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The Quickening Course and Watery Ways: Deriving Greek κέλευθος ‘path’ from PIE *h1léwdh-

Todd Clary

The Quickening Course and Watery Ways: Deriving Greek κέλευθος ‘path’ from PIE *h1léwdh-  

The most commonly cited etymology for Greek κέλευθος ‘path, road’ derives the word from κελεύω ‘order, command’, ultimately from PIE *kel- ‘drive on, impel’, and further links κέλευθος with Lithuanian keliūta ‘footpath’ (Kretschmer 1932:253; Specht 1947:280; Dočkalová and Blažek 2011:306). However, as Fraenkel pointed out (1955:177), keliūta, internally derived in Lithuanian from kẽlias ‘way, street’, is most likely not connected to κέλευθος, and, according to Beekes (2010:668-9), κέλευθος remains without a satisfying etymology. In this paper I will argue for the attractiveness of partially revisiting older propositions of Brugmann (1897:28) and Pisani (1929:9) which invoked the PIE verbal root *h1léwdh- ‘climb, grow’ (Greek: ἐλεύσομαι, ἤλυθον, Vedic ródhati, Gothic liudan, etc.)

Brugmann proposed that κέλευθος resulted from a blending of κελεύω ‘drive on, order’ and ἐλεύσομαι ‘will go’ in an attempt to incorporate both the initial kappa and root final theta into one formulation. Pisani, on other hand, accounts for the kappa as the addition of the deictic particle *ke-, which tends to appear before motion verbs (cf. Latin ce-do, Oscan ce-bnust), prefixed to λευθ- in ἐλεύσομαι. Neither of these propositions is without problems: The type of blending proposed by Brugmann is difficult to parallel in Greek, and the semantics of κελεύω and ἐλεύσομαι seem to be rather divergent to have coalesced into one word. Pisani’s proposition is made problematic by the fact that the initial laryngeal in *h1léwdh- would actually require the prefixing of a zero-grade *k- to avoid laryngeal lengthening. But, while there is plenty of evidence for zero-grade -k- as an infix in verb paradigms, there is little to no evidence for it as a prefix.

Kretschmer (1932:253) dismissed Pisani’s connection of κέλευθος with ἐλεύσομαι partially on semantic grounds, but I contend that Pisani’s connection is actually made most attractive by the semantics of *h1léwdh-. A passage from the Rig Veda will illuminate this point.

ví yó vīrútsu ródhan mahitvā́ utá prajā́ utá prasū́ṣv antáḥ cíttir apã́ṃ dáme viśvā́yuḥ (1.67.9-10)

(Agni) who courses mightily in plants, as in the newborn child, so in fruitful (plants), long-lived animus in the house of waters.

As captured vividly in the figura etymologica, vīrútsu ví-ródhan, this passage suggests that rhodhati, the Sanskrit reflex of h1léwdh- denoted a non-concrete, possibly liquid motion, (originally water? cf. LIV: 248), which vivified, or ‘quickened’. In other words, *h1léwdh- was an agentive unergative naturally coupled with animate abstract subjects. Semantic movement to ‘grow’ from this positon becomes quite plausible, as does the semantic movement found in other derivatives of *h1léwdh-.

Greek clearly generalized the type of motion denoted by * h1léwdh- in ἐλεύσομαι, etc. (Kümmel 2000:436). However, Homeric uses of κέλευθος, especially the heteroclitic neuter κέλευθα, harken back to the old connection with liquid:

οἳ μὲν ἔπειτ᾽ ἀναβάντες ἐπέπλεον ὑγρὰ κέλευθα

Those, after getting on board, sailed upon the watery ways / ocean streams (Il.1.312 +)

On this basis and on several other levels, the semantics of κέλευθος point us toward connection with ἐλεύσομαι; but we still have the pesky problem of the word initial kappa. Excluding this kappa, κέλευθος would represent an e-grade thematic (*k- h1léwdh-o) of a fairly standard type. I argue that the least costly way of pre-supposing a k-έλευθος is by postulating a pre-historic junctural metathesis of kappa (eg. οὐκ έλευθα > οὐ κέλευθα). A similar event has been plausibly postulated for πολέμοιο γεφύρας > πολέμοιο γ’ εφύρας (Puhvel, 1976), and Greek does have several examples of synchronic variation from junctural metathesis of kappa, eg. ὄγχνη/κόγχνη ‘pear tree’ (see Reece, 2009:72-73 for more examples).

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Greek and Latin Linguistics

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