- Robert Maltby
ExtractEtymology in the ancient world was always closely connected with questions concerning the ultimate origin of language. Was the sound of a word merely a matter of convention (the theory of nomos), or was there some natural relationship between the sign and the thing signified (the theory of physis)? In general the latter view prevailed. The popular assumption that the study of a name could reveal τῸ ἔτυμον, ‘the truth’, about the thing accounts for the importance attached to etymology in ancient thought and literature. But as the ancients had little understanding of comparative philology, in practice their etymologies never attained any degree of accuracy.Etymology based on the belief in the significance of names begins with the poets. So *Homer associates the name of *Odysseus with ὀδύρομαι, ‘to grieve’ (Od. 1. 55), and ὀδύσσομαι, ‘to hate’ (Od. 1. 62), and plays on the literal meanings of such compound names as *Astyanax and *Telemachus.