Word Study: ankhitheos ‘close to the gods’ in Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite

A guest post by Jenna Cole following up on
our recent chat with Leonard Muellner

Many interesting themes came up during our live chat with Professor Muellner, and one of them was the meaning behind Anchises’ name.

To start, we look at the name of Anchises’ son, Aeneas:

His name will be Aineias [Aeneas], since it was an unspeakable [ainos ]18 akhos  that took hold of me—grief that I had fallen into the bed of a mortal man.

[200] And yet, of all mortal humans, the closest to the gods by far

are those who come from your family line,19  both in looks and in constitution.20

Prof. Nagy says this in footnote 19 on the Hymn:

19 This reflects, I think, on the name Ankhisēs, which I take to be a conflation of the epithets ankhitheos ‘close to the gods’ and isotheos ‘equal to the gods’. Both of these epithets reflect the theme of god-hero antagonism.

“Closest to the gods” in the passage above is ankhitheos.

Prof. Muellner suggested that we might find attestations of ankhitheos and isotheos in other texts.  One passage that contains ankhitheos is found in Odyssey, Scroll V:

“Hermes, you are our messenger,
[30] go therefore and tell Kalypsō we have decreed that poor enduring Odysseus is to return home [nostos]. He is to be convoyed neither by gods nor men, but after a perilous voyage of twenty days upon a raft he is to reach fertile Skheria,
[35] the land of the Phaeacians, who are near of kin to the gods, and will honor him as though he were one of ourselves.

In this passage the Phaeacians are described as “kin to the gods,” that is ἀγχίθεος in the Greek.  What are the similarities between the Phaeacians and Anchises?

Are there any aspects of the Hymn to Aphrodite that you are thinking about more or differently since Prof. Muellner’s inspiring visit?  Would you like to share your thoughts or research with the community? To join this conversation, visit the Forum.

Cheers,  Jenna

Featured image: Egisto Sani (photo) Aphrodisias’ Sebasteion – Roman Mythology – VI via Flickr
Jenna Cole is a participant on Hour 25 and was a discussion facilitator in the second iteration of HeroesX.  She currently lives in the Bluegrass State with her husband and two young children, and teaches geology and anthropology at a local university.