Sunday, June 22, 2008


Sardonic Again

This supplements a previous note on the word sardonic.

I haven't read Paul Kretschmer, "Das sardonische Lachen," Glotta 34.1-2 (1954) 1-9, but Joseph Russo has. According to Russo's commentary on Homer, Odyssey 20.302, Kretschmer
reviews and refutes the ancient etymologies and would derive the word from a Near Eastern people called the Shardana, neighbours of the Egyptians who migrated westward and gave their name to Sardinia and to laughter-provoking performers of south Italian farce. This last connection, however, based on Hesychius' gloss σαρδανάφαλλος· γελωτοποιός, seems tenuous, and so the origin of 'sardonic laughter' remains obscure.
Erasmus, Adagia III.v.1, discusses Risus Sardonius (Σαρδώνιος γέλως) in detail. See Collected Works of Erasmus, 35 (Adages III iv 1 to IV ii 100, tr. Dennis L. Drysdall) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), pp. 59-67.

The Sardinian plant which, when eaten, is supposed to cause a sardonic grin is the hairy buttercup, Ranunculus sardous:

Ranunculus sardous, photographed by Kristian Peters

Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ), s.v. σαρδάνιος, say that the word is "Perh. connected with σεσηρώς, grinning, sneering." For σεσηρώς, one must consult LSJ under σαίρω (A):
only found in pf. with pres. sense σέσηρα,

A. part the lips and show the closed teeth (cf. Gal.18(2).597), grin, σέσηρεν ἄν τε βούλητ' ἄν τε μή Alex.98.26; Σάτυροι ἀπὸ τοῦ σεσηρέναι Ael.VH3.40; but mostly in part., ἄπλητον σεσᾰρυῖα (Ep. for σεσηρυῖα) Hes.Sc.268; οἷον σεσηρὼς ἐξαπατήσειν μ' οἴεται Ar.V.901; ἠγριωμένους ἐπ' ἀλλήλοισι καὶ σεσηρότας Id.Pax620; ς. καὶ γελῶν Com.Adesp.606; γελῶντα καὶ ς. Plu.2.223c; σιμὰ ς. AP5.178 (Mel.); but also without any such bad sense, εἶπε σεσᾱρὼς ὄμματι μειδιόωντι smiling, Theoc. 7.19 (cf. προσσαίρω).

2. transferred to grinning laughter, σεσηρόσι μειδιήμασι Hp.Gland.12; σεσηρότι γέλωτι Luc.Am.13 : the neut. is used in Adv. sense, σεσᾱρὸς γελᾶν Theoc.20.14; σεσηρὸς αἰκάλλειν, of a fox, Babr.50.14, cf. Ps.-Luc.Philopatr.26.

3. of a wound or sore, ἕλκος σεσηρὸς καὶ ἐκπεπλιγμένον gaping, Hp.Fract.32, cf. Aret.CA2.2; also ς. χάσμημα, of a metrical hiatus, Eust.840.43.

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