The Meaning of Homeric εὔχομαι Through Its Formulas
The Center for Hellenic Studies is pleased to share Professor Leonard Muellner’s The meaning of Homeric εὔχομαι through its formulas, the 1976 landmark study based on his dissertation. This online publication is open to all and free of charge.
Eukhomai had been glossed traditionally as “pray, long for, wish for; vow, promise; boast, brag, vaunt; profess, declare.” Muellner’s approach is to make a systematic analysis of the constraints in which this word is used in Homeric texts—grammatical, stylistic, and contextual—and to compare them, keeping in mind the framework of traditional diction, in which “a traditional poet uses a repertoire of formulas and themes to express his meaning.”
Muellner investigates each and every instance of the word εὔχομαι [eukhomai] in the Homeric tradition, and finds that the meaning of εὔχομαι ‘say (in a functionally marked context)’ has become specialized in three social spheres: 1) secular, or heroic, resulting in the specialization ‘say (proudly, accurately, contentiously)’, 2) legal, preserving the meaning ‘say’ or perhaps developing a special sense ‘state’, 3) sacral, with the specialization ‘pray’. Muellner also provides a semantic analysis of the etymology of εὔχομαι, including a comparison with its Vedic cognate. This etymology is key to explaining the functions of the word in Epic, in Vedic, where it is used in contexts that very closely resemble those of Homeric epic, and in Avestan, where it is used to say “speak” in exactly the sentence from the Avesta that Nietzsche translated as “Also sprach Zarathuštra”—in other words, of the speech of the prophet: it all goes back to being the functionally marked word for “speak” or “say”, especially to designate speech that wins out over others’ speech, what Meillet called a “mot-force.”