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patterns. Even if these names sound differently, they are still the same names, because they have an identical meaning, just as the drills are of the same type, yet of different bits of iron. Plato suggests furthermore that correctly established names reflect the natures of the things that they name. He illustrates this by means of a long list of etymologies of names of all sorts of things, including gods, that take up much of the Cratylus. In the context of the present discussion, his explanation of the name of Zeus is of special interest. It is based on the fact that the name has two declensions, one of which has ‘Zêna’ in the accusative, the other ‘Dia’. T.5 . . . Zeus also seems to have had an altogether fine name given to him—but it isn’t exactly easy to figure out. That’s because the name ‘Zeus’ is exactly like a phrase that we divide into two parts, ‘Zêna’ and ‘Dia’, some of us using one of them and some the other. But these two names, reunited into one, express the nature of the god—which is just what we said a name should do. Certainly, no one else is more the cause of life (zên), whether for us or for anything else than the ruler and king of all things. Thus ‘Zêna’ and ‘Dia’ together correctly name the god that is always the cause of life (di’ hon zên) for all creatures. But, as I say, his name which is really one, is divided in two (Plato, Cratylus 395e–396a).

What are we to think of these and the other etymologies in the Cratylus? Even though some of Plato’s etymologies involve a certain degree of play, he seriously believes—with many other Greek intellectuals—that etymologies reveal something about the ideas of the primitive name-givers about this world.9 Plato’s theory was a source of inspiration to many, Platonists and non-Platonists alike. In the present context, one of the most interesting examples comes from the so-called Letter from Aristeas to Philocrates, which narrates the story of the Septuaginta translation. When Aristeas learns of the desire of the king, Ptolemy II, to acquire a translation of the books of the Jews for his library at Alexandria, he jumps at

9 See, for example, Plato, Cratylus 411b: ‘the people who gave things their names in very ancient times’; Cratylus 425a–b: ‘It was the ancients who combined things in this way. Our job—if indeed we are to examine all these things with scientific knowledge—is to divide what they put together, so as to see whether or not both the primary and derivative names are given in accord with nature. For, any other way of connecting names to things, Hermogenes, is inferior and unsystematic.’ The point that according to Plato (and Aristotle) names reveal the ideas of primitive men has been forcefully argued by Sedley 2003, see esp. 25–50.

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