meirakion, pais, ephebos

Christopher Hutson crhutson at
Thu Dec 2 12:16:25 EST 1999

Carle wrote:

>perhaps you can help me with one that's been bothering me for some 
>time:the difference between MEIRAKION and PAIS--and is there anything else 
>between these and an EFHBOS?

The language of youth is actually closer to the focus of my dissertation. 
Yes.  Here is my translation of Aristophanes' whole catalogue of terms for
age.  This is the text as preserved in Eustathius' commentary on the


BREFOS:  that which is newly born.  
PAIDION: that which is fed by a nurse.
PAIDARION:  that which is walking around and beginning to grasp vocabulary.
PAIDISKOS:  the one in the next stage.  
PAIS:  one who is able to go through the common educational curriculum. 

 And the next age some call pallax (PALLAC), others an ox-child (BOUPAIS);
others a quasi-child (ANTIPAIS), and yet others an ephebe-to-be

After this is the ephebe (EFHBOS). In Cyrene they call the ephebes the
Three-hundred,  and in Crete ³non-runners² (ADROMOI), since they do not yet
participate in the athletic field.   Yet the form of this word seems to
signify the opposite, namely,  
one who has retired from the races and is no longer a participant.  But they
also call those who do not eat fish ³unfished,² and those who are unrefined
³unmused,² and those who are prepubescent ³unhaired.²

After this is a meirakion (MEIRAKION) then a meirax (MEIRAC) and a neaniskos
(NEANISKOS) and a neanias (NEANIAS), the same thing.  The Spartans call
these ³horses² (hIPPEIS) and their leaders they call ³wild horses²

 Then next is that stage at which it is customary to marry a wife, at which
time one might also be called bride-groom (NUMFIOS).  Subsequently, he
probably also will be called father (PATHR). Then young man (ANHR NEOS);
then middle man (ANHR MESOS); then advanced (PROBEBHKWS), and greying
(hUPOPOLIOS), which some call near-old man (WMOGERWN); then old man (GERWN)
and elder (PRESBUTHS), the same thing; then extremely old (ESXATOGHRWS).

>>>>>>>>>>END OF TEXT>>>>>>>>>

	Aristophanes here identifies no fewer than sixteen different stages of life
for males and offers an additional twelve alternate terms.  As helpful as
this catalogue is for an orientation to the vocabulary, and even though it
was copied and repeated through the centuries, we cannot take it as a final
authority on word usage.  First, many of the terms are cognates, and the
distinctions between them are sometimes obscure.  Some are clearly not
discrete stages but indications of the normal order at which such terms
might be applicable.    Second, even those stages which seem more discrete
may have variable terminology applied to them.  Third, Aristophanes himself
recognizes regional variations in terminology, and we should expect such
variations in usage as well.  
	On the other hand, the list does indicate that the ancients were aware of
some fine gradations in human development.  Terms such as PAIS, NEOTHS, and
GERWN were often used broadly, but they were patient of precise usage, which
of course could vary from text to text.  Conversely, a precisely defined
stage of life might be identified in various ways from text to text. 

I have lots examples of the usages of these terms in various periods and in
various places, and I'm confident that you could supply many more, Carl. 
It's too much to present here, but if you have a specific question about the
usage of EFHBOS or MEIRAKION or PAIS or any other term, I'll try to help.

For that matter, if you have any observations on my choices of English
equivalents for any of the terms in Aristophanes' list, I'd be happy to have
your comments.  Some of them I don't translate at all, since they are the
focus of subsequent discussion.  How many different ways can one say "youth"
in English without reading too many modern cultural assumptions into ancient
Greek vocabulary?  Adolescent, Boy/Girl, High Schooler, Lad, Prepster, Teen,
Teenager, Young Man/Woman, Youngster, Youth.  It's tough to find enough
synonyms that don't inject misleading nuances into the Greek words.



Christopher R. Hutson
          Hood Theological Seminary
          Salisbury, NC  28144
crhutson at

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