Whos Who in Classical Mythology

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Acastus was one of the Argonauts. Acesidas was the fifth Dactyl, that is the 'little finger' of the group. In his name can be seen the abode of the Dactyls, Mount Ida in Phrygia, and if the first part of his name derives from acestor, 'saviour', then his whole name means something like 'rescuer from Mount Ida'. Acestes was the son of the river god Crimissus and a Trojan woman named Aegesta. The word for 'goat', aix, aigos, may lie behind both names, with some ritual or sacrificial reference.

Achaeus, son of Xuthus and Creusa, gave his name to the Achaeans, the word used by Homer for the Greek people generally. His name could be seen as prophetic if its basis is achos, 'grief. This same Greek word is related to English 'ache', which also closely resembles the Greek name. Achates was the famous close friend and armour-bearer of Aeneas, Fidus Achates, 'faithful Achates', as Virgil called him in the Aeneid.

The name is actually the Greek word for 'agate', and was also that of the river in Sicily where agate was first found.

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But although Achates may have been a 'precious stone' as far as Aeneas was concerned, his name seems much more closely connected with that of the river. With all this water about, we might expect some influence of Latin aqua in his name, but perhaps it is better to go straight to Greek and from acheo, 'to mourn' and louo or louso, 'to wash away' derive a propitious sense on the lines of'he who banishes care'. Acheron is one of the better-known man-into-river metamor- phoses in mythology. He was originally, although according to a fairly late tradition, the son of Helios and Gaia or perhaps De- meter , that is, the offspring of the sun and the earth.

He was then changed into the river of hell or the Underworld, so that his name came to be used by Virgil and Cicero to denote the Underworld itself.

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Certainly hell and woe make a suitable match, and we may well find the same root in the name, achos, 'pain', 'grief, that we saw in Achaeus. Achilles is, of course, one of the most famous of all mythological names - yet its origin is anything but straightforward.

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According to Apollodorus, the renowned son of Peleus and Thetis was so named by Chiron because the young child had never been suckled, or put his lips to a breast. This is the standard explanation, with the Greek being the privative a- and cheile, 'lips'. Achilles had been grieving for Patroclus, killed by Hector in the Trojan War. Now he in turn kills Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, and after her death was to grieve over her body. Both his name and hers could contain the root of 'grief. This could be quite satisfactory, since we can take the name literally and also metaphorically, for a great hero who needed no lips but 'spoke' through his valiant deeds instead.

Facta non verba, 'deeds not words', as the Latin tag goes. But on the other hand, we may well see in his name the same 'grief root, actios, as in Achaeus and Acheron, and indeed the central theme of the Iliad, in which he is the chief hero, is that of the pain and distress caused by the wrath of Achilles. Yes, handsome and brave he may have been, but think of all those battles and the killing of Hector! In fact the word achos occurs in several passages of the Iliad, for example in Book 16 we read: toiongar achos bebiecen Achaious, 'for such a grief had beset the Achaeans'.

In one of his tales, Apollodorus mentions that a previous name of Achilles had been Ligyron, 'clear-voiced' from ligys, 'clear-toned'. Acidusa was the wife of Scamander, who named a spring in Boeotia after her. Was she catty? Maybe we can see ancistron, 'fish-hook' in her name, or simply the basic word ancos, 'bend' from which the fish-hook comes. Such a derivation could denote a 'bar- bed' or sharp-tongued person. The second half of her name is ousia, 'a being'. Acis loved Galatea, as everyone knows, even if rather from Han- del's opera than the story of Ovid.

But Polyphemus the Cyclops loved Galatea, too, and when she spurned him, preferring her Sicilian shepherd, took his revenge on his rival by crushing him to death with a rock while he was in his loved one's arms. Hapless Galatea, unable to bring her beloved Acis back to life, changed his blood as it gushed out beneath the rock into a river - the river Acis in Sicily. So what shall we try for the origin of his name? The river Acis is in fact at the foot of Mount Etna, a 'point' of some note.

But most likely the real origin is pre-Greek in the river name itself. Acmon was one of the two Cercopes, with his brother Passalus the other. The word is direct Greek for 'anvil', maybe a suitable name for a dwarf who plagued Heracles actually daring to steal his armour and whose general behaviour, like that of his brother, was rumbustious.

Acontius was a youth from the island of Ceos who loved Cydippe, an Athenian girl. Perhaps he was an accomplished javelin-thrower, for acontion means 'dart', 'javelin'.

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Acrisius was the name of two kings of note. The second, king of Cephallenia, was the father of Laertes. Both names seem to derive from acrisia, 'want of judgment', and it is certainly true that the first Acrisius mentioned here was killed by a lack of judgment: Perseus had thrown a discus at Polydectes' funeral games and it accidentally struck him.

It may be no co- incidence, too, since name origins run in any direction, that the Argive king was buried after this mishap on a height acron - the town of Larissa Cremaste 'Larissa the Suspended' that is located high up on Mount Othrys. There seems to be no specific ill- judgment in the life or death of the other Acrisius. Actaeon is famed for being the hunter who was torn to pieces by his own fifty hounds see Appendix VI, page having been turned into a stag by Artemis, whom he had seen bathing naked.

Who's Who in Classical Mythology

But perhaps we should settle for the root acte, 'sea shore', for his birthplace or native district, even though nowhere in Greece is all that far from the sea. Actaeus was the earliest king of Attica and the father of Agraulus the Agraulus who married Cecrops. We may well be able to see acte, 'beach', 'shore' here, as possibly for Actaeon, since Attica, being a peninsula on which Athens is situated , is surrounded on three sides by the sea coast. Actis was an astronomer, the son of Helios and Rhode. He killed his brother, however, and for this crime of fratricide was banished from Rhodes and fled to Egypt where he founded Heliopolis in honour of his father.

Helios was the sun, of course, so it seems reasonable to see actis, 'ray', 'beam' as precisely what it is. The name common to all four is related to the 'doer' that the English 'actor' is, but it does not come directly from this word which is Latin actor but rather from the Greek actor meaning 'chief, 'leader', from ago, 'to lead'.

As such it is simply a propitious name of a non-specific nature. Admete, 'untamed', 'unmarried' - a somehow appropriate name for the daughter of Eurystheus for whom Heracles undertook his Ninth Labour: to fetch the golden girdle of Ares worn by the Amazonian queen Hippolyta. And was not Hippolyta 'untamed', like all the dauntless Amazons?

This is not, of course, what her name actually means! Admetus has a name of the same meaning as Admete, 'untamed', or even 'untamable'. Not 'unmarried', however, for this king of Pherae married Alcestis, although not before he was obliged to win her hand by coming to her in a chariot drawn by lions and boars. Adonis, the beautiful boy, has a name whose meaning is clear beyond any doubt: 'lord'. It is not so much a pure Greek name as a Semitic or Greek-Hebrew one. Ancient Hebrew adon means 'lord' and was translated thus to refer to God in the Old Testament by the English writers of the Authorised Version of the Bible.

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If Adonis impressed by his handsomeness, then it is hardly surprising on the 'like attracts like' principle that Aphrodite, the paragon of female beauty, should become infatuated by him. Fortunately, the attraction turned out to be mutual. See also Cinyras. Adrastea was a Cretan nymph who nursed the baby Zeus and fed him on the milk of the goat Amalthea. Adrastea was also one of the by-names of Nemesis, with whom the Cretan nymph was identified locally. This by-name ostensibly derived from Adrastus, who had erected an altar to Nemesis, but from the very nature of Nemesis she was the goddess of retribution the name came to be interpreted as meaning 'inescapable', from the privative prefix a- and didrasco, 'to escape'.

Compare the name of Adrastus himself. Adrastus, we have just seen, means 'inescapable'. Indeed, at the conclusion of the war Adrastus was the only one to survive, by escaping on his horse Arion. Escaping, thus, but himself inescapable, however paradoxical this may appear. The fact that he alone survived has also prompted an interpretation of his name to mean 'he who does nothing', 'Do- Nothing', from A-, 'not' and drao, 'to do'.

But this seems an unsat- isfactory and negative way of looking at things. A third possibility could be the meaning 'fruitful', from adros, 'full-grown', or adrosyne, 'ripeness'. This is a good propitious name, but somehow not quite on target for Adrastus. Let us settle for adrastos, 'not running away'. There was another Adrastus who was the son of Merops and a Trojan.

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We must make him 'inescapable' too, for want of any more specific interpretation. Adymnus, the son of Cephalus and Eos, was stolen as a child by Aphrodite to keep watch by night over her most sacred shrines. From this office we can thus get 'not setting' that is, alert through the night , from the privative a- and dysomenos, 'setting'. Aeacus may have a name that is the same as Aeas, the name of a river. He was the son of Zeus and the river-nymph Aegina. Perhaps aia, the poetic form of gaia, 'earth' lies behind his name, that is, 'earth-born' as distinct from a super- natural origin.