μυ-stem in classical Greek

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Scholiast

Senior Member
Χαίρετε ὦ φίλοι

An amiable acquaintance in England has asked for my opinion/expertise on the classical Greek etymology of words such as μυέω, τὸ μυστήριον, μύωψ. In immediate response, I declared, perhaps prematurely, that these μυ- stems had not necessarily anything to do with each other, and I am convinced still that this is right. But can anyone more philologically clued-up than I (mainly an historian) am please briefly explain where the -στ(η)- bit comes from in μυστηρίον and what linguistically it indicates? Is it some kind of residual past participle?

For any contributions or suggestions, deepest gratitude in advance.

Σ
 
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  • Perseas

    Senior Member
    Hello,

    But can anyone more philologically clued-up than I (mainly an historian) am please briefly explain where the -στ(η)- bit comes from in μυστηρίον and what linguistically it indicates? Is it some kind of residual past participle?
    The σ in μυστήριον comes from the aorist stem of the verb μύω "ἔμυσα".
    -τήριον is a suffix.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    εὐχαριστῶ ὦ Περσέα!

    Daft of me. Of course! Cf. δεσμωτήριον, φροντιστήριον κτλ.

    The question arose because my friend in England (a teacher of Religious Studies, who knows κοινή from the New Testament) has had an argument with her school chaplain (who knows no Greek at all). He has been trying to compose a sermon in which he claims that there is some sort of etymological connexion between 'mystery' and 'myopia', which she rightly denies, but she asked me to confirm her view. I had a couple of hours of fun yesterday with LSJ, discovering (to my delight) numerous classical words previously unknown to me, such as τὸ μύδιον (for a small boat, dinghy), ἡ μυῖα (for carrion-fly, bluebottle), μύσσομαι (for to blow one’s nose), and ἡ μυττίς (cuttle-fish ink).

    One of the (to me) beneficial results of this exercise was that it strongly confirmed my impression that from Aristotle to Hesychius via Galen the classical Greek language is immensely rich (far richer than Latin) in observation of nature—flowers, herbs, trees, fish, insects, animal-life. One reason why LSJ is so much fatter than its cousin Lewis and Short!

    Cheers anyway for putting me right.

    Σ
     
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    Perseas

    Senior Member
    He has been trying to compose a sermon in which he claims that there is some sort of etymological connexion between 'mystery' and 'myopia', which she rightly denies, but she asked me to confirm her view.
    "mystery" and "myopia" are related , from the verb "μύ-ω".

    myopia: Borrowed from Ancient Greek μυωπία (muōpía, “shortsightedness”), from μύω (múō, “to shut eyes”) +‎ ὤψ (ṓps, “view”) +‎ -ία (-ía).
    mystery: [...] from Ancient Greek μυστήριον (mustḗrion, “a mystery, a secret, a secret rite”), from μύστης (mústēs, “initiated one”), from μυέω (muéō, “I initiate”), from μύω (múō, “I shut”).
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Oh dear!

    It seems I have been proven doubly wrong. So the putative μυ-stem means something like 'unseen', 'unclear', 'indistinct'. But how does μυέω ('to initiate') relate to μύω ('to close')?

    I am still excluded from the Mysteries!

    Σ
     

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    He has been trying to compose a sermon in which he claims that there is some sort of etymological connexion between 'mystery' and 'myopia'
    He is certainly right!

    I declared, perhaps prematurely, that these μυ- stems had not necessarily anything to do with each other, and I am convinced still that this is right.
    • All the above, and several others, μυ-stem words have to do with each other. They all derive from the original verb μύ-ω (=Ι shut my eyes / I shut my lips, in order not to disclose secret things) and they constitute a family of etymologically cognates (e.g. μύωψ [because the short-sighted person -without glasses- tightens their eyelids in order to perceive something in a distance], μυωπία, μύστης, μυστικός, μυστήριον, μυῶ, μύησις etc.)
    • μύστης (mystes)= one who has been initiated into the mysteries, (from the aorist stem of the verb μύω "ἔ-μυσ-α", as Perseas explained + the masculine noun ending -της), and has been committed to keeping secrecy regarding what takes place during the mystery, known and practiced by certain initiated persons only)
    • μυστήριον (mystery, as in Greek Antiquity)= secret, sacred rite or doctrine of a religious nature < μύστης + τήριον (a productive suffix denoting, apart from its other two meanings, the means through which something is attained, here the purifications, sacrificial offerings, processions, songs, etc. by the mystes participating in the rite).
    But how does μυέω ('to initiate') relate to μύω ('to close')?
    μυέω-ῶ (= initiate someone into the mysteries) is a derivative of μύω, according to what was described above.
     

    sotos

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Once I red a kind of psychoanalytic essay exploring the connection of mysterion and mys (mouse). I can't remember details but it was very interesting. I remember only the prosonymion "myoctonos" (mouse-killer) of Apollo, and a statue of him. In Christianism we have a mouse-killer, St. Rocco.
     
    I'd add that, according to Beekes RSP · 2010 · “Etymological dictionary of Greek”: 988, the existing evidence doesn't allow to decide whether the root is originally *meu̯s- (the perfect μέμῡκα being secondary) or *meu̯H- (with all the numerous s-forms indeed having spread from the aorist). In my view, the short vowel in the aorist ἔμυσα and future μύσω, if original, excludes the latter variant and implies the root *meu̯s-.
     
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