1 Feb 2011

Abundance of Hecate

The name Ἑκάτη (Hekátē) is so often claimed to mean 'far(-darter)' presumably based on the feminine form of ἕκατος 'far' (hékatos) but I find myself starting to question this because this title really doesn't get to the heart of her fundamental nature. It's merely the obscure being explained with the obscure. It begs the question: Why 'far-darter'? And this leads to long tales about her Artemesian arrows which only beg further questions about how all these metaphors and concepts were mashed together like this in the first place.

One thing is certain though. Where religious beliefs are involved, we must expect poetic creativity to have superceded literal reality. Any religious etymologies will unavoidably be quite meaningful, artful and multilayered. They may even transcend individual cultures and languages. A conservative approach remains important but we can't be stunted either.

Other available wordpuns shaping her name could be:However if it's already suggested that Hecate may be of non-Greek origin, are there important foreign connections that we're missing? I've recently noticed how similar Hecate is to an Etruscan goddess by the name of Catha. I reason that Catha must have literally meant 'She of Abundance' (< *caθ 'to be full, to be abundant' + -θa [feminine]), a name designed simultaneously to allude to the bounty of the earth and to the abundant appearance of the full moon.

The Piacenza Liver and the contents of TLE 131 (Laris Pulena's sarcophagus) show that Catha sits beside the lord of the underworld Pacha (aka Bacchus, Fufluns) as consort. As such the pair are equivalent to the Greek xenologisms Aita and Phersipnai (Hades and Persephone). So Catha is a goddess of earthly abundance and associated with the underworld[1], much like Hecate (as well as like Egyptian Isis). The similarity in name between Catha and Hecate only makes me ponder further about an unexplored link.

[1] Popular Etruscanists like Larissa Bonfante, Jean-René Janot and Nancy de Grummond all continue to misinform us that Catha was a sun goddess based only on contrived comparisons like Martianus Capella's obscure philosophical poetry of 400 AD and Dioscerides' equation of the Etruscan floral term *cauθa 'chamomile' with a Latin idiom 'eye of the sun'; see De Grummond/Simon, The religion of the Etruscans (2006), p.11 and Chapin, Charis: Essays in honor of Sara A. Immerwahr (2004), p.361 . This is pretentious erudition which deceitfully avoids examining Etruscan material in perverse favour of secondhand Roman sources which aren't even of the period in question.


  1. The main points about the origins of Hekate are:

    • She is a pre-Olympian goddess (one of the Titans) honored even by Zeus (‘Theogony’, Hesiod)
    • Personal names formed from ‘Hekat-‘ mainly occur in Caria (‘Hekataios’ the geographer or ‘Hekatomnus’ the founder of the 5th century Carian dynasty & Persian satrap)
    • The vast temple estate of Hekate (far more than just a temple) is centred on Lagina in Caria

    So Hekate is a major pre-Greek goddess whose main place of worship was in Caria. If Carian is a dialect of Luwian then the root of her name should be Luwian. If Luwian is IE then how about ‘Ekate’ being derived from a root similar to ‘Eka’ which = ‘One’ in Sanskrit? So ‘Ekate’ = ‘the Great One’?

    Hekatomnus dynasty was probably matrilineal. The men married their sisters since this was the only way to establish their political legitimacy and the women were always powerful figures in their own right. It appears that the women of the dynasty
    were called either ‘Artemisia’ or ‘Ada’. Hekatomnus, the first satrap, had a sister called ‘Aba’(Strabo ‘Geography’ 14.2.17) – a variant on ‘Ada’ ? – and we can speculate that she was almost certainly his wife. If we include the Artemisia mentioned by Herodotus as ruling Halikarnassos in the 5th century BCE as a possible ancestor, then this would make two women called ‘Artemisia’ and three called ‘Ada’. The second ‘Ada’ was Hekatomnus’s daughter and the third Pixodarus’s daughter. Ada is presumably a version of Lada/Lada/Leto. I saw it suggested somewhere that ‘lada’ = ‘lady’ in Luwian (?). Why did the women of the dynasty not take ‘Hekat-‘ as the root of their own name? And what was the relationship of Leto to Ekate?

  2. Peter: "If Luwian is IE then how about ‘Ekate’ being derived from a root similar to ‘Eka’ which = ‘One’ in Sanskrit? So ‘Ekate’ = ‘the Great One’?"

    Nope. PIE languages commonly build their words for "one" on the root *h₁oi- but there's great variety, hence *h₁oinos (Proto-Germanic *ainaz), *h₁oiwos (Avestan aeuua-) and *h₁oikos (Sanskrit eka). The variant *h₁oyónts is used in the Anatolian branch, yielding Luwian *ayants. Carian is likely to have a similar word. Good attempt, though. The goddess is certainly worshipped in this area.