Were the ‘legendary’ names of ancient Greece common among the population of the time? Ie: were there people named Hercules, Icarus, Midas, Narcissus, Odysseus, etc getting around?


The short answer to your question is that, yes, there would have been real people with the names of heroes and gods, but no, they were not common.

The long answer is that Ancient Greek naming conventions are a complex and fascinating topic. On the one hand, there are no surviving sources that explain to us how or why the Greeks came up with names for their children. Ancient authors do not seem to have found this topic interesting enough to write about. On the other hand, Greek names form a tremendously large body of evidence – the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names claims to have published as many as 215,000 so far – and the fact that most names are composed of words with a direct meaning in Greek means that they present a unique window into the social world of Ancient Greece. Because of their components and their meaning, names can often tell us about people’s place of origin, family ties, social status, cult practices, looks, and so on.

With the exception of some restrictions on the naming of slaves, there do not seem to have been any particular rules about what people could and could not be named. We might expect, for instance, that it was frowned upon to give your child the literal name of a god or goddess, but there’s no evidence that the Greeks actually found it taboo. Admittedly the names of divinities, while becoming more popular after the 1st century AD, are rare enough in the Classical period (5th-4th centuries BC) that individual known cases have been extensively discussed by scholars. However, they are not altogether absent. There certainly were people named Artemis and Leto. This shows that there were no hard limitations to what a child could be named, but only conventions by which most names were chosen. The only names that genuinely don’t seem to have been used at all were those of underworld gods (Persephone, Hades).

So what were the conventions they stuck to? One of the most powerful factors, especially among elite families, was the names of ancestors; some sons were named directly after their fathers (such as Perikles, son of the famous Perikles), while others were named after their grandfathers (like Kleisthenes, father of democracy, grandson of Kleisthenes the tyrant of Sikyon). Modern scholars are on pretty firm ground when they assume that people with similar names are related; often a name would “run” in just one family, sometimes for centuries. A related strong influence was the desire to express social status (again especially among the rich), which meant that many wealthy people would have names that contained words like aristo- (the best), -archos (leader), and especially mutations of the word hippos (horse). The latter is often regarded as a firm indicator of high status, since only the richest men in Greece would be able to afford to own horses, and horse-riding was the favourite pursuit of the leisure class. Famous examples include Perikles’ father Xanthippos (“yellow horse”), the physician Hippokrates (“horse power”), and Philippos II of Macedon (“horse lover”).

If there were no particular traditions binding new parents, they would be able to choose a name they liked. Endless possibilities are known. Particularly striking to us, though not necessarily the most common, are male and female names that contain a direct reference to warfare – Kallimachos (“beautiful battle”), Archestrate (“army-leader”), Nikomachos (“victory in battle”), Andromache (“battle of men”), Deinomache (“terrible in battle”). Other names are more straightforward, like Leon (“lion”), Kephalon (“head”) or Melissa (“honey”). People were named after cities, mountains, and, very commonly, rivers; Aristotle complains about rare and ridiculous names like Hermokaikoxanthos, a pile-up of the names of 3 rivers. Generally, words like kalos (beauty), stratos (army), agora (marketplace), demos/damos (people), -anax (king) and old values like bia (strength) and kratos (power) occur often in what we might call “posh” Greek names. Names ending in -kles (Perikles, Themistokles, Damokles) refer to kleos (glory). The combinations of these words don’t always make sense; what sort of a name is Isagoras (“equal marketplace”) or Iphikrates (“strong strength”)?

Interestingly, while the actual outright names of gods are extremely rare, by far the most common type of name in Ancient Greece was actually the indirect reference to a god or goddess. There were 2 ways to do this. First, the name of a god could be easily adapted into an adjective form, so as to become a name derived from a god rather than the god’s name itself. Some of the most common were adaptations of Apollo (for example into Apollonios), Dionysos (Dionysios), Artemis (Artemisia) or Demeter (Demetrios); the latter is still in common use now, in its vowel-shifted form of Dimitri. One of the most famous examples of such a godlike name is Alexander the Great’s companion Hephaistion (from Hephaistos). The second way to adapt divine names was to add words to them – most commonly kleos (glory),-doros or -dotos (gift, given). So we have authors like Diodoros (“god-given” – the reference is to Zeus), Apollodoros, Asklepiodotos; in the Roman era, when Eastern gods made their way into Greek lands, new names like Isidoros (gift of Isis) crop up. While it has proved impossible to say with categorical certainty that names are an indication of which gods were being worshipped in a given place, regional patterns are very clear in the evidence, and names derived from gods are at least a clear indication of which divinities were considered important. Perhaps the most touching are the few cases when parents who consulted the oracle on matters related to childbirth would name their child after the god who had advised them or after the place of the oracle.

Given all these factors and trends, it’s perhaps easy to understand why the literal names of heroes were not commonly used as names, even if there were no strict rules or moral taboos against them. There wouldn’t have been any family tradition to do so; there was no social credit in making pretentious references; since mythological figures were not always the recipients of cults, they wouldn’t often have been credited for advice or protection in childbirth. It’s possible that their names would have been regarded as old-fashioned or an ill omen, given the fates of most of them. According to the searchable part of the Lexicon, Ikaros is attested just 20 times; Narkissos a more respectable 74 times. I can’t find a single person named Odysseus. Only the hero Iason has a famous “real-life” counterpart in the 4th-century Thessalian tyrant Iason of Pherai.

Source for most of this: R. Parker, ‘Theophoric names and the history of Greek religion’, in S. Hornblower/E. Matthews (eds.) Greek Personal Names: Their Value as Evidence (2000), 53-79



#history #names



Ah yes, “do we really live longer than our ancestors” articles, the theses of which always seem to be “well once you eliminate deaths by disease, violence, and really every factor other than natural causes in old age, and probably only consider the upper classes (because they’re all we have data for in many cases), the difference in life expectancy from adulthood is only 5-10 years.”

And like, I get that infant and child mortality doesn’t reflect what most people intuitively conceive as life expectancy (though it bears noting that youth mortality on such a scale that it substantially distorts life expectancy figures is also really bad), but I’d argue that things like reduced frequency of wars and other homicides, the presence of antibiotics and other modern medicines, and lower rates of extreme poverty, are exactly what most people think of when they think of factors that impact life expectancy, and it’s blatant cherry-picking to say we ought to treat them as inadmissible.

It turns out that, after controlling for life expectancy, moderns live about as long as Medieval peasants did.


#anything that makes me laugh this much deserves a reblog #history #death tw #fun with statistics

literallymechanical asked:


I just learned that about 10% of Aramaic incantation bowls, with the spiral text and little demons in the middle, are fake. Not modern forgeries, but contemporary scams where a mesopotamian potter would scribble something that looked vaguely like aramaic on a bowl and sell it to illiterate customers.

Imagine coming home for rosh hashanah and having to smile politely while grandma rebekkah tells you all about how she’s gotten really into incantation bowls, and then whips out the 5th century equivalent of a resin and glitter orgone crystal she bought on etsy.

(The paper is “Two Pseudo-Text Incantation Bowls from the University of Pikeville,” authored by Craig A. Evans and Scott Stripling. You can find a pdf on google.)



1) that’s amazing

2) Big Ea-Nasir energy


#(I went and read the paper and that’s one of two main hypotheses) #(the other one is that they were writing in tongues) #history #Judaism




“may this great plague pass by me and my friends, and restore us once more to joy and gladness”

Feeling a powerful kinship with this scribe from 1350 today.

OTD (Christmas Eve), 670 years ago


#I missed Christmas for this but it’s New Year’s Eve so that works too #may we reach the anniversary of this night many times #also‚ it’s just…very emotional to read accounts of past plagues where people ask for prayers #because that was all they could do #humanity was not strong enough‚ not aware enough‚ not knowledgeable enough‚ to fight back against a monster that could not be seen #history #illness tw

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Found in a 120 year old time capsule.

Full VDO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoDj4mXdqmc



Worth it.



I’m sorry I might sound like a madwoman for going on a rant about this but man, it’s…
I don’t know how to express it but just the thought of some person, 120 years ago, taking a photo of their cat, which back then wasn’t easy – they didn’t have phones with cameras, each photo required a lot of time and dedication, so not only the person “wasted” a whole photo on their cat, they also did their fricking best to save this photo and carefully put it into an envelope to preserve it so that people in the future will know that there was this cat and it looked like this and it’s owner thought the cat looked lovely that day so much that they decided to take a photo of it and then they loved the photo so much that they went out of their way to preserve it for future generations like “hello people from the future! this is what my cat loos like!” because they loved their cat so much they wanted people from the future to know about it is… crazy to me… and here we are, 120 years later, long after the cat and it’s owners passed away, looking at an old photo of a cat and gushing about it. The cat died so long ago and wouldn’t even know it existed if not for the owner that loved their cat so much that they decided this photo was worth preserving and put it into a time capsule. and seeing now how people dedicate whole blogs to their cats and take countless pictures of them just to show to other people really hits because you realize that in the end, people from today aren’t that much different from people that were 120 years ago. We all just love our cats and want people to look at them.



I bet this woman was imagining the photo may be seen by like… a family some day. But no. It survived till the age of the internet. It has now transcended the original media. It is now being seen by far more eyes in far more places than the media she chose would normally allow.

I hope the taker of this 120 year old photo is PROUD.



I feel it’s worth pointing out that the thing in the time capsule isn’t a photograph – it’s a glass-plate negative.

For those unfamiliar with non-digital photography, how it works is when you take a photo, what you’re doing is exposing a transparent medium that’s been treated with a light-sensitive chemical that darkens when exposed to light. This results in a negative image of whatever you’re photographing: dark where the light was bright, and transparent where the light was dim. The negative is then treated with a fixative chemical that renders it insensitive to further light exposure, and the actual photograph is produced by shining a bright light through the fixed negative and onto a sheet of paper treated with the same light-sensitive chemical. In this way, a single negative can be used to produce many copies of the same photograph. This is the process shown in the video.

In other words, the person who stored the time capsule away didn’t preserve a photo of their cat: they preserved the tools necessary to mass produce photos of their cat. It’s not unreasonable to suppose they did, in fact, hope that many copies of it would be made – though they probably did not anticipate exactly how many there would be!


#cats #history #death tw #amnesia cw? #101 Uses for Infrastructureless Computers #photography

500 Million, But Not a Single One More

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We will never know their names.

The first victim could not have been recorded, for there was no written language to record it. They were someone’s daughter, or son, and someone’s friend, and they were loved by those around them. And they were in pain, covered in rashes, confused, scared, not knowing why this was happening to them or what they could do about it – victim of a mad, inhuman god. There was nothing to be done – humanity was not strong enough, not aware enough, not knowledgeable enough, to fight back against a monster that could not be seen.

It was in Ancient Egypt, where it attacked slave and pharaoh alike. In Rome, it effortlessly decimated armies. It killed in Syria. It killed in Moscow.  In India, five million dead. It killed a thousand Europeans every day in the 18th century. It killed more than fifty million Native Americans. From the Peloponnesian War to the Civil War, it slew more soldiers and civilians than any weapon, any soldier, any army (Not that this stopped the most foolish and empty souls from attempting to harness the demon as a weapon against their enemies).

Cultures grew and faltered, and it remained. Empires rose and fell, and it thrived. Ideologies waxed and waned, but it did not care. Kill. Maim. Spread. An ancient, mad god, hidden from view, that could not be fought, could not be confronted, could not even be comprehended. Not the only one of its kind, but the most devastating.

For a long time, there was no hope – only the bitter, hollow endurance of survivors.

In China, in the 10th century, humanity began to fight back.

It was observed that survivors of the mad god’s curse would never be touched again: they had taken a portion of that power into themselves, and were so protected from it. Not only that, but this power could be shared by consuming a remnant of the wounds. There was a price, for you could not take the god’s power without first defeating it – but a smaller battle, on humanity’s terms. By the 16th century, the technique spread, to India, across Asia, the Ottoman Empire and, in the 18th century, Europe. In 1796, a more powerful technique was discovered by Edward Jenner.

An idea began to take hold: Perhaps the ancient god could be killed.

A whisper became a voice; a voice became a call; a call became a battle cry, sweeping across villages, cities, nations. Humanity began to cooperate, spreading the protective power across the globe, dispatching masters of the craft to protect whole populations. People who had once been sworn enemies joined in common cause for this one battle. Governments mandated that all citizens protect themselves, for giving the ancient enemy a single life would put millions in danger.

And, inch by inch, humanity drove its enemy back. Fewer friends wept; Fewer neighbors were crippled; Fewer parents had to bury their children.

At the dawn of the 20th century, for the first time, humanity banished the enemy from entire regions of the world. Humanity faltered many times in its efforts, but there individuals who never gave up, who fought for the dream of a world where no child or loved one would ever fear the demon ever again. Viktor Zhdanov, who called for humanity to unite in a final push against the demon; The great tactician Karel Raška, who conceived of a strategy to annihilate the enemy; Donald Henderson, who led the efforts of those final days.

The enemy grew weaker. Millions became thousands, thousands became dozens. And then, when the enemy did strike, scores of humans came forth to defy it, protecting all those whom it might endanger.

The enemy’s last attack in the wild was on Ali Maow Maalin, in 1977. For months afterwards, dedicated humans swept the surrounding area, seeking out any last, desperate hiding place where the enemy might yet remain.

They found none.

35 years ago, on December 9th, 1979, humanity declared victory.

This one evil, the horror from beyond memory, the monster that took 500 million people from this world – was destroyed.

You are a member of the species that did that. Never forget what we are capable of, when we band together and declare battle on what is broken in the world.

Happy Smallpox Eradication Day.


#Tumblr traditions #anniversaries #illness tw #history #proud citizen of the Future


A brief but strange wiki jaunt today: I was wondering about the etymology of “mammoth”, so I looked it up and it’s from Russian and believed to derive from a Uralic language, which is wild! But the wiktionary etymology also offers this tantalizing aside: “Adjectival use was popularized in the early 1800s by references to the Cheshire Mammoth Cheese presented to American paleontologist and president Thomas Jefferson.”

Wait, what? So I had to look that up and it’s, I guess, a giant wheel of cheese that was produced by the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts, by combining the milk of every cow in the town, as a kind of weird political stunt. According to Wikipedia, it was inscribed with the motto “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.“ The article goes on to say:

Given the political landscape of the time, there was a fear that the more Republican Jefferson, considered an “infidel of the French Revolutionary school,” would harm the religious interests of the citizenry, and that “the altars of New England would be demolished, and all their religious institutions would be swept away by an inrushing and irresistible flood of French infidelity.”

One pastor in Cheshire, Elder John Leland, opposed this line of thought. A beleaguered minority in Calvinist New England, the Baptists were perhaps the strongest advocates in the early republic of the separation of church and state. Leland had met Jefferson during his time in Virginia and the two grew to have a friendly relationship. Leland remembered this as he served in Cheshire, and campaigned strongly for Jefferson.

Leland, believing that his efforts helped Jefferson win the Presidency, encouraged his townspeople to make a unique gesture to Jefferson. He urged each member of his congregation “who owned a cow to bring every quart of milk given on a given day, or all the curd it would make, to a great cider mill…” Leland also insisted that “no Federal cow” (a cow owned by a Federalist farmer) be allowed to offer any milk, “lest it should leaven the whole lump with a distasteful savour.”

The last part may require the clarification that the Federalists were one of the two viable parties at the time, the other being Jefferson’s “Democratic-Republican” party; this is not to be confused with the current system where the two parties are Democratic and Republican and both are federalist.

In any case, I appreciated the sheer Americanness of the anecdote. It feels very much like a story someone would invent to make fun of American history, so it is extremely gratifying that it actually happened.


#history #home of the brave #food #language










Early color photographs of Antarctica, circa 1915, by Australian adventurer Frank Hurley.


#(*pokes search engines*) #(yeah seems legit) #(I found some articles from NPR and Australian Geographic whose pictures overlapped with this set) #Antarctica #history


On the one hand this is extremely cool and an elegant solution to the problem, on the other hand it’s probably fortunate for Japan and China that we only went about a century between the rise of typewriters and the invention of computers with phonetic IMEs, or else I think they all would’ve gone completely mad.


#history #neat #the more you know #language