12 Apr 2010

The place of lilies

More on the topic of Minoan floral terms initiated by Andras Zeke in Minoan Language Blog: Flower gardens of Ancient Crete, I've been recently pensive about the exact form we should reconstruct for the Minoan word for 'lily'. I believe there's little doubt that of all possible languages from whence Greek would obtain its un-Indo-European term léirion, Minoan shines forth as the leading probable source by far. Robert Beekes certainly thinks so (see Beekes, Greek Etymological Dictionary: λείριον). I've been leaning to the reconstruction *leri based on etymological and phonotactic hunches about Proto-Aegean and its derivatives while Andras is going for *lairi with the help of certain facts about the Linear script itself. Which one of these reconstructions is more accurate? How do we prove it? Therein lies the frustrating rub of it all.

Yet it turns out, to my infinite scholastic delight, that there was a region in the Eastern Peloponnese called Lerna (Λέρνα) described as "a marsh in Argolis, the mythological abode of the Hydra," a monster who was eventually slain by the great demigod and all-around hero Heracles as part of his second labour. Given the above, it's immediately seductive to read into it an Aegean name *Lerina "(Place) of Lilies" with the characteristic pertinentive suffix -na elsewhere seen throughout Minoan and Etruscan, thereby adding weight to the idea that *leri is the more accurate name for 'lily' in Minoan.

1 comment: