Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Alexarchos of Macedon, the word maker (350-290 BC)

If you think that spending hours for language studies constitutes a modern priviledge/habit, you're wrong! Apparently there were lunatics like you (and all of us) in the ancient world. One of them was Alexarchos of Macedon, a scholar and (unfortunately) an officer. Worst of all, he was son of Antipater and brother of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Why is that so bad you will ask? Well, you're about to find out.

According to Athenaeus (3.54) citing Herakleides Lembos, this guy was very keen on creating his own words and ways of speech. Here's exactly what he says:

Such a man was Alexarchos, the brother of Cassander, who was king of Macedonia and who built the city called Ouranopolis. Heracleides Lembos speaks concerning him in the seventh book of his Histories, and says “Alexarchus, who founded the city Ouranopolis, imported many peculiar words and forms of speaking into the language: calling a cock ὀρθροβόας (he that crows in the morn/right time),  and a barber βροτοκέρτης (one who cuts men) and a drachma he called ἀργυρὶς (a piece of silver) and a chœnix he called ἡμεροτροφὶς (what feeds a man for a day) and a herald he called ἀπύτης (someone with a loud voice). Once he wrote a letter to the magistrates of the Cassandrians in this form: αλέξαρχος ὁ μάρμων πρόμοις γαθεῖν. τοὺς ἡλιοκρεῖς οἰῶν οἶδα λιποῦσα θεωτῶν ἔργων κρατήτορας μορσίμῳ τύχᾳ κεκυρωμένας θεοῦ πόγαις χυτλώσαντες αὐτοὺς, καὶ φύλακας ὀριγένεις.” But what that letter means think that even the Pythian Apollo himself could hardly tell. 

Now imagine; an ambitious man, brother of your king, whose dialect was only surpassed in horridness by Eleian and Pamphylian, sends you a letter with his own language "innovations", that YOU have to answer or comment on.

Good luck - have fun!

PS: Alexarchos words are nevertheless included in the database. It is the least we can do for him today.

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