Monday, 29 November 2010


Πολύφημος (Polyphēmos), the Cyclopic giant from Homer's Odyssey, who imprisons and eats many of Odysseus' crew in his cave, such that only Odysseus's polymētis many-wittedness saves the day. There's a lot to say about him. For the minute I'm interested in one thing only, the 'many-' prefixity of these two names.

When I was a student I was taught that the name Πολύφημος means 'many voices', which is to say 'loud'. But there are other derivations, since φημη means, L&S tell us, pretty much the same as the Latin fama, from where, etymologically speaking, that word is derived. ('a voice from heaven, a prophetic voice'; 'a saying or report'; 'the talk of report of a man's character'; 'a song of praise'). Taking 'Polyphemus' as 'Polyfamous' sets up a nice allegory of the lumbering one-eyed, dinosaurian brutality of 'fame' versus the small, mammallian, quick-wittedness of Odysseus' 'nobody'. No question as to who will win that battle. A lesson for our times.

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