Naming and Nomenclature

Vilius Bartninkas (Vilnius)

The Greek Gods and the Planetary Names

It is a well-known fact that planets carry the names of Greek gods, but the origins of this association are clouded in speculation. Our earliest textual evidence, which contains a list of planets with such names (Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares, Zeus, and Cronos), are Aristotle's Metaphysics (1073b17–38; with De Caelo, 292a5) and the Pseudo-Platonic Epinomis (987b2–c7). It shows that the project of naming the planets dates back to at least Plato's Academy. In an influential paper, Franz Cumont (1935) has submitted that this project may have had an even earlier origin and argued that the Greek names correspond to the Babylonian gods, which were transmitted to the Academy via the Pythagoreans. Moreover, he claimed that the five identifications were carried out on the functional basis, i.e. the qualities of the Greek gods correspond to their Babylonian counterparts (Hermes/Nambu, Aphrodite/Ishtar, Ares/Nergal, Zeus/Marduk, Cronos/Ninurta). On this reading, it seems that the Greek astronomers simply inherited the names from the Babylonians. In my paper, I shall revisit Cumont's thesis with the aim to show two points: (a) the Pythagoreans distributed the divine names in a way that could not establish such a line of transmission; (b) the wider context of the astronomical lists in Aristotle and Pseudo-Plato shows that they did not attach the names on the functional basis—in fact, they had no single strategy of naming the planets. I shall conclude my paper with a tentative speculation on the philosophical (and Platonic) meaning of giving the divine names to planets.

Federico Valenti (Independent Researcher)

'To Explain the Heavens': A Summary on Astronomical Terminology in the Shi Tian 釋天

The early Chinese synonymicon Erya 爾雅 (Approaching Elegance; 3rd century BCE) has been almost unanimously acknowledged as an influential model of what a lexicon should be in the Chinese literary tradition (South Coblin 2017, Bottéro 2017). Among its taxonomically organized chapters, Shi Tian 釋天 (Glosses on Heaven) is a terse compendium of astronomical, calendrical, and meteorological terms that were considered part of the “official nomenclature” in a period where the unification of the Chinese language was fundamental to develop and organise a unified and cohesive Empire. By analysing the Shi Tian, it is possible not only to understand the richness of Classical Chinese astronomical terminology, but also to discover the complex relationship with the concept of 'heaven': this umbrella term encompassed all the aspects regarding constellations, planets, seasons, wind, rain, as well as ritual hunting and sacrifices.