All posts tagged di-gamma

W is Di-Gamma

Published April 27, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

There’s no W in ancient Greek.  But there used to be.  It’s called the di-gamma.  (By scholars.  Not sure if that’s what the ancient Greeks would have called it.)

How do we know about it, you may ask?  Like many things about the Greek language, we learned it (indirectly) from “Homer”.  (Quotation marks, btw, because we don’t know the real name of the poet who composed the Iliad, if he was the same one who composed the Odyssey, et cetera.  The Greek word “homeros” may have originally been an adjective describing the poet’s style or professional lifestyle (I believe one of the translations is “wandering”) which was mistaken as a name over time.  It seems slightly unlikely to me that it was actually the poet’s name.  And I am, personally, of the opinion that the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed by different people, but it’s more a gut reaction than anything I can prove.  Especially since I no longer read ancient Greek.  I’m sure there are whole books–shelves and shelves of them, no doubt–arguing both ways in the debate, written by people who have pored over every line of both epics in the original.)

So, as you probably already know, the Homeric epics were composed in dactylic hexameters; each line of the poem is composed of six dactylic feet, a long syllable followed by two short ones, or a dactyl can be replaced with a spondee, which is two long syllables.  So each foot in every line of both epics (and other works composed in the Homeric style) is supposed to have one of only two possible configurations:  long short short or long long.  But there are places where that isn’t the case.  The example given in the book where I read all this (I’ll give credit at the end) is line 25 of Book 22 of the Iliad, in which the fourth foot is composed of three short syllables, which is absolutely not permitted in dactylic hexameter.

Well, no one ever wanted to believe that “Homer” had made a mistake!  So what had happened there?

Read the rest of this entry →

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