Monday, January 14, 2008

Hebrew origin for Latin and Greek words in R. Azariah dei Rossi's Me'or Enayim.

This is a very interesting excerpt from chapter 57 of R. Azariah dei Rossi's controversial but classic Me'or Enayim.

Chapter 57 discusses the antiquity of the Hebrew language, according to the convention of the time, with copious proofs and analysis of the evidence available to the author. In this excerpt, etymologies for Greek and Latin words are derived from Hebrew (I decided to break the passage into paragraphs for ease of reading):

"Also, among the works of scholarship by Rabbi David Provençale1, that flag-bearer of Torah from Mantua (lit. Min-tova; of goodness in Hebrew), is Dor Ha-felagah, in which more than 2000 Hebrew words that became incorporated into the Latin, Greek and Italian languages are given.

"An example in Latin is uxor (wife) from ezer ke-negdo (helpmeet), axillae (armpit) from atzilei yadai (my arm joints).

"The Greek and Latin pellex (concubine) comes from Hebrew pilegesh. Ospedale (hospital) comes from osef dalim (gathering of the indigent).

"Calliope, the first of the nine Muses, the Muse of music, is from qol yafeh (beautiful voice), according to the compiler of the Latin dictionary.2 He also says that the word kalendae comes from qol, as I wrote earlier.

"Accademia is from the words beit eqed ro'im (shearing house of shepherds), which Targum Jonathan translates as "a meeting house of shepherds"--and from adam (man), thus meaning a gathering of people.

"I gave this explanation regarding an chevras chachomim (academy) recently founded here in Ferrara. The first lecturer described this institution as an "academy," and someone didn't like that description, since it would be strange for a Jewish society to bear a Greek name. And then I told him that the word might have been derived from Hebrew, and he was satisfied and appeased. "

1 Although this work is not extant, Steinschneider refers to it here.
2 In Joanna Weinberg's wonderful annotated translation of Me'or Enayim, she identifies this citation as Ambrogio Calepino, Dictionarium, s.v. Calliope.

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