Iliad’s Achilles: A Libyco-Berber Patronymic?

Author: Valeria Argiolas (INALCO University, France)
Speaker: Valeria Argiolas
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
COMELA 2021 General Session


Ἀχιλ(λ)εύς has no etymology (cf. DELG : 150). Aghilas [Aʁilaes] is a proper name and patronymic very widespread in Berber languages. It is attested in medieval Berber. It is glossed by Abu-‘Abd Muḥammad Ibn Tunart (1085 –1172) “panther”. ‘Abd Allāh al-kafif al Zarhūnī, edited by Muhammad b. Šarifa glosses (1987: 5): “ġīlās / cheetah”. The “lexicon of al-Hilālī”, analysed in La révélation des énigmes. Lexiques arabo-berbères des XVII° & XVIII° siècles by Van den Boogert (1998: n ° 699, 101), attests to aġwilas “cheetah”, as does the “anonymous lexicon” (n ° 55, 127): aġwilas = “cheetah”, analyzed by Boogert. Basset (1885: 185) attests to aġilas “panther” in the Beni Menacer and aġīlās “panther” in the Algerian Ouarsensis. Aghilas [Aʁilaes] is to be considered jointly with aksil (root KSL), the name of the cheetah in chaoui and proper name, besides patronymic. In Aurès aksil is the “warrior” by antonomasia. Often recognized in the name of the legendary medieval warrior Kusayla, Arabized, it could well be a title attested since Antiquity (cf. Moderan 2018). If Aghilas [Aʁilaes] is attested above all as a first name and patronymic identified with the name of the “lion” in Kabyle, aghilas / ghilas, is used as a name proper to Mount Chenoua and as the name of the cheetah (cf. Haddadou 2003; Naït-Zerrad 2003). There are a large number of comparisons in the Iliad which serve to evoke the combatants. Animals are privileged comparators and the lion occupies a special place in the comparison network. Yet Achilles’ rhetorical simile, “between lions and men”, can represent a sort of “climax” within the evocations of the lion in the Iliad (cfr. Clarke 1995 but also Schnapp-Gourbeillon 1981). The Iliad’s canto XXII presents an apparent discrepancy between the epithet that Homer gives to his character, Achilles, “(with) fast/light feet”, and the implicit epithet that Achilles seems to give himself, “lion”. The Homeric epithet, in addition to the proper name, “(with) fast/light feet” (πόδας ὠκύς), in the mechanics of the “form style” (cf. Parry 1928), could well refer to a fast fawn like the cheetah, or, better, to the “young panther” attested in Greek: ἄρκηλος (Callix., AEl.), where ρκ could account for the acclimatization of /γ/ berber [ʁ] of /aγilas/. “The Iliad uses ποδάρκης as the epithet of Achilles to which the ancients gave two explanations:” with quick feet “or” being able to help with these feet [from the verb άρκέω “to protect”] “. The word is found in Homer only in the formula ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς ”, remarks Chantraine (DELG: 109). Is there not to be seen in the epithet of Achilles ποδάρκης a compound name meaning “(with) panther feet”?

Keywords: etymology, Iliad’s Achilles