History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 September 2007

It's All Greek to Me

Hey all you Hoydens! I've been super busy for a couple of weeks. Not only am I working on the first quarter of a new book, my in-laws are coming today, which means cleaning. Serious cleaning. I try my best not to clean the house at all unless someone's coming over, so you can imagine how many hours I've put into dusting and vacuuming and filing and scrubbing to get this place into in-law shape. Ugh.

I've also been caught up in the process of negotiating a new contract. I'll have two sexy romantic comedies out with HQN in 2009! No worries, though. I'll definitely continue writing historicals too. In fact, that's what I'm working on right now.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry for my recent abbreviated posts. I'm hoping to make it down to the university library next week to check out some materials on debt among peers and inheritence issues and even sexual abuse in the nineteenth century. But for now you get another installment of: Books Victoria Has Found During Cleaning!!! Woo-hoo!

My most recent find is From Achilles' Heel to Zeus's Shield by Dale Corey Dibbley. (That's quite a name!) This book is about words and phrases that are born of ancient mythology. There are lots of examples in this book that most of us are already familiar with. Achilles' heel and Pandora's box, for instance. But some I've never thought about or would never have considered. I hope some of you Hoydens like etymology as much as I do! Ready?

ammonia - based on the egyptian god Ammon. Egyptians distilled ammonium chloride for trade by heating camel dung or a mixture of salt and urine. The Greeks called it Ammoniakos ("of Ammon") when they saw it being made near Ammon's temple. The English word ammonia was adopted around 1799.

catamite - a young boy used by a pederast. Catamite comes from the Latin name Catmitus which is a translation of the Greek name Ganymedes. Ganymedes was the most beautiful boy in the world and caught the attention of Zeus. Zeus brought the lovely boy up to Olympus to be his lover, hence the name became a synonum for a young boy used sexually by an older male.

irridescent - root word is Iris, the swift messenger goddess who personified the rainbow in Greek mythology.

panic - Here's an interesting one. Straight from the book, because I love this description... "Imagine how you would feel if you were walking alone at night, in a dark wood, and you suddenly heard shouts and shrieks coming through the darkness. You'd probably panic, just as the ancient Greeks did when they heard the nocturnal revelry of Pan and his followers."

phaeton - Now maybe some of you knew this, but I had no idea! Phaethon was the son of the sun god, Helios. Phaethon begged to drive the sun chariot across the sky for one day. His father knew he couldn't handle the task, but he'd promised his son he could have any one wish and Phaethon held him to it. Disaster ensued, in the form of the sun crashing to earth and setting the world ablaze. Luckily, Zeus intervened, but Phaethon didn't survive. Not sure I would've named a vehicle after him, but nobody asked me.

sub rosa - "under the rose" meaning "in strictest confidence" This is new to me also, but may be of particular interest to you medieval writers! At banquets in ancient Rome, if secrets were to be discussed, a rose was hung over the table to remind the guests that whatever was said was not to be revealed outside the room. But the tradition was actually descended from a mistake. Greeks mistakenly thought the Egyptian god Horus was the god of silence. The Romans adopted this same belief, working it into a story in which Cupid gives Horus a rose in exchange for his silence in one of Venus's indiscretions. A rose continued to be hung over tables to indicate secrecy in medieval times. During the Renaissance, roses began to be sculted into the decor of dining rooms and this continued through Victorian times, though the motif seemed to have lost its meaning by then.

Hope you enjoyed this installment of Books Victoria Has Found During Cleaning! I'm off to scrub the kitchen floor!


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Victoria. I knew the story of Phaeton but had no idea about the other words. I may have to get a copy of that book, along with the zillions of other books I just ordered for non-fiction project.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I'm using the Phaeton story in my current w.i.p., as it happens. Read the tale in a myth collection when I was a kid, and it stuck with me.

11:36 AM  

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