Letter S

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Jan 3 10:35:29 EST 2002


At 2:30 PM +0000 1/3/02, dd-1 at juno.com wrote:
>Denny Diehl here
>
>Reading in Philo I found the following:
>
>"But the Romans, adding the letter S, which
>had been omitted by the Greeks, show still
>more conspicuously the correct etymological
>meaning of the word, calling it SEPTEM, as
>derived from SEMNOS, venerable, as has been
>said before, and from SEBASMOS, veneration."
>-On the Creation XLII
>
>Greeks omitted the letter S?  Comments?

Well, the etymology, as a lot of ancient and even more recent etymology, is
pretty fanciful: there's no relationship between the Greek numerals hEPTA
and hEBDOMOS and the SEB in SEMNOS, SEBAS, SEBASMOS, SEBAZW, SEBASTOS (=
Lat. Augustus), ETC..

On the other hand, the Greek numeral "7" hEPTA and the Latin numeral "7"
SEPTEM are both derived from PIE *SEPTM; following ordinary processes of
Greek phonology, the initial S- evanesces, leaving a rough breathing, while
the vocalic -M vocalizes to Alpha; *SEPTM --> hEPTA. Thus Philo is right
about the relationship between the Greek and Latin words for "7", while his
linkage of the numeral root with the root for "holiness" is highly dubious.

A reader of Philo's DE OPIFICIO MUNDI on the first three chapters of
Genesis soon realizes, if he didn't know it already, that Philo was a
Neo-Pythagorean: he attaches a sense to each of the numbers of the seven
days of creation.
-- 

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/



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