Monday, 19 March 2012

Epic Poems, Epic Names

File:Herbert James Draper, Halcyone.jpg

If you like names with history and with literary connections, epic poems are the perfect place to search. They are often ancient works which delve into mythology, such as The Catalogue of Women by Hesiod and the Dionysiaca by Nonnus; others, such as the French epic poem The Song of Roland, date to around the twelfth century and deal with varying historical subjects. Below are just some of the names plucked from these often obscure works.

From The Catalogue of Women:


Like so many women in Greek mythology, Alcyone (al-SIE-ə-nee) didn't exactly have a very happy ending. She and her husband, Ceyx, angered the gods by comparing themselves to Zeus and Hera. He died when his ship was destroyed and she, upon hearing of his death, threw herself into the sea. Later they were both turned into birds. Alcyone's name, which means Kingfisher, reflects her fate in the hands of the gods.


Queen of Sparta and mother of Helen of Troy, Leda (LEE-) is often in the background while her daughter has taken the name centre stage. She also had three other less well-known daughters, Timandra, Phoebe and Philonoe. Although married to the King of Sparta, Leda was suduced by Zeus when he was in the form of a swan. Her name, which is Greek, means 'woman'. In England & Wales it was used only 3 times in 2010.

From Dionysiaca:


The goddess of harmony and concord, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, and wife of Cadmus. Her fate, of course, was a tragic one. The necklace her husband gave her on their wedding day brought misfortune to the wearer. Her name, however, has positive connotations and means 'harmony, agreement' in Greek. A step up from more common Harmony, Harmonia isn't being used at all in the US or England & Wales. But how about the nickname Mona to make this ancient name more accessible?


Beroe was the goddess of the ancient city of Beirut, now in Lebanon, and the mortal daughter of Aphrodite and Adonis. Her birth was a much celebrated one, and she is described in Dionysiaca as a 'wonderful daughter', as the 'flower of the Graces', of having 'laughing eyes [...] that outshone all the company' and that her beauty 'outshines a sparkling jewel'. Considering who her parents were, it is not surprising that she was considered a great beauty. Both gods Dionysos and Poseidon tried to woo Beroe, but it was the latter who won the right to her hand in marriage. The possible meaning of her name is 'to bear', connected to her much anticipated birth.

From The Song of Roland:


The French feminine form of Aldo, a short form for names beginning with ald 'old' or adal 'noble'. She appears in The Song of Roland as Roland's betrothed. Another unfortunate victim of Epic Poem dramatics, upon hearing of Roland's death in a battle, Aude falls to Charlemagne's feet and dies of grief. The character has also been known as Alda and Alde. Aude could easily be seen as a quirky, more modern take on stuffy Maude.

Image: Halcyone by Herbert James Draper.