Thursday, April 1, 2010


Eurynome was a deity of ancient Greek religion worshipped at a sanctuary near the confluence of rivers called the Neda and the Lymax in classical Peloponnesus. She was represented by a statue of what we would call a mermaid. Tradition, as reported by the Greek traveller, Pausanias, identified her with the Oceanid, or “daughter of Ocean”, of Greek poetry.
The name is usually segmented Eury-nome, where eury- is “wide”. This segment appears in Linear B as e-u-ru–, a prefix in a few men’s names. It does not occur in any Mycenaean women’s names, nor does –nome.
The root of –nome is Proto-Indo-European *nem-, distribute, as in the Greek infinitive, nemein, “to distribute.” Words derived from *nem- had a large variety of senses. In the case of Eurynome, the two main senses proposed are “wanderer” and “ruler”.
Robert Graves saw in Eurynome a lunar goddess descending from the Pre-Hellenic mother goddess of Neolithic Europe. In that case, –nome is as in our word nomad. The nomad wanders searching for pastureland, or land that has been “distributed” for the use of domestic animals. The moon is to be regarded as wandering. In the other interpretation, –nome is as in English auto-nomy. A ruler is someone who “distributes” law and justice. Neither case has any bearing on the status of Eurynome as a possible Pelasgian mother goddess.
If Eurynome was the descendant of a pre-Greek goddess, she must have had a pre-Greek name, and not the Greek name, Eurynome. If the name is Indo-European, it might have evolved into Greek with the rest of the language. If it is not Indo-European, then it might result from renaming or from selecting the closest Greek homonym.

A few important sources relate a creation myth. The main source is Apollonius of Rhodes, who is quoted in the article on Ophion. The details are not repeated here.
Robert Graves, one of the chief scholars interested in the myth, saw in this passage a possible Pelasgian creation myth. Putting together what was then beginning to be known of Neolithic Greece and its connections to the orient, he hypothesized that Eurynome originally was another manifestation of the Neolithic mother goddess.
The Ophion article takes a skeptical approach on the grounds that he read too much into the sources. As he did not rely only on the sources, this article presents some of Graves’ wider arguments:
▪ The egg and the snake. The rebirth of the world from an egg and the use of the snake as a symbol of regenerative power is a strong theme of what Marija Gimbutas called “the language of the goddess”; that is, the common (but undeciphered) writing system attested on Neolithic pottery of much of Europe, including the Balkans. In another myth, the Pelasgians descend from the teeth of Ophion, which ostensibly means “snake.”
▪ As the Neolithics either entered the Balkans from the eastern Mediterranean region or kept close ties with the Natufians there, Graves makes comparisons with and draws parallels to mythic elements among cultures to which the Natufians descended; that is, the entire Middle East. For example, he compares her to Sumerian Iahu, “exalted dove”, which he believed became the name of Jehovah.
▪ Many if not most of the names of Greek mythology are believed to have come from pre-Greek elements. For example, the Proto-Indo-Europeans had no word for ocean or travel upon it. Okeanos is a pre-Greek word, as are Olympos, Tethys and Titan.
▪ The antiquity of Eurynome and Ophion are sufficiently attested in the sources to warrant a presumption that they descend from prehistoric times. Only the prefix, Eury-, appears in the most ancient known Greek, but that is sufficient to demonstrate the remoteness of the names in time from later poetic mythologizers such as Apollonius.
Graves’ views attract more attention as time goes by, perhaps because of increasing knowledge about the Neolithic. At the present time, however, they are still regarded as mainly speculation. Concerning prehistoric Europe, archaeology and speculation are all we have at the moment. Even if some of Graves’ detail can be shown to be wrong, no proof exists that his overall views, based on the synthesis of many elements, are either true or untrue.

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