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Brian Bigio presents current research at The Australasian Society for Classical Studies

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Feb 12 2021

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PhD student, Brian Bigio, was selected to present his research at the Australasian Society for Classical Studies' 42nd meeting held February 8-12, 2021. Congratulations Brian!

Paper title: ‘Saving the Mind’: Toward a New Etymological Understanding of Σωφροσύνη

Σωφροσύνη is a word with deep cultural significance. Genres as diverse as epic, tragedy, and philosophy speak about it as an ideal of human behavior. Yet, the traditional etymology (‘soundness of mind’) overemphasizes its cognitive or intellectual aspects, at the expense of its behavioral or emotional aspects. In this paper, I offer a new etymological understanding of σωφροσύνη that also accounts for its ancient association with emotions and behaviour. I show that σωφροσύνη is best explained not as a normal cognitive state (‘sanity’), but as a cognitive-behavioral achievement (‘self-control’).

I base my argument on the way compounds were understood by Greek speakers. Σώφρων is an example of a bahuvrīhi compound, in which the first member is an adjective (σῶς) and the second one a noun (φρήν). Since bahuvrīhis are typically construed as possessive compounds, σώφρων is taken to mean ‘(s)he who has a sound mind.’ However, not all bahuvrīhis were understood in antiquity as possessives. Some were understood as verbal compounds. Such is the case of the bahuvrīhis in φιλο-, where the first member was felt as a verbal element. If so, the same process might have affected the bahuvrīhis in σω-: e.g. σώφρων ‘to whom the mind is safe’ > ‘saving the mind.’ This hypothesis is confirmed by an analysis of personal names in Σω-. Finally, ancient etymologies support the thesis that σωφροσύνη was understood verbally (Pl. Cra. 411e-412a; Aristot. EN 6.1140b11-12). Rather than mere antiquarianism, etymology becomes a useful tool for the semantic reconstruction of this elusive Greek value.

Main Bibliography:

Fraser, P.M., E. Matthews, et al., eds. 1987-2018. A Lexicon of Greek Personal Names. 5 vols. Oxford.

Meissner, T. 2006. S-stem Nouns and Adjectives in Greek and Proto-Indo-European: A Diachronic Study in Word Formation. Oxford and New York.

Rademaker, A. 2005. Sophrosyne and the Rhetoric of Self-Restraint: Polysemy & Persuasive Use of an Ancient Greek Value Term. Leiden and Boston.

Short Biography:

Brian earned his B.A. in Philosophy from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (2010) and a Post-Baccalaureate certificate in Classics from Columbia University (2012). He is a Ph.D. Candidate in Classics at Stanford University. He is currently finishing his dissertation under the supervision of Professor Richard Martin. His dissertation is entitled ‘Saving the Heart’: An Etymological Inquiry into the Cognitive-Behavioral Function of the Ancient Greek Value Σωφροσύνη (Sōphrosynē). Brian's topics of main interest are Greek intellectual history, Greek historical linguistics, Archaic Greek poetry, Greek philosophy, psychology, ethics, and politics. He has presented papers on the historical background of Plato’s dialogues, and has published an annotated translation into Spanish of Plato’s Euthyphro.