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By Harris, William

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Example text

D'Arcy Thompson warned us long ago in his work on Greek plants that names change frequently across linguistic frontiers. For an example, note Greek 'phegos' listed in LSJ as an oak (Quercus Aegilops) for Greek, while he same root turns up in Latin as 'fagus', clearly the same and related to OE bece, English 'beech'. But weren't we saying that 'oxua' documented for spears in Homer was also 'beech"? Testing by an etymology, we find the Latin cognate analog is 'ornus' which OLD notes as "a different kind of ash tree, the flowering ash "Fraxinus Ornus".

Ash'. In this confusion of woods, it would seem that although Homeric spears could have been made out of beech, it seems also possible on a linguistic and etymological basis, to consider that they might have been made of what 46 we now call in English 'ash'. Either wood has a suitable Modulus of Elasticity for slashing work in the field, with enough density and weight to serve as a throwing spear. The result of this dendritic digression on spear making in the Homeric and archaic periods? The words Ash and Beech have been so inextricably mixed from changes in name and also in the exact trees involved, that the exact nature of the spears which ancient fighters were supposed to throw doesn't make much difference in the interpretation of literary texts.

Now couple this friendly and gracious word of "favoring with a gift", with the object of the gift as "guest-gifts" or 'xenia', and you have as friendly a formula as the ancient Greek can imagine. But the add to the "guest gifts" the adjective "AWFUL" and the smiles vanish into thin air. The Greek world depended on guests' rights and hospitality as part of the operational scheme of a people continually moving around in the eastern end of the Mediterranean world and beyond. Not only was guestship a practical necessity for travel, but it was registered as holy protection under the name of Zeus Xenios as "Zeus the Guest God".

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Archilochus Fragments First poet after Homer by Harris, William


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