Words with Initial σϝ-

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391. Since the change of initial σ into the rough breathing must have been much earlier than the loss of ϝ, it may be presumed that words which originally began with σϝ were pronounced at one time with the sound ϝ (= our wh). The following are the chief examples in Homer.

ἕο, οἷ, ἕ, ὅς, etc.

The ϝ is proved by hiatus in upwards of 600 instances, by lengthening of a preceding short syllable in 136 instances. There are also about 27 places in which a short vowel in arsis is lengthened before it.

ἀπὸ ἕο

προτὶ οἷ (˘ ˉ ˉ)

θυγατέρα ἥν

πατέρι ᾧ, etc.

About 43 places do not admit ϝ without some change; of these 30 are instances of the possessive ὅς.

This pronoun is noticeable as the only word in which the original ϝ is recognized in the spelling of our texts. The moveable -ν is not used before the forms οἶ, ἕ: thus we have δαῖέ οἱ, ὥς κέ οἱ, etc.; and, similarly, οὔ οἱ, οὐ ἕθεν (not οὔχ οἱ, οὐχ ἕθεν). This rule is observed not only in Homer but also in the later elegiac and lyric poets, and even the lyrical parts of tragedy (Soph. El. 195, Trach. 550). It does not apply, however, to the forms of the Possessive ὅς.

When the forms ῾ϝe, ῾ϝοἱ suffer elision (§ 376), the word is reduced to ῾ϝʼ and consequently disappears from our texts.

Thus in Il. 24.154 ὃς ἄξει κτλ., it is plain from the parallel 1.183 ὅς σʼ ἄξει that the original was ὅς ῾ϝʼ ἄξει (Bekker, Hom. Bl. i. 318). Other corrections of the kind are

Il. 1.195 πρὸ γὰρ ἧκε

read πρὸ δέ ῾ϝʼ  as in 1.208 πρὸ δέ μʼ ἧκε.

Il. 4.315 ὡς ὄφελέν τις ἀνδρῶν ἄλλος ἔχειν

read ὥς ῾ϝʼ.

Il. 16.545 μὴ ἀπὸ τεύχεʼ ἕλωνται

read μή ῾ϝʼ (Cοbet, Misc. Crit. 265).

Od. 5.135 ἠδὲ ἔφασκον θήσειν ἀθάνατον

read ἠδέ ῾ϝʼ.

Examples of the restoration of ῾ϝ(οι) will be found in § 376.1

ἁνδάνω, ἡδός, ἦδος

The ϝ appears in 12 or 15 instances of hiatus, and in the 2nd aorist form εὔαδε (for ἔϝαδε). The exceptions are

Il. 3.173 ὡς ὄφελεν θάνατός μοι ἁδεῖν

(read ὥς μʼ ὄφελεν θάνατος ἁδέειν, see § 355) and six places with ἡδύς, two of which (Il. 4.131, Od. 19.510) may be easily emended. The substantive ἦδος occurs chiefly in the phrase ἔσσεται ἦδος, where ἔσται may perhaps be read.

ἔθος, ἦθος

The ϝ is indicated by the hiatus κατὰ ἤθεα (Od. 14.411). In μετά τʼ ἤθεα καὶ νομὸν ἵππων (Il. 6.511, 15.268) the τε is better omitted. The perfect εἴωθα or ἔωθα probably had no initial ϝ, since σϝ- would give in reduplication σεσϝ- or ἐσϝ- (not σϝεσϝ-).


The only place bearing on the question before us is Il. 3.172 φίλε ἑκυρέ, where the meter points to an initial consonant.


The ϝ may be traced by hiatus in Il. 5.270 τῶν οἱ ἓξ κτλ, by lengthening in Il. 24.604, Od. 10.6. Adverse instances are Il. 23.741; Od. 3.115 & 415, 14.20.


The ϝ appears from hiatus in seven places, and can always be restored. The word is probably formed from the pronominal stem σϝε- (so that it is = unus e suis).

  • 1. The whole subject is fully treated by J. van Leeuwen, Mnemos. xiii, 188 ff. from whom these emendations are taken.