- ‘life, lifetime’; Avestan yauuaē ‘eternity’; and, as argued by Warren Cowgill, the Greek negative particle οὐ from *né . . . h2oi̯u (kwid) ‘not ever’. The zero-grade of the root compounded with the Hoffmann suffix *-h3on(h2) yields such forms as Vedic yúvā- and Latin juvenis, ‘young’.

            Within Greek there are numerous different forms attested for the adverb ‘always, for ever’, all of which are generally thought to derive from different pre-forms. Specifically: 1. αἰ(ϝ)εί from the locative of an s-stem *h2ei̯ṷ-es-i, which also furnishes Dor. αἰές, from αἰϝέσι; 2. αἰέν from the suffixless locative of an n-stem *h2ei̯ṷ-en-ø. 3. The Aeolic form ἄϊ is thought to represent a suffixless root with the ‘hic-et-nunc’ locatival suffix *i, *h2ei̯ṷ-i. 4. The Tarentine form αἰή is thought to reflect an old instrumental *h2ei̯ṷ-eh1. 5. Lastly, we have a Cypriot form u-wa-i-se (ὐϝαις), which Weiss following Watkins has interpreted as representing a zero-grade directive of *h2oi̯u-, namely *h2i̯u-h2e-i with the allative *-h2e and hic-et-nunc particle *-i.

Typologically it would be surprising to have this many different stem extensions of the same root with identical syntactic and semantic functions within one language, particularly given that the basic meaning of αἰεί, ‘always, forever’ can be projected back into PIE itself. We could thus be excused for wondering whether another explanation might be forthcoming.

In this paper I argue that all Greek forms can be traced back to an original semi-adverbial allative of the u-stem noun, *h2ei̯u-h2e-(i). Proto-Greek inherited an adverb *ai̯ṷa-(i) ‘always, forever’. Given the morphological and semantic proximity to its cognate *ai̯ṷon-, dat. *ai̯ṷenei̯, it is possible that the nominal element and case semantics in *ai̯ṷa-(i) were felt more prominently than in e.g. χαμαί < dhĝhm̥-h2e-(i) (where the relationship to χθών < dhéĝhōm is morphologically opaque), which would have favored analogical replacement of the obsolete allative ending with the dative termination *-ei̯, a process further facilitated by the absorption within the dative of the similarly direction oriented locative case. Following on from this it will be shown that all attested Greek forms can be derived from an original *h2ei̯u-h2e-(i) by transparent morpho-phonological and analogical processes.

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Greek and Latin Linguistics

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