Thursday, 22 January 2009

goat song

Thanks to Jonathan for making me aware of this. Tragedy is from Greek τραγῳδία (tragōidia), possibly from τράγος (tragos) "goat" plus ᾠδή (ōidē) "ode, song".

The OED has a bit more info:

ME. a. OF. tregedie, tragedie (14th c. in Godef.), ad. L. tragœdia, a. Gr. τραγῳδία, app[arently]. goat-song, f. τράγος goat + ᾠδή ode, song.

As to the reason of the name many theories have been offered, some even disputing the connexion with ‘goat’. See L. H. Gray in Classical Quarterly VI. 60, and references there given.

The article is On the Etymology of Τραγῳδία, by Louis H. Gray, The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jan. 1912). (Not this Louis H. Gray, or he would have been 7 when he wrote it.) Gray considers a number of theories as to the connection with goats:

(1) The goat was a prize in early tragic contests... (2) there was a song of goats or goatmen... (3) there was a song of men dressed in goat-skins... the celebration being in honour of Dionysos Μελανάνγις; (4) there was a song of men dressed in goat-skins, such a costume being a survival of the archaic Greek dress... (5) a goat was led by the chorus to be sacrificed

Gray considers (4) to be the most plausible, assuming that τραγῳδία really does mean "goat-song". Another theory is that the word means "spelt song" from τράγος in its sense of "a mass of groats made of wheat" - however, this is probably a specialized meaning of τράγος "goat".

However, Gray prefers a different explanation, one that takes the etymological meaning of tragedy to be the antithesis of comedy. He looks for possible cognates of trago- in Old Norse þjarka "quarrel", þrekr "strength, courage, daring", Old English þracu "attack, pressure", and Old Irish trén "strong", from a Proto-Indo-European form *tereg-. In this theory, the original meaning of τραγῳδία was "the singing of bold (or terrible) things", and nothing to do with goats. I don't think this is accepted today; *tereg- isn't in any lists of PIE roots I can find.

ᾠδή is from ἀείδω aeidō "to sing" from *h₂wed- or *h₂weid- "to speak". Other -ody words include:
comedy, etymologically "revel song" (κῶμος kōmos "revel")
parody "wrong song" (παρά para "beyond, amiss, wrong")
melody "tuneful song" (μέλος melos "limb, tune" from *mel- "limb")
rhapsody "sewn together song" (ῥάπτω (rhaptō, rhaps-) "sew together" from *wer- "to turn, bend").


Adam Roberts said...

"groats"? Really?

goofy said...

apparently. (here's a reprint of part of Gray's article)

Adam Roberts said...

Well there you go. I was wrong to doubt you.

I have an alternate theory, but it may have no relation to the way word usage actually evolves (and it may not be original to me). Plus greek characters don't seem to register in the comments box. But here it is: I wonder if the term might not derive ffrom a different Greek original,
, (tarachee, tarachos): ‘trouble, disorder, confusion … tumults, troubles’ [L&S]

Now, it used to be thought the chi there was pronounced as in the ‘ch’ of Scots ‘loch’; but when I was a classics student in the 80s we were taught a new orthodoxy, that chi should be pronounced much closer to a hard ‘k’ [‘blow a hard k’ was how they taught me: ‘k(h)’] This gives us, more or less, tarakos, not a million miles from ‘taragos’ (indeed, L&S say that Aeschylus and Euripides both use ‘taragmos’ for ‘disturbance, confusion’). Mightn’t ‘tarago-oiden’ have been worn down, in speech, to ‘tragoiden’?

goofy said...

Yeah, it's thought that chi was pronounced like an aspirated stop /kʰ/. In modern Greek it's a fricative like German "ch".

I've never heard the theory you propose before. It's possible on general phonological grounds, but I'm no expert in Greek phonology and I don't know if it's plausible. We'd need to determine under what conditions chi would change to g, and "tara" to "tra". But full marks for creativity!

Adam Roberts said...

I suspect that if the case had any merit somebody would have advanced it already. Still: creativity is its own reward.