The lexicographer and the theologian

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Mon Feb 22 08:46:10 EST 1999

Well, it's about time for some humor, I'd say! I don't know much about
angels dancing around a pinhead, but the more standard term for nymphs (or
even female-impersonating male members of a Greek tragic or dithyrambic
chorus) dancing around a spring or an altar is MOLPH, with a corresponding
verb MELPOMAI. These involve singing at the same time that the chorus is
dancing, of course.

At 12:52 PM +0000 2/22/99, Maurice A. O'Sullivan wrote:
>List members may derive some amusement from  exchanges in the "Letters"
>column in "The Tablet."
>Are we on the frontiers of lexicography and theology, or just seeing once
>again the dangers of a little Greek?.
>Over the name of that distinguished scholar, Dr. C.F.D. Moule, this letter
>appeared on Feb 13.
>Sir, If Ruth GledhiIl ("A time to dance", The Tablet, 2 January) will but
>open a lexicon, she will see that _perichoresis_ (with a long 0,omega) has
>nothing to do with " the Greek word for dance" , which is spelt with a
>short 0  (omicron.) As a technical term in trinitanan theology,
>_perichoresis_ means "interpenetration".
>Ruth Gledhill, who is the Religion Correspondent of " The Times " ( London
>)  replied ( Feb 20 )
>Sir, ......... , I must apologise for my faulty knowledge of New Testament
>Greek. as noted by Professor Moule (Letters, 13 February).
>I would like to point out, however, that I took this concept for my dance
>article from a speech delivered by the Archbishop of Cantcrhury, Dr George
>Carey. In his Ashe Leeture for 1997, Dr Carey referred to the theology of
>the Cappadocian Fathers as follows: .'They had a particular vision of the
>Holy Trinity as interdependent - in fact they used the word _perichoresis_
>to describe the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a word
>that has its root in the word for dance, "
>In the same issue, the Dominican theologian, Fr. Edmund Hill writes:
>Professor Moule's statement that _perichoresis_ has nothing m  do with "the
>Clireek word for dance" is of course lexicographically impeccable. But
>words can he played with, or on, can they not? And to be reminded of round
>dancing or perichoreu-ing (with a short 0, omicron) hy the perichoresis
>(with a long 0, omega) of the three divine persans, cauld surely have
>tickled the fancy of even a classical Greek ear. In modern Greek, I
>believe, the two o's, omicron and omega. are indistinguishable in sound.
>Maurice A. O'Sullivan
>[Bray, Ireland]
>" To bury oneself in a Greek lexicon is to rise with Christ "
>--- Sir Edwyn C. Hoskyns, Bart.
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Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
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