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Lecture | Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (CIEL) Seminars

Conceptual Metaphors and Etymology: the case of Homeric Greek κερτομέω ‘to mock’

Friday 29 September 2023
Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (CIEL) Seminars
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


In recent years, the description of metaphors in Homer has been given a new impulse by the application of Conceptual Metaphor Theory and other tools from Cognitive Linguistics. Compare, among other things, work done by Cairns (e.g., Cairns 2016) and the monograph by Zanker (2019) discussing conceptual metaphors for Time, Speech and Thought. In my talk I will illustrate how this improved synchronic understanding of conceptual metaphors may help us find the meaning and etymology of κερτομέω ‘to mock’. 

Both the lexical analysis and the etymology of κερτομέω have been the object of a fierce scholarly debate, in which a definitive conclusion hasn’t been reached. On use and meaning compare, inter alia, Hooker (1986); Jones (1989); Clarke (2001); Lloyd (2004). Almost all previous etymological proposals assume that the second part -τομέω has the same root as τέμνω ‘to cut’. The first part κερ- has been derived connected either to κῆρ ‘heart’ (Jones 1989; Clarke 2001), or alternatively to κείρω ‘to cut’ and an Indo-European root *ker(Perpillou 1986; García Ramón 2007).

My talk starts with a brief introduction to Conceptual Metaphor Theory and its implications for historical semantics. Then, I will illustrate the actual use and lexical meanings of κερτομέω and cognate forms, and discuss the problems with existing etymological analyses. Finally, I suggest a new way of making sense of κερτομέω (both etymologically and lexically) by considering various conceptual metaphors for Speech and Emotions that are productive in (Homeric) Greek as well as cross-linguistically. This new analysis will also allow us to solve several interpretative cruxes in Homeric philology.


Cairns, Douglas. 2016. “Clothed in shamelessness, shrouded in grief: the role of “garment” metaphors in Ancient Greek concepts of emotion”, in G. Fanfani, M. Harlow and M.-L. Nosch (eds.), Spinning Fates and the Song of the Loom: The Use of Textiles, Clothing and Cloth Production as Metaphor, Symbol, and Narrative, 25–41. Oxford. 

Clarke, Michael. 2001. “’Heart-cutting talk’: Homeric κερτομἐω and related words.” CQ 51, 329-338. 

García Ramón, José-Luis. 2007. “Altlatein cortumiō ‘Geländeausschnitt’, Idg. *kr̥-tomh1-ó- *‘(Schnitt) schneidend’, contemnō ‘schmähe’ und griechisch κέρτομος ‘schmähend’, κερτομέω ‘schmähe’.” Aevum antiquum 7 (NS), 285-298. 

Hooker, J.T. 1986. “A Residual Problem in Iliad 24.” Classical Quarterly 36, 32–37. 

Jones, P.V. 1989. “Iliad 24.649: another solution.” CQ 39, 247-250. 

Lloyd, Michael. 2004. “The Politeness of Achilles: Off-Record Conversation Strategies in Homer and the Meaning of kertomia.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 124, 75-89.  

Perpillou, Jean-Louis. 1986. “De « couper » à « insulter ».” In: A. Etter (ed.), O-o-pe-ro-si. Festschrift für Ernst Risch zum 70. Geburtstag, 72-84. Berlin. 

Zanker, Andreas. 2019. Metaphor in Homer: Time, Speech and Thought. Cambridge.

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