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“Godlike Askanios, from Faraway Askania”, or the Anatolian Connection of an Eponymous Hero

Milena Anfosso

Harvard University – Center for Hellenic Studies

In Iliad 2.862-3 the Phrygians appear as allies of the Trojans led by Phorkys and Askanios “from faraway Askania”. Even if Phorkys and Askanios are not actually Phrygian anthroponyms (Innocente 1997; Brixhe 2013), the PIE etymology of Phorkys is confirmed (Wathelet 1988, s.v.). Concerning Askanios, Wathelet (1988, s.v.) identified it as a name of foreign origin, derived from the toponym Askania. But where is Askania? And can an etymology of both the toponym and the eponym be provided?

Strabo (12.4.8) localized Askania in Bithynia, as a region surrounding Lake İznik. The Geographer stated that it is impossible to find another “Askanian lake” elsewhere in Anatolia. However, Arrian (1.29.1) said that Alexander encountered another “Askanian lake” characterized by salt water traveling from Pisidia to Phrygia. According to Labarre and Özsait (2018), both the description of the route taken by Alexander and the water’s chemical composition confirm that the lake in question is Lake Burdur. If Ἀσκάνιος was etymologically related to PIE *salsko-, 'salt' (Carnoy 1959:223), then the Phrygians of the Iliad would come from the region of Lake Burdur, which is salt and “far away” from Troy. However, this etymological hypothesis must be rejected, because the other lake bearing the same name “Askanian”, i.e. Lake İznik, is not salt. What do these two lakes have in common?

I propose to reconstruct Ἀσκάνιος as *aska-(w)ani-os, where the first element could be identifiable as Hittite āška-, 'door', comparable with the Sumerogram KÁ(.GAL), literally 'door of the city', as attested in the oldest Hittite texts. Kloekhorst (2007, s.v., following Oettinger) suggested that Hittite āška- derived from a hypothetical PIE *h2os-ko-, also related to the verb ḫaš(š)-, ḫeš(š)-, 'to open'. However, since the preform involves *h2-, the phonological outcome of PIE *h2os-ko- in Hittite should have been **hāška-, and not āška-. This special treatment according to which laryngeal-loss preceding *o is allegedly regular (Kloekhorst 2006) is far from being widely accepted. Thus, for the moment, Puhvel’s hypothesis (1984, s.v.) of āška- as a word of indigenous Anatolian origin, with no known parallels elsewhere, is preferable.

From a semantic point of view, the epithet Askenos of the god Men as worshipped in Antioch of Pisidia (Labarre 2010) can confirm the idea of 'door, opening': he had the role of a “gatekeeper” who assured access to a new life. Thus, in order to justify a toponym meaning 'door, opening' for a lake, āška- should refer to the status of water as a passageway. More specifically, Erbil and Mouton (2012) emphasized the importance of water in Hittite cultic activities related to the netherworld. In this respect, both Lake Burdur and Lake İznik are 'openings'. However, since Hellanicus of Mytilene (FrGrHist 4F31) described Askania as a marshy region, and since this description fits the surroundings of Lake İznik better, the latter seems a better candidate. Either way, my proposal provides new evidence for the Anatolian substrate of both the toponym and the eponym.

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