7 Nov 2009

Odysseus, Uthuze and Utnapishtim

I've been dwelling the past few days on the origin of Etruscan words. Many words appear to be of Doric origin and then there are even older loanwords, it seems, showing Anatolian IE, West Semitic and Egyptian influence. On the topic of the origin of the Etruscan name, Uθuze (''ET Cy G.1'' and ''OI G.39''), we need only look to a borrowing from Greek Ὀδυσσεύς 'Odysseus'. Or so it seems.

Now, please forgive me, my readers, if I should tread on something that's already understood by everyone but me. However, on closer inspection of the aforementioned Greco-Etruscan connection, even if we should say that the name was borrowed from a Greek vocative form Odusseu, we can see that Greek voiced, unaspirated /d/ doesn't nicely become a voiceless aspirated /tʰ/ at all. We should rather expect Etruscan plain t. And thus, we trek through yet another etymological safari hunt.

Upon investigating the origin of Odysseus, we may find that the origin is spoken of vaguely as "uncertain". As far as I'm concerned, uncertain is one of the most disgusting words in the English language because it's such a common excuse for intellectual laziness. Why is it uncertain? Must it truly be uncertain?

In the Etruscan form, I can't help but be idly amused by Uθ- at the beginning which strongly reminds me of Sumerian utu 'sun'. This combined with a free-word association with Utnapishtim, the legendary Babylonian survivor of the World Flood, evokes a Sumerian name Utu-zi 'Life-breath of the sun' being readapted to Ut-napishtim (napishtim = 'life, breath') but still written in script using the Sumerograms UD-ZI[1]. Things get complicated if we consider that the other corresponding Sumerian name normally cited, Zi-ud-sura, may be a "re-borrowing". That is to say, Sumerian Utu-zi 'Life-breath of the sun' would have become a partial calque Ut(a)-napishtim which would be reinterpreted by scribes and priests to mean 'he found (uta-) life-breath (napishtim)' (nb. the replacement of Sum. utu 'sun' with Bab. ūta 'found') and thus back into Sumerian with the reformulated Zi-ud-sura 'Life of long days', now implying a character who has found immortality. Odysseus' relationships to an underlying sun-god motif have already been noted in literature which is what made my synapses fire in the first place.

So I now wonder if this Sumerian name Utuzi reached Anatolia and the Aegean by the second millenium BCE in order to better explain the source of the Greek and Etruscan names.

[1] It seems that the journal Kairo (1987) has beaten me to the punch on that one (see link).

1 comment:

  1. Zi-ud-sura looks a bit like Zarathushtra. Just saying it, probably doesn't mean anything particular.