Baths, Bricks and Labyrinths

ἔκ ῥ᾽ ἀσαμίνθου βῆ δέμας ἀθανάτοισιν ὁμοῖος,
πὰρ δ᾽ ὅ γε Νέστορ᾽ ἰὼν κατ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἕζετο, ποιμένα λαῶν.
He (Telemachus) stepped out of the bath, in his body like the immortals, and went and set down next to Nestor, the shepherd of the people

Hom. Od. 3.469

(for the previous lines see Sententiae Antiquae at

Somewhere I have read that Greek words ending in  -inthos like asaminthos in the quote above derived from a native language of Greece before the Greeks arrived. The people who spoke the language were Pelasgians who were then suppressed or absorbed as the Greeks came down into Greece in a series of migrations.

Lots has been written about this I am sure, but I just wanted to pursue my own thoughts on this. This is not scholarship but just idle thinking.

My thought was that the sorts of words that would be borrowed would be for objects or things that the Greeks did not have where they came from and wouldn’t be suitable to a nomadic or semi-nomadic people. They would only need these words when they started to have a settled life and in fact in many cases this seems to be true. So here is  list of some words ending in -inthos and my comments on them.

asaminthos – bath tub. Well you wouldn’t expect a nomadic people to lug around baths. I have seen an example at Pylos, possibly the very same one that Telemachus had his bath in, and although small you wouldn’t want to carry it around.

plinthos – brick – here again you wouldn’t expect a nomadic people to use bricks.

labyrinthos – labyrinth or complicated and confusing building like the palace of Knossos. Here again you would need a settled people.

sminthos – mouse. Now you would expect a nomadic people to have a word for mouse but a scholiast (on Iliad A 38) has noted that sminthos is a Cretan word. Apollo was called Smintheu or mouse god and anyway there are other Greek words for mouse (see ) so this could well be a borrowing.

hyacinthos – hyacinth. A nomadic tribe may have come across this flower but possibly when coming into Greece they found  varieties of food they had not met before. The Greeks ate bulbs and possibly they originally applied the name to the plant as a foodstuff when they saw the locals eat it. And on the basis that they came across other foods they had never seen before you could also add erebinthos (chickpea), minthos (mint), terebebinthos (terebinth).

Sabylinthos – Sabylinthos was the guardian of Tharpys, king of the Molossians (Thucydidies 2:80). Thucydides implies that the Molossians were non-Greek or barbarian so Sabylinthus could be a non-Greek name and possibly Pelasgian. This would then mean that Pelasgians stretched over a wide are from Crete up to the Epirus.

So far so good  – all the words I have thought of so far have been words likely to have been adopted by the incoming Greeks – either because they they were not things you could carry with you or they were types of food – think of tomato and potato adopted from native Americans or some other reason. I then thought of Corinth. It would seem that an incoming people could easily adopt a place name. However in the Iliad, Leaf and Bayfield whose edition I am reading, comment that Homer uses Corinth when speaking in his own name (Iliad B: 570)  but the older name Ephure when Glaucus speaks (Iliad Z: 152). So Corinth may not have been the original name. I would guess however it could have been the name of a nearby village which then became more important than the original town but that is pure speculation.

Anyway as I said these are just idle thoughts.

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