HOMER'S KING (ANAX) and CHINESE LINGUISTICS

One of the five most common words in Homer's extensive vocabulary is for King, or in Greek "anax", with a stem "anak-". If a student has taken second year Greek years ago, this may be the salient word remembered, in phrases like Mighty Agamemnon, King of Men, or Zeus the ultimate King of the Gods.

But when you take a course in Historical Linguistics and whet your edge for etymologies and for cognate in the closely-knit Indo-European family of languages, you find ANAX only in Greek with nary a trace of the word anywhere else. This is all the more surprising when you consider Skt rajah, Lat. rex, Gaulish -rix on names, NHG Reich and many other offshoots of an I.E. root. But here nothing!

Greek does in fact have a surprisingly large proportion of words which are not of I.E. parentage, some have felt that only forty percent of Greek is traditional Indo-European. So it seems fair for us to look outside the I.E. family and see if there are any possible cognates there.

Let us start with the Greek, anax, genitive anaktos, hence the stem would be *anak-. Early in the l9th c. it was demonstrated that the "lost letter" of Greek, the di-gamma which looked like a Roman F, must have been present in versions of Homeric epic earlier than the Peisistratid rescension. At first thought it was felt feasibly to restore the digamma to Homer, several editions actually printed digamm-ized editions, but there were problems. In some place the consonantal digamma solved a problem with the metrics, but in other places it was clearly unwanted. So we are left with clear evidence that F was used sometime before the "Homer" we have was put together, and that the word for king (anak-) did have it initially, hence *Favak- in imitation Greek letters, or linguistically *wanak-.

One can hardly avoid thinking of the widespread and ancient Chinese noun "wang". The three critical consonants are there in both languages, -w-, -n-, and -k/g-, even the neutral -a- grade vowel. Greek does have a vowel between the -n- and the -g-, which may be a result of earlier spelling methods, as in the Cypriote Greek syllabary system. But overall the differences are minor, hardly worth mentioning. And the meanings are apparently identical.

If Greek has a word borrowed from Chinese, where is the linguistic trail by which it came? We know now how much the Greek inherited from the Near East, the Hebrew-Phoenician letters introduced by Cadmus, with his triconsonantal -k- -d- -m- befitting Semitic noun stems. We know the story Gilgamesh and Odyssey 11, and dozens of names like Erechthon/ Erech. And possessive expressions like "king of kings: are found in much earlier Assyrian "lugal lugalu" (comparable in part of anax andron) as the Classical Historian Lionel Pearson saw years ago when he started studying Assyrian. But these are all from the much nearer Near East.

I can think of two other words possibly connecting withth Far East, which I have come upon by pure chance. I suspect there are others in this thick forest where few have searched. First, the cognates of the Germanic English "mare", a female horse, do not appear in the I.E. group outside Germanic. I must call attention to the Chinese mal/r "horse" which appears also in Korean probably as a borrowing. The ubiquitousness of this word inth East as compared with its restricted sphere of use in Europe points to a borrowing which did not become generalized. Since horses were first tamed on the north Asian plains and came relatively late in the Near Eat and then to Europe, a borrowing of name with item is not unreasonable.

Second, the Greek word for fire "pur" and its cognate in English "fire" which represents the Germanic wide well, does not appear as the standard I.E. word. Latin ignis fits in well with Skt. agnis, and it is indeed off that Greek goes not show this stem at all. But the Korean word for fire is "bool/r", with the common middle consonant in the liquid series which characterizes so many languages East and West.

The voiced -b- is near to the unvoiced -p-, the -u- vowel of Greek is more of a problem. But the meanings are exact, and the correspondences worth considering. We should note that Korean is accepted as part of the Ural Altaic family, which brings a limb of that group down as far as Hungary and Turkey, for a nearer source of borrowing. Here competent Ural-Altaicists are needed to see if these threads hold firm.

In areas where we have not looked we always assume that no connections or correspondences are possible. Before l760 and Jones' studies of Sanskrit in India, the remarkable jigsaw puzzle of Indo European would have been though sheer imagination, yet when first steps had been advanced, the matter became clear as day.

I suggest that historical linguists search further afield in I.E. matters than the confines of Europe, and make the tentative assumption that Man before 2000 B.C. may have been far more of a world-traveler than we have thought. The Greeks had as good means as Marco Polo to reach China, although perhaps less inquisitiveness by their cultural predisposition. Parallel tracing of artifacts, techniques and animals, along with words and names, may give us new information of the early stages of world-expansion after the last Ice Retreat.

In another direction, I have always had, from even my student days, a feeling that Homer was translated in part from another language. Some of the formulaic expressions in Homer have become so familiar to us that we forget how odd they are. Hera with the White Elbows (leukolene), the Helical Eyes Girl "helikopida kouren", and many another formula may be more understandable in another culture's writings. A complete list of all Homeric formulae which are not part of the later Greek tradition, other than Homeric reminiscences, might be found comparable to the normal usages somewhere else. Where? It could be Africa or the Indus Valley world. But it could also be the Far East.

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris