Re: Athene

From: HÃ¥kan Lindgren
Message: 3251
Date: 2000-08-18

Dennis wrote -
The problem of deriving Athena from Hanahana is to my mind not so much that of the origin of the Greek theta, but that of the final syllable. The earlier Greek forms, in inscriptions before 4c, and attested in Homer, Aeschylus, Aristophanes and others, has this as /-naie:/, /naia/, or /naa/. This would suggest that Neit is a more plausible source than (Ha)-na. Further, after a somewhat cursory check, I cannot find "a great number of Greek divine and semi-divine names" (John) that begin with At-, other than Atlas and all his derivatives, and that cannot be analysed as a-, e.g. A-tropos, A-talanta. There is however a possible Egyptian source in /Ht/ "temple or abode of a god", or "tomb", which, although not attested for Neit, has been transcribed elsewhere in Greek and Coptic as /At-/ or /Ath-/.
Is it so very far Piotr? Final t's were dropped both in Greek and in Late (New Kingdom) Egyptian. A prothetic vowel or contamination from the obviously related Semitic Anat could provide an explanation of the initial a. So we have a possible ath-a-nei-.
It's not as if we're discussing two entirely unrelated words. Notwithstanding John's claim of 6c political machinations, there is a consensus in classical literature identifying Athena with Neit.
Explaining Athena as coming from Egyptian Ht Nt, "temple of Neit", is just what Bernal does in Black Athena. According to Jasanoff's and Nussbaum's examination of Bernal's etymologies (Word Games, in the anthology Black Athena Revisited) this is false. They write:
It is - - - an excellent example with which to end our survey of Bernal's "name" etymologies, as it perfectly illustrates the deficiencies of his method. Morphologically, the derivation of "Athens" from Ht Nt is suspect for the same reason that the above explanation of "Mycenae" is suspect: it forces us to find separate ad hoc explanations for a recurring sequence ( -a:nai / -a:na ) that is better explained as a unitary suffix. Phonetically, the only feature the names Atha:na and Ht Nt have in common is an n preceded by a t(h). Even this agreement is deceptive, for while in Egyptian the t and n are (Bernal's claims notwithstanding) in direct contact, in Greek the corresponding consonants are separated by an accented long vowel which is neither predicted nor explained. On the semantic side, the Atha:na : Ht Nt equation shows the customary lack of rigor. The simple fact is that the original meaning of "Athens" and "Athena" is unknown; "temple of Neit" is no more likely, a priori, than "olive grove," rocky crag," or countless other possible glosses. The most that Bernal can say in favor of comparing the two goddesses is that "in Antiquity, Athena was consistently identified with...  Neit" and that "both were virgin divinities of warfare, weaving and wisdom." The latter description is a highly misleading characterisation of Neit, whose association with weaving and wisdom was less conspicuous, as far as we can judge, than her role as patroness of the hunt and mother of the crocodile god Sobek. - - - The all-important fact is that under the rules of the game as laid down in Black Athena, any eye-catching or merely convenient etymological proposal is as good as any other. (p. 193-94)
After reading their essay Bernal has lost all credibility.