Volume 9, No. 1

Once more on the origin of Semetic and Greek star names: an astromonic-etymological approach updated

Gennadij Kurtik and Alexander Militarev

The contribution is a new version of the paper "From Mesopotamia to Greece: to the Origin of Semitic and Greek Star Names" once written by a Sumerologist (L.Bobrova) and etymologist (A. Militarev), and recently revised, updated and corrected in most part by a historian of the Mesopotamian astronomy (G. Kurtik). The present paper analyzes Sumerian and Akkadian (Babylonian) names of 34 celestial bodies, and their equivalents in other Semitic languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Syrian Aramaic, and Ge`ez, or ancient Ethiopian) and in Greek and Latin. Its main goal is to demonstrate the importance of Sumerian and Babylonian celestial body names as a source of corresponding terms in other cultures, up to the conventional inventory of modern astronomy, and to reveal four strategies by which other cultures drew ideas for name-giving from the treasury of Mesopotamia's lexicon of celestial bodies. Whereas one of these strategies -- echoing, or full translation, of a Sumero-Akkadian term -- is axiomatic, the other three -- shift of meaning or interpretation of a Sumero-Akkadian term; lexical, or "material" borrowing; and, especially, folk etymology, or misinterpretation -- are understudied and practically unnoticed.

The authors do not focus on such complicated matters as a historical background of Mesopotamian influence, direct or indirect, on Greek culture; a direction and routes of inter-borrowing between different speaking areas other than Akkadian and their contacts with the Greek world; a chronology of all kinds of cultural contacts and influences; probable connections between the early pre-Islamic Arabic and Babylonian traditions; or the problem of identification of Mesopotamian constellation and stars. However, the data presented may give a certain impulse to further investigation of these matters, while feasible etymologies and relations established between names can even throw some light upon debatable identification cases.