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Headword: Αἰανὴς κύκλος
Adler number: alphaiota,7
Translated headword: dread circle
Vetting Status: high
[Meaning one that is] dark, unceasing. Sophocles [writes]: "night's dread circle".[1]
Or [sc. with different accent] αἰανῆς , [meaning] lamenting. From the [verb] αἰάζω , [meaning] I lament.[2]
Greek Original:
Αἰανὴς κύκλος: σκοτεινός, ἀδιάλειπτος. Σοφοκλῆς: νυκτὸς αἰανὴς κύκλος. ἢ Αἰανῆς, θρηνητικῆς. παρὰ τὸ αἰάζω, τὸ θρηνῶ.
The "dread" of the headword phrase (αἰανής ) is a poetic adjective of uncertain etymology. The connection implied by the second gloss here between this word and the adverb αἰεί ("always") has been accepted by some scholars (cf. LSJ s.v.) and has left its mark on translation and interpretation (see, for instance Jebb's translation of the word in the Sophocles passage quoted below: "weary" (i.e. unrelenting)). Chantraine, however, disputes this etymology and sees instances where the term has unequivocal connotations of "everlasting", "persistent" or "wearisome" as secondary usages based on folk etymology. Fairly early examples occur, however, e.g. Aeschylus, Eumenides 672.
[1] Sophocles, Ajax 672 (text at web address 1), with Lloyd-Jones' translation from the Loeb edition. The Suda's glosses are derived from scholia on this verse. The same verse is quoted at iota 296 and lambda 322 with a different accentuation: αἰανῆς rather than αἰανής (see the second part of this entry). With that accentuation the adjective "dread" applies to "night" rather than "circle". Most mss. of Sophocles actually exhibit this alternative accentuation, but some Sophoclean mss. and most modern editors present the form recorded in the headword phrase here: αἰανής . See Jebb and Kamerbeek ad loc. The belief that the adjective modifies "night" here may have inspired the frequent glossing of the word as "dark."
[2] Probably derived from a scholion on Sophocles, Electra 505, where the headword occurs (web address 2), though the etymological connection between the word and αἰάζω (on which see alphaiota 4) is also reflected in scholia and commentary elsewhere (e.g. scholia to Pindar, Pythian 4.236, Isthmian 1.49). No modern scholar seems to take this etymology seriously. On the accentuation issue, see previous note. There is probably no significant semantic distinction between the two forms. cf. alphaiota 4.
Associated internet addresses:
Web address 1,
Web address 2
Keywords: definition; dialects, grammar, and etymology; imagery; poetry; tragedy
Translated by: Anne Mahoney on 21 May 1999@14:37:30.
Vetted by:
Catharine Roth (augmented notes, added links and keyword) on 6 September 2002@11:42:46.
David Whitehead (added keyword) on 27 February 2003@09:18:23.
William Hutton (tweaked headword and tr., augmented notes, added cross-references and keywords, raised status) on 12 July 2010@07:06:02.
Catharine Roth (updated links) on 12 July 2010@13:10:30.
David Whitehead (tweaks to tr; cosmetics in notes) on 13 July 2010@02:58:02.
Catharine Roth (tweaked punctuation) on 13 July 2010@11:45:51.
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 22 November 2015@04:03:25.


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