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‘Struck (with Blood)’. The Meaning and Etymology of παλάσσω and Its Middle Perfect πεπάλακτο

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AbstractAmong Homer’s bloody descriptions of battle scenes, we find the thrice-repeated phrase ἐγκέφαλος δὲ / ἔνδον ἅπας πεπάλακτο (Il. 11.97 f., 12.185 f., 20.399 f.). The middle pluperfect of παλάσσω is interpreted by commentators and dictionaries either as ‘the brain was spattered (against the inside of the helmet)’, or as ‘the brain was sprinkled (with blood)’. Both interpretations of πεπάλακτο yield syntactic and/or semantic problems. In this paper, I discuss these problems and, after reconsidering the attestations of παλάσσω during the history of Greek, propose a new solution. It is argued that παλάσσω does not primarily mean ‘sprinkle, bespatter’, but (i) ‘strike’, out of which (ii) ‘soil, defile’ developed. In the problematic Homeric phrase, I suggest to translate πεπάλακτο with ‘was struck’. Moreover, I propose an etymology for παλάσσω, deriving the middle perfect πεπάλακτο (which I consider to be the oldest formation) from the same root as πλήσσω ‘strike’, viz., PIE *pleh2g-. This etymology is corroborated by the comparison between ἐµπαλάσσοµαι and ἐνιπλήσσω, both ‘be stuck (in)’.

Affiliations: 1: Leiden University Centre for LinguisticsPostbus 9515, 2300 RA LeidenThe


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