τέκνον and παῖς (Ancient Greek)


New Member
Portuguese - Brazil
Hello, everyone,

Does anyone know whether there is a systematic difference between the words τέκνον and παῖς in Ancient Greek?

I know that in some languages there are two words for the English "child": one to refer to one's descendant (even if they are an adult), and another to refer to a young person (with no reference to family relations). I'm thinking here of Portuguese and Spanish, where filho(a) and hijo(a) (son/daughter) is the only word to refer to offspring, with no reference to age. Conversely, criança and infante mean a young person, a minor, an infant, with no reference to parentage.

I wonder if the difference between τέκνον and παῖς could be the same? If not, what is the difference?

Wiktionary seems to suggest that παῖς can mean both "offspring" and "young person", whereas τέκνον can only mean "offspring". That would seem to make sense, as τέκνον is related to the verb τίκτω, isn't it? But it's hard to tell just from the English word "child": child - Wiktionary

I'm trying to track the use of both words in Oedipus Rex. These are the occurrences of τέκνον I could find:

1 ὦ τέκνα,

6-7 ἁγὼ δικαιῶν μὴ παρ᾽ ἀγγέλων, τέκνα, ἄλλων ἀκούειν

157 ὦ χρυσέας τέκνον Ἐλπίδος

425 ἅ σ᾽ ἐξισώσει σοί τε καὶ τοῖς σοῖς τέκνοις.

928 γυνὴ δὲ μήτηρ ἥδε τῶν κείνου τέκνων.

1030 σοῦ τ᾽, ὦ τέκνον, σωτήρ γε τῷ τότ᾽ ἐν χρόνῳ.

1098-9 τίς σε, τέκνον, τίς σ᾽ ἔτικτε τᾶν μακραιώνων ἄρα

1216 ἰώ, Λαΐειον ὦ τέκνον,

1250 ἐξ ἀνδρὸς ἄνδρα καὶ τέκν᾽ ἐκ τέκνων τέκοι.

1257 κίχοι διπλῆν ἄρουραν οὗ τε καὶ τέκνων.

1375 ἀλλ᾽ ἡ τέκνων δῆτ᾽ ὄψις ἦν ἐφίμερος,

1480, 1484, 1493 ὦ τέκνα, / ὦ τέκν᾽ / τέκνα,

(Oedipus is addressing Antigone and Ismene)

1521 στεῖχέ νυν, τέκνων δ᾽ ἀφοῦ.

These are the occurrences of παῖς:

32 οὐδ᾽ οἵδε παῖδες ἑζόμεσθ᾽ ἐφέστιοι,

58 ὦ παῖδες οἰκτροί, γνωτὰ κοὐκ ἄγνωτά μοι

69 ταύτην ἔπραξα: παῖδα γὰρ Μενοικέως

85 ἄναξ, ἐμὸν κήδευμα, παῖ Μενοικέως,

142 ἀλλ᾽ ὡς τάχιστα, παῖδες, ὑμεῖς μὲν βάθρων

147 ὦ παῖδες, ἱστώμεσθα: τῶνδε γὰρ χάριν

261 κοινῶν τε παίδων κοίν᾽ ἄν, εἰ κείνῳ γένος

267 τῷ Λαβδακείῳ παιδὶ Πολυδώρου τε καὶ

271 μήτ᾽ οὖν γυναικῶν παῖδας, ἀλλὰ τῷ πότμῳ

444 ἄπειμι τοίνυν: καὶ σύ, παῖ, κόμιζέ με.

457 φανήσεται δὲ παισὶ τοῖς αὑτοῦ ξυνὼν

713 ὡς αὐτὸν ἕξοι μοῖρα πρὸς παιδὸς θανεῖν,

717 παιδὸς δὲ βλάστας οὐ διέσχον ἡμέραι

722 τὸ δεινὸν οὑφοβεῖτο πρὸς παιδὸς θανεῖν.

854 διεῖπε χρῆναι παιδὸς ἐξ ἐμοῦ θανεῖν.

1008 ὦ παῖ, καλῶς εἶ δῆλος οὐκ εἰδὼς τί δρᾷς.

1021 ἀλλ᾽ ἀντὶ τοῦ δὴ παῖδά μ᾽ ὠνομάζετο;

1080 ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἐμαυτὸν παῖδα τῆς Τύχης νέμων

1142-3 φέρ᾽ εἰπὲ νῦν, τότ᾽ οἶσθα παῖδά μοί τινα

δούς, ὡς ἐμαυτῷ θρέμμα θρεψαίμην ἐγώ;

1150 οὐκ ἐννέπων τὸν παῖδ᾽ ὃν οὗτος ἱστορεῖ.

1156 τὸν παῖδ᾽ ἔδωκας τῷδ᾽ ὃν οὗτος ἱστορεῖ;

1171 κείνου γέ τοι δὴ παῖς ἐκλῄζεθ᾽: ἡ δ᾽ ἔσω

1209 ἦ στέγας λιμὴν
αὑτὸς ἤρκεσεν
παιδὶ καὶ πατρὶ θαλαμηπόλῳ πεσεῖν;

1360 νῦν δ᾽ ἄθεος μέν εἰμ᾽, ἀνοσίων δὲ παῖς,

1406 πατέρας, ἀδελφούς, παῖδας, αἷμ᾽ ἐμφύλιον,

1460-1 παίδων δὲ τῶν μὲν ἀρσένων μή μοι, Κρέων,
προσθῇ μέριμναν: ἄνδρες εἰσίν, ὥστε μὴ

1503 ὦ παῖ Μενοικέως, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπεὶ μόνος πατὴρ

According to the LSJ Greek-English Lexicon, παῖς is more common in tragedy in reference to the father, whereas τέκνον is more common in a context about the mother. It also says that τέκνον is the word for the young of animals. That would appear to make sense, for a patrilinear society, that παῖς woud focus on descent when talking about the father, and τέκνον would refer only to young age.

But the uses of these words in the Tyrannus do not seem to fit that, since the characters use παῖς to talk about an infant (Tiresias' servant boy, the boy given to one shepherd to another) and Jocasta uses it when she refers to her son (hence, in reference to the mother). It is also used, however, in line 1460 above, as a reference to Oedipus' four children, even though as the line admits, the male children are actually already men (so meaning adult offspring) -- this is also the case in 1503, for example, when Creon is referred to as παῖ Μενοικέως.

Conversely, τέκνον appears to be much more common to mean offspring, even when the person in question is an adult (possibly affectionate). It does not seem to be used as a simple reference to young age at all.

Can anyone help with this?

Thanks a lot!
  • ioanell

    Hi, RadekPSK

    Congratulations for the really great job you seem to be doing.

    Your observations regarding the uses of the words παῖς and τέκνον in Oedipus Tyrannus seem to be quite right, whereas the information given by the LSJ Greek-English Lexicon seems to be rather general information.

    Wiktionary seems to suggest that παῖς can mean both "offspring" and "young person", whereas τέκνον can only mean "offspring".
    The word παῖς (masc. ὁ παῖς, fem. ἡ παῖς) means 1. With reference to descent: son or daughter, regardless of age. In periphrases, e.g. “‘ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων, ἴτε,” it is used instead of “ὦ Ἑλληνες, ἴτε ” (=You Greeks, go ahead, Aesch. Persians line 402) 2. With reference to age: boy or girl, youngster (male or female) 3. With reference to status: slave, servant (child, man or woman).

    The word τέκνον means: offspring of either sex, although in ancient literature and history there were more references to male children, regardless of age. In Homer it is also attested defined by a masculine adjective in the address-phrase “φίλε τέκνον”, whereas, if there is a defining relative pronoun or participle, it is in the masculine or the feminine gender accordingly. The word was also used for referring to the young of animals and, figuratively in literature, to flowers and birds.

    τέκνον is related to the verb τίκτω, isn't it?
    Quite right! τέκνον<from the stem τεκ- of the aorist (=past tense) ἒ-τεκ-ον of the verb τίκτω + the ending -νον. Τίκτω=produce, for men, give birth, for women.


    Senior Member
    Χαίρετε ὦ φίλοι

    Not to quarrel, especially with the learned ionell: but I think παῖς is confined to human beings, whereas τέκνον or τέκνα can be used of any animate offspring.

    If this is wrong, I would be only too pleased to be corrected.



    Χαῖρ' ὦ φίλε Σχολιαστά,

    Not to quarrel
    Quarrel over what? I think this is a forum where everybody, whenever possible and regardless of different opinions at times, contributes with good intentions to the common knowledge.

    but I think παῖς is confined to human beings, whereas τέκνον or τέκνα can be used of any animate offspring.

    If this is wrong, I would be only too pleased to be corrected.
    As we 're all humans and errare humanum est, I 've looked my post over and over again and can't see where we are saying different things. Nevertheless, if something has eluded my attention, please let me know.

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