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Headword: Ἄβυσσον
Adler number: alpha,104
Translated headword: abyss
Vetting Status: high
[Meaning] that which not even a deep [βυθός ] can contain; but Ionians pronounce βυθός as βυσσός .[1]
From which also βυσσοδομεύειν ["to build in the deep"] appears to be said,[2] from the verb δύνω ["I sink"] [meaning] I enter upon secretly, with a change [of initial consonant] [giving] βύω , βύσω , βέβυσμαι , βέβυσαι , [and the nouns] βυσός and ἀβύσσος [meaning] where no-one enters because of its depth.[3]
Aristophanes in Frogs [writes]: "for immediately you will come to a huge lake, an absolute abyss."[4] And he also uses the word in the neuter: "they shall not make peace while the measureless [ἄβυσσον ] silver is with the goddess on the Acropolis." For 1,000 talents were stored on the Acropolis.[5]
"Abyss" is what the Holy Scripture calls the watery substance. So since the land is surrounded on all sides by waters [and] by great and small seas, David naturally called this [i.e., abyss] the earth's surrounding garment.[6] Also, "abyss calls to abyss", the same prophet says,[7] meaning figuratively military divisions and the excessive size of the multitude.[8]
"I was under water as [if] in a kind of abyss."[9]
So an abyss [is] a great amount of water.
Greek Original:
Ἄβυσσον: ἣν οὐδὲ βυθὸς χωρῆσαι δύναται: Ἴωνες δὲ τὸν βυθὸν βυσσόν φασιν. ὅθεν δοκεῖ λέγεσθαι καὶ βυσσοδομεύειν, παρὰ τὸ δύνω, τὸ ὑπεισέρχομαι, κατὰ τροπὴν βύω, βύσω, βέβυσμαι, βέβυσαι, βυσὸς καὶ ἀβύσσος, οὗ οὐδεὶς εἰσέρχεται διὰ τὸ βάθος. Ἀριστοφάνης Βατράχοις: εὐθὺς γὰρ ἐπὶ λίμνην μεγάλην ἥξεις πάνυ ἄβυσσον. καὶ οὐδετέρως φησὶν ὁ αὐτός: ἕως ἂν ᾖ τὸ ἀργύριον τὸ ἄβυσσον παρὰ τῇ θεῷ, οὐκ εἰρηνεύσουσιν. ἐν γὰρ τῇ ἀκροπόλει χίλια τάλαντα ἀπέκειτο. Ἄβυσσον καλεῖ τὴν ὑγρὰν οὐσίαν ἡ θεία γραφή. ἐπεὶ οὖν ἡ γῆ πανταχόθεν ὕδασι περιέχεται μεγάλοις καὶ μικροῖς πελάγεσιν, εἰκότως περιβόλαιον αὐτῆς εἴρηκεν ὁ Δαβίδ. καὶ, ἄβυσσος ἄβυσσον ἐπικαλεῖται, ὁ αὐτὸς προφήτης φησίν: τὰ στρατιωτικὰ λέγων τάγματα καὶ τὴν τοῦ πλήθους ὑπερβολὴν τροπικῶς. ὡς ἐν ἀβύσσῳ τινὶ ὑποβρύχιος ἐγενόμην. Ἄβυσσος οὖν ὑδάτων πλῆθος πολύ.
See also alpha 105.
[1] This comment on Ionian pronunciation comes from the scholiast on Aristophanes, Frogs 138, quoted later in the entry.
[2] In Homer, Odyssey, where βυσσοδομεύω occurs most frequently, it has the sense "brood over."
[3] cf. Etymologicum Magnum 4.44. These are principal parts of the verb βύω , which means "to stuff," followed by βυσός , which does not exist according to LSJ. Probably this is a mistake for βυσσός , "depth of the sea" (cf. beta 598, βυσσόν ). The Suda generally has little concern for the distinction between single and double consonants. The author thus seems to propose a very dubious etymology: that ἀ-βυσσος literally means "unstuffable" -- i.e., unable to be entered. [Ms M (= Marcianus 448) omits this sentence.]
[4] Aristophanes, Frogs 137-8 (web address 1).
[5] "Silver" [ἀργύριον ] is a neuter noun in Greek, while lake [λίμνη ] in the previous sentence is feminine; the point is that the same form ἄβυσσον is used with both. The sentence quoted here is actually part of a scholion to Aristophanes, Lysistrata 173 (web address 2); Aristophanes uses the phrase τὸ ἀργύριον τὸ ἄβυσσον in that line itself.
[6] Psalm 103:6 LXX. See again under pi 1083.
[7] Psalm 41:8 LXX.
[8] Referring to the continuation of Psalm 41:8 LXX, "all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me" (KJV).
[9] From Theodoret's commentary (PG 80.1173) on Psalm 41:8 LXX.
Associated internet addresses:
Web address 1,
Web address 2
Keywords: Christianity; comedy; definition; dialects, grammar, and etymology; economics; epic; geography; history; imagery; military affairs; proverbs; religion
Translated by: Elizabeth Vandiver on 21 November 1998@17:02:02.
Vetted by:
William Hutton (Cosmetics, augmented note, added keywords, set status) on 5 February 2001@11:48:31.
David Whitehead (added note; cosmetics) on 9 February 2001@08:11:37.
David Whitehead (added x-ref; cosmetics) on 4 July 2003@08:14:49.
Elizabeth Vandiver (Added links; cosmetics) on 14 December 2003@15:22:17.
David Whitehead (modified translation and notes 6-9) on 28 April 2004@11:16:41.
Jennifer Benedict (betacoding) on 26 March 2008@00:15:00.
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 19 April 2011@18:23:25.
David Whitehead (more keywords) on 25 April 2011@04:11:52.
Catharine Roth (tweaked translation and note, after consulting with the translator) on 26 April 2011@17:14:37.
David Whitehead (augmented notes and keywords; tweaks and cosmetics) on 22 December 2011@03:45:27.
Catharine Roth (coding) on 21 November 2014@10:58:29.
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 21 November 2014@11:44:30.
David Whitehead (coding) on 15 August 2015@07:36:21.


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