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[73] ἠλέκτρου. Buttm. Mythol. vol. 2 discusses fully the meaning of “ἤλεκτρον” (“ἤλεκτρος”). It is used only in two passages besides this, viz. Od.15. 460χρύσεον ὅρμον ἔχων, μετὰ δ᾽ ἠλέκτροισιν ἔερτο”, and 18. 295 “ὅρμον . . χρύσεον ἠλέκτροισιν ἐερμένον ἠέλιον ὥς”. Is this “ἤλεκτρον” a metal or is it amber? Pliny, Hist. Nat. 33. 4. 23 takes it as a metal, a natural not artificial compound: “Omni auro inest argentum vario pondere, alibi dena, alibi nona, alibi octava parte . . . ubicunque quinta portio est electrum vocatur. Vetusta est electro auctoritas, Homero teste, qui Menelai regiam auro electro argento ebore fulgere tradit.’” It is indeed tempting to accept this view when we find, as here, “ἤλεκτρον” standing between gold and silver, the two metals of which it is a compound. But the other two passages in the Odyssey constrain us to adopt for them the meaning ‘amber.’ It is inconceivable that a necklace should be described as being of gold and strung with pieces of what was but a paler gold between. See Schol. on Aristoph. Nub.768Ὅμηρος δὲ οὐκ οἶδε τὸ ὄνομα” (sc. “ὕαλος”), “ἀλλὰ παρ᾽ αὐτῷ καὶ τοῖς ἀρχαίοις ἤλεκτρος μέν ἐστιν, ὕαλος δὲ οὔ”. The same sense will fit Hesiod , Here. Hesiod Scut.141τιτάνῳ λευκῷ τ᾽ ἐλέφαντι

ἠλέκτρῳ θ᾽ ὑπολαμπὲς ἔην [σάκος], χρυσῷ τε φαεινῷ
λαμπόμενον”, and Epig. Hom. 15. 10αὐτὴ δ᾽ ἱστὸν ὑφαίνοι ἐπ᾽ ἠλέκτρῳ βεβαϋῖα”, ‘quo pavimentum conclavis, utpote in domo opulentissima, distinctum est,’ Frank. Cp. Hdt.3. 113ἐξ ἐσχάτης [τῆς” “Εὐρώπης] τε κασσίτερος ἡμῖν φοιτᾷ καὶ τὸ ἤλεκτρον”. We may therefore safely decide for the meaning ‘amber’ in Homer. On the other hand, the passages, Soph. Ant.1037τὸν πρὸ Σαρδέων [̣] ἤλεκτρον . . καὶ τὸν Ἰνδικὸν χρυσόν”, and Virg. Aen.8. 402‘quod fieri ferro liquidove potest electro,’ demand that it should be taken for the metal; the name of the amber being borrowed to express a metal which resembled it in its pale brightness; compare Pliny, l. c. ‘electri natura est ad lucernarum lumina clarius argento splendere.’ Thus far, in substance, Buttm. who proceeds in conclusion to refer the word (like “ἠλακάτη”) to “ἕλκειν”, from its powers of attracting light substances when rubbed. He supposes that this remarkable property of amber could not have escaped the notice of an observant people. But the derivation from “ἕλκειν” seems too fanciful to be maintained, with the additional difficulty of explaining its relation to “ἠλέκτωρ” and “Ἠλέκτρα”. Curtius refers all to a root “ἀλκ”, parallel with Skt. ark, ‘to flash,’ and arkas, signifying brightness, the sun, crystal, or polished copper.

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hide References (7 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (7):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.113
    • Hesiod, Shield of Heracles, 141
    • Homer, Odyssey, 15.460
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 1037
    • Aristophanes, Clouds, 768
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.402
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.4
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