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Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

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4 Eponyms

Now let us look at some eponyms. These are words derived from names, usually of a person, but sometimes of a place, or a geographical feature such as a river or mountain. A familiar example is ‘narcissist’, derived from the mythical figure of Narcissus, the beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection. The word ‘eponym’ comes from the adjective ἐπώνυμοϛ, which describes something that lends its name to something else. ἐπώνυμοϛ is formed from the Greek preposition ἐπι (‘upon’) and the noun ὄνομα (name).

Activity 6 Greek proper names

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Can you work out the English words derived from the following Greek proper names?

  1. Μέντωρ, an old friend entrusted by Odysseus to look after his household when he left for Troy.
  2. Δράκων, an Athenian lawgiver of the 7th century BCE whose laws were reputed to have specified the death penalty for most crimes.
  3. Μαίανδρος, the Menderes river which winds through southwestern Turkey, mentioned in Homer’s Iliad.
  4. Μαύσωλος, a fourth-century BCE king of Caria in western Turkey. His tomb was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
  5. Ἀφροδίτη, goddess of love and beauty.


  1. mentor
  2. draconian
  3. meander
  4. mausoleum
  5. aphrodisiac

Incidentally, the Maeander river runs close to the city of Priene, the source of the inscription discussed in Section 10 of Session 1.

Here is another selection. Can you identify the English eponyms?

  1. Τάνταλος, legendary king, punished by the gods with food and drink that was always just out of reach.
  2. Θέσπις, believed in antiquity to be the inventor of tragic drama.
  3. Μορφεύς, god of dreams.
  4. Πάν, shepherd god who acquired a reputation for sowing sudden bouts of fear.
  5. Πρωτεύς, a shape-shifting sea-god whose fight with Menelaus is described in the Odyssey.


  1. tantalise
  2. thespian
  3. morphine
  4. panic
  5. protean (‘variable’, ‘able to take on different shapes’)