Alex II et al.
Alexipharmic, Anathema Maranatha, Antipodes
The sense of "alex" as "warding off" is evident in three other words, besides alexicacon, that have their home in a medical realm but can easily be used non-medically. An alexipharmac/ic is an antitode against poison; an alexipyretic is something helpful against fever; and an alexiteric is the same thing as an alexipharmic. Another word for an alexipyretic is a febrifuge--and these two words are sort of in a chiastic relationship to each other (usually we talk about chiasm in successive clauses), where alexi corresponds to fuge (fleeing or warding off) and pyretic corresponds to febri (fiery or feverish). "In his mental distress, where confusion mounted and feverish desire accelerated, he sought an alexipyretic in a former lover, one who always welcomed him without question but left him feeling more empty than when he came to her." In this regard the OED lists antipyretic as synonymous with alexipyretic. Antipyrotic, a slightly different word, is defined as "tending to prevent or heal burns." The language of alexi combined with pyretic gives the impression of a more vigorous fight against the poison than simply an antipyretic; I prefer it.
This two-word phrase has a rolling cadence that is much more powerful in the original New Testament than the English. It appears near the end of I Corinthians, where Paul says: "Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come! (I Cor. 16:22)." Though "anathema" is a perfectly good Greek word meaning "a thing accursed," Maranatha is actually two Aramaic words (which the OED calls "Syriac," even though the languages are different), Marana and tha, meaning "come quickly, Lord." Marana tha is a sentence of its own, but because of the euphonius connection with "anathema," it became associated with anathema so that, as the OED says, it "has been taken as a portentously intensifed form of anathema in its various senses." But even if we do not see Marana tha as an intensifier, it does fit well with Paul's theological perspective because the concepts of curse and blessing are the obverse and reverse of the same coin for Paul.
I think the words "anathema maranatha" can be a good way to express extreme displeasure in a creative way. Say it next time the photocopier jams or someone spills a cup of scalding coffee on you. No one will know what you mean but they will be too afraid to ask.
A Detour to Antephialtic
I just couldn't help stopping for a second on this word. Something that is "antephialtic" is something that is "against" an "ephialtes." Ephialtes is a word most frequently appearing in Greek as a proper name, denoting a mythological giant (54 feet tall at age 9) who, with his brother Otus, piled Ossa upon Pelion (two Greek mountains) to attack the Olympian divinities. Ephialtes was also an Athenian politician from the 5th century B.C.E. But ephialtes (lower case) is a word of uncertain origin which means "nightmare." An antephialtic then is something that should protect against nightmares. "After Duncan's murder no antephialtic could have given Macbeth peaceful sleep."
Of all the words for today, antipodes has the most interesting history and significance. Derived from the Greek word meaning "having the feet opposite," antipodes can refer either to people who dwell directly opposite to each other on the globe, so that the soles of their feet, as it were, are planted against each other or can refer to places on the surface of the earth directly opposite to each other. Most simply one might say, "New Zealand, almost the antipodes of Britain."
But the picture created by this word (with people apparently in each other's footsteps, though with the thickness of the earth intervening) also created three other words and led to a huge theological debate in the early Church that implicated such concepts as the sphericity of the earth, the unity of mankind and the possiblity of races living opposite to "us" on the "opposite" side of the earth. This essay will deal with the words and the next with the theological controversy.
First, the words created. Samuel Johnson, in his remarkable Dictionary of the English Language (1755), quotes yet an earlier dictionary (Chambers) to give us the word Antiscii which is defined by him as follows:
"In geography, the people who inhabit on different sides of the equator, who, consequently, at noon have their shadows projected opposite ways. Thus the people of the north are Antiscii to those of the south; the one projecting their shadows at noon toward the north pole, and the other toward the south pole."
This definition is noteworthy because it means that people spent some serious time in medieval England thinking about how people on the opposite side of the earth actually lived. People opposite each other would be facing different directions, and the word "Antiscii" literally means "those with opposite shadows."
Also, in the 17th century the term antoecian/antoeci was coined to mean "of our pertaining to the opposite latitude." People who can be referred to as Antecians or antoeci "have their noon, or midnight, or any other hour at the same time; but their seasons are contrary, being spring to the one, when it is autumn with the other."
The definition of Antecians/Antoeci brings with it yet a third term. "The Antichthones... comprehend both the antipodes and antoeci, or all beyond the line." What are the Antichthones? Glad you asked. An Antichthon, again another word originating in the 17th century, was a hypothetical second Earth on the other side of the sun. Pythagoras and Plato posited such a body, which they called the Antichthon or Counter-Earth. However, antichthones are people who live on the oppostie side of the earth. From Holland's 1601 translation of Pliny's Natural History, "Many have taken it [Ceylon] to be the place of the Antipodes, calling it the Antichthones world."
Thus, by the beginning of the 17th century, the English had a nice vocabulary to construct a world, either in the imagination or in fact, that was taking shape right before their eyes. However, they were only able to begin to think in these terms because a long history of theological speculation on the existence of the Antipodes had finally come to an end. The next essay deals with that story.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long