Ancient Greek (ἀ)στεροπή, ἀστραπή 'lightning-flash' revisited

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution

Matthew Scarborough - Speaker

Despite the universality of the lightning-flash as a weather phenomenon and the conceptualization of the thunder-bolt as a weapon of the weather deity in various Indo-European mythological traditions, there is no securely reconstructible word for this concept of Proto-Indo-European date, but rather all lexemes denoting ‘lightning-flash’ appear to be secondary formations within the individual branches derived from words encompassing general semantic domains such as ‘light’, ‘fire’, ‘shine’, ‘blaze’, flash’, etc. (cf. Buck 1949: 56– 57, Mallory & Adams 1997: 353). In Ancient Greek, the lightning-flash is designated by the term ἀστραπή with many variants, e.g., στεροπή, ἀστεροπή; denominal verbs ἀστράπτω, στράπτω; Στορπάο (epithet of Zeus at Tegea), etc., which is commonly taken to reflect an inherited compound *h₂str -h₃okʷ-éh₂ ‘star-eye’ vel sim. (Peters 1980: 208n160; cf. Mayrhofer 1986: 125). However, as Beekes (1987) has noted, the variants attested in the Greek dialects are not easily reconciled to an Indo-European proto-form and proposed that it should alternatively be assigned to the non-Indo-European substratum vocabulary in Greek (cf. also Beekes 2010: 156, 1402). In this paper I will re-examine the Greek word for ‘lightning-flash’ in their variants, introducing a mythological 21 comparison to Στερόπης and the other two Hesiodic Cyclopes (Ἄργης ‘Bright’ Βρόντης ‘Thunderer’) as the manufacturers and donors of the thunder-bolt (Hes. Theog. 140–141, 501–506, cf. West 1966: 303–304) to suggest that the variants of ἀστραπή may possibly point an Indo-Europeanizing re-interpretation of borrowed non-Indo-European lexical material within the emerging cultural context of Greek mythology and poetics as a new folk-etymology that would have been more semantically transparent to early Greek speakers.


Beekes, Robert S. P. 1987. Gr. (ἀ)στεροπή, ἀστραπή. Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 48. 15–20.
Beekes, Robert S. P. 2010. Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Leiden: Brill.
Buck, Carl Darling. 1949. A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mallory, James Patrick & Douglas Q. Adams. 1997. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers.
Mayrhofer, Manfred. 1986. 2. Halbband: Lautlehre [Segementale Phonologie des Indogermanischen]. In: Indogermanische Grammatik. Band I: 1. Halbband: Einleitung. 2. Halbband: Lautlehre [Segmentale Phonologie des Indogermanischen], 73-216. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag.
Peters, Martin. 1980. Untersuchungen zur Vertretung der indogermanischen Laryngale im Griechischen. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
West, Martin Litchfield. 1966. Hesiod: Theogony with Prolegomena and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
11 Nov 2023


NameDepartment of Nordic Studies and Linguistics
Date10/11/2006 → …
LocationEmil Holms Kanal 2
CityKøbenhavn S

ID: 372697390