Truimph - Thriambos

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Truimph - Thriambos

Post by PhilHunt » Tue Sep 01, 2009 11:40 am

I love it when a word takes me on a voyage of discovery, and just such a thing happened when I became curious about the word 'triumph'. I wondered if the 'tri' was a prefix referring to three or not, so I did some armchair research and found a lot of very interesting information which reveals something about the ancient world.

Triumph
c.1374, from O.Fr. triumphe (12c.), from L. triumphus "achievement, a success, procession for a victorious general or admiral," earlier triumpus, probably via Etruscan from Gk. thriambos "hymn to Dionysus," a loan-word from a pre-Hellenic language. Sense of "victory, conquest" is c.1400. The verb is first recorded 1483.

Thriambos also came to be used as one of the names for Bakkhus (Bacchus), the Roman version of Dionysus. The connection between Dionysus and celebrating a triumph is an important one.

Thriambos was also used in Biblical writing to mean God's triumph.
link

In more recent times 'thriambos' doesn't seem to be used in the English language, except one rare example. There are also multiple hits on the web for something called Cruso-Thriambos.
Chruso-Thriambos was the 1611 Lord Mayor's show sponsored by the Goldsmiths' Company to celebrate the installation of Sir James Pemberton to the mayoralty of London (1611-1612). The show was performed on the Thames and in the streets of London on Tuesday, 29 October 1611.
On a side note; an early dictionary entry for 'triumph' brought up the following possible origin: Thrion, a fig leaf which was used in celebrations. However, I have not seen this reference in later sources that I consulted.
link.

At this point I could see no relationship between the 'tri', or 'thi' and the number three. Then I get to wondering if 'ambos' had any meaning, and I discovered to my chagrin that it does. Ambos in Italian and Spanish means 'both'.
However, this seems confusing as the implications of 'thri' being a prefix are that 'thriambos' has the meaning 'three of two' or something similar. However, this may not be as crazy as it first seems. There is always the possibility that the word refers to a meter, or a style of poetry.
If you remember, 'triumph' means 'hymn to Dionysus' and there is in fact an existing hymn to Dionysus within the Homeric Hymns.

From Wiki
The thirty-three anonymous Homeric Hymns celebrating individual gods are a collection of ancient Greek hymns, "Homeric" in the sense that they employ the same epic meter— dactylic hexameter— as the Iliad and Odyssey
There were thirty three (three three) hymns. The hymn to Dionysus is the seventh of thirty three. There were also other hymns to Dionysus, some of which have not survived in totality.
For those who don't know Hexameter verse this article is very informative.

Homer's Hymn to Dionysus
(ll. 1-16) I will tell of Dionysus, the son of glorious Semele, how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenian (30) pirates on a well- decked ship -- a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and seizing him straightway, put him on board their ship exultingly; for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he sat with a smile in his dark eyes. Then the helmsman understood all and cried out at once to his fellows and said:

(ll. 17-24) `Madmen! What god is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.'

(ll. 25-31) So said he: but the master chid him with taunting words: `Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him: I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the Hyperboreans or further still. But in the end he will speak out and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now that providence has thrown him in our way.'

(ll. 32-54) When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the god changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly: amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysus had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him:

(ll. 55-57) `Take courage, good...; you have found favour with my heart. I am loud-crying Dionysus whom Cadmus' daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.'

(ll. 58-59) Hail, child of fair-faced Semele! He who forgets you can in no wise order sweet song.
At this point it is worth noting that the Greek word for 'poem' literally means 'fore-song'. Greek stories were a spoken tradition which were read, often accompanied by music. The original texts were also often written in dialect, the exact pronunciation of which cannot always be known.

Thomas W. Allen observes that the hymn to Dyonisus was "recited at games in honour of a departed prince, in competition and was rewarded with a prize". He also observes that "Homerids prefaced their rhapsodising with a prooemium to Zeus". Here the reference to Zeus comes at the end of the hymn.
In the book 'How to Kill a Dragon' Calvin mentions the importance of names within early Greek writing. Often they were included to aid with the meter, or to emphasis similar sounding words later on in the text.
An example on p97 shows that the words with similar sounds and sometimes similar/parallel meanings are employed as a form of echo within the ode of Pindar to reinforce the three words which will be repeated or paralleled at the close of the poem.
Thus, Homeric poetry should never be read as just an account of what happens, or a story; it is a written version of an oral tradition which used sound as melody, which is of course lost in the translation. The inclusion of names and details often have symbolic effect, and it is worth noting that within this poem we have the lines:

'Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon'
and
'I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the Hyperboreans'
and
'I am loud-crying Dionysus whom Cadmus' daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.'
and to a lesser extent
'his friends and all his wealth and his brothers'

In each case we have groups of three names 'Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon'; 'Egypt, Cyprus, Hyperborean'; 'Dionysus, Cadmus' Semele, Zeus'.

The emphasis of three words in a line could also have had symbolic value, such as in the example Watkins offers from the Odyssey:

"Tiresias' instruction to Odysseus to sacrifice to Poseidon:...

a ram and a bull and a boar who have been to the sows.

Poseidon receives the triple offering as the deity most appropriate, since he controls the fate of the mariner, but the sacrifice 'symbolically subsumes the whole human condition' (ibid)...'for oaths the Athenians would use three: boar, ram, bull.' Demosthenes describes the oath-taking in a trial for murder..'standing on the cut parts(=testicles[1]) of a boar and a ram and a bull.....the tripartite structure here symbolically expresses totality.'"

Watkins also points out the three member compounds could be used to linguistically parallel another word for poetic effect. Three words in a row should never be discounted as descriptive or purely incidental. They served a purpose.

However, beyond this, it is impossible to make a proper analysis of the structure of the poem from its English translation. We cannot see from the translation if a tripartite structure has been employed in the word endings, if masculine and feminine structures have been used to emphasis this structure, or synchronic formulas which were often used in the Homeric style. There may also be bipartite structures, such as Argument+Negated Argument, which are lost in the translation or couplets of words with the same meaning; an example of this being the term 'Mortal Man', though it's possible the translation of 'Loud-crying' is just such a couplet.

Another point worth mentioning "Dionysos was also revered at Delphi, where he presided over the oracle for three winter months, beginning in November, marked by the rising of the Pleiades, while Apollo was away "visiting the Hyperboreans." Here we see the name 'Hyperboreans" which we saw mentioned in the poem above. We also see the number of months as three.
In the form of Bacchus, Dionysus was celebrated in "the Roman Bacchanalia, a festival characterized by legendary levels of excess. As described by the Roman historian Livy:

When conducted under Roman auspices, the festival had earlier been confined to women, but in the grove of Stimula young men were being initiated into the cult, and there were allegations of both heterosexual and homosexual licence. Though previously restricted to three days a year, the ceremonies were now being conducted five times a month;"

In summary, I came to no conclusive result, and I do not wish to make any rash statements as to the validity of the idea that the 'tri' in triumph is a prefix meaning three. I only wish to throw up some ideas as to the possibility that the Homeric hymn to Dionysus, and the triple offerings of ancient Greece (and pre-Greek) cultures may have some bearing on the meaning. If the symbolism of the triple offerings to Dionysus, echoed in the triplet of names, had some influence on the meaning of Thriambos, my initial hunch could be correct. However, I find it strange that no-one has mentioned this possible connection before.
Above all though, I really enjoyed following the many twists and turns that this research took me. Perhaps some of you more learned in the subject than myself may be able to add some detail.

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[1]an interesting side note is that testicles played an important part in early oaths and offerings. In the commandments given by Moses, offerings of animals were not to have mutilated, or bruised, testicles. Likewise, men with mutilated testicles could not cross the threshold of the temple.
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Re: Truimph - Thriambos

Post by zmjezhd » Tue Sep 01, 2009 1:13 pm

Two terms from the game of bridge are also ultimately from Greek τριαμβος (trimabos): the verbs trump (link) and ruff (link). Of course, trump is also a general word from card games. Greek Βακχος Bakkhos was an alternate name for Dionysius in Greek, and it was that name that the Romans borrowed. The native Latin god was Liber, cf. an epithet in Greek for Dionysius, Ελευθεριος (Eleutherios) 'the liberator'. Dionysius is the source of the proper name Dennis. Bacchus was also called Ιακχος Βακχος Iakkhos Bakkhos.
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Re: Truimph - Thriambos

Post by PhilHunt » Tue Sep 01, 2009 4:04 pm

Hi Jim,
I was going to mention 'trump' but I thought I'd leave it out, as the post was already quite long. I didn't know about ruff. Thanks.
I've found wildly conflicting sources for the origin of the word 'Thriambos' and '(i)ambos' in Greek. None of them seen to share common ground, which suggest that no-one really knows for sure. Some of the sources would drive the likes of Erik round the bend, using words like 'surely' and 'most probably'. ;) I just find it interesting that no-one has explored the possibility of a three-fold sacrifice to Dionysus as the origin.
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Re: Truimph - Thriambos

Post by zmjezhd » Wed Sep 02, 2009 3:30 pm

I've found wildly conflicting sources for the origin of the word 'Thriambos' and '(i)ambos' in Greek.

That is usually a sign of an unknown etymology. The word is thought to be non-Greek in origin. Something they borrowed like thalassa 'sea'. Amateur etymologists loathe the words "etymology unknown".
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Re: Truimph - Thriambos

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:52 pm

This link should take you to an interesting theory. Of course it is all conjecture, but it's as plausible as any other I've seen.
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Re: Truimph - Thriambos

Post by PhilHunt » Mon Sep 07, 2009 3:41 pm

Jim, I've also read that the word was probably borrowed from a pre-Greek language/dialect. That it could had been adopted by the Greeks is interesting in itself, as it refers to ritualistic practises performed to celebrate a victory or departure. If such an important word was an import, it could give us a glimpse into the possible Indo-European rituals which may have existed before written records.
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Re: Truimph - Thriambos

Post by zmjezhd » Mon Sep 07, 2009 4:29 pm

That it could had been adopted by the Greeks is interesting in itself, as it refers to ritualistic practises performed to celebrate a victory or departure. If such an important word was an import, it could give us a glimpse into the possible Indo-European rituals which may have existed before written records.

Possibly, but then, they may have borrowed a foreign word for a native ritual. Reasons could be taboo or the same reason that Romans imported all those myths about the Greek gods to tell about theirs. The Romans also borrowed the (by then) Greek word. Thing to do would be to find out what the Hittites, Indians, Iranians, Sumerians, or Akkadians called it. And how the ritual compared to the Greek one.
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Re: Triumph - Thriambos

Post by zmjezhd » Mon Sep 07, 2009 5:26 pm

Spanish ambos and Italian ambi, entrambi are from Latin ambō (sometimes ambæ, ambos) 'both' which is related to Greek αμφω (amphō) 'both'.

Because, the thriambos was a type of hymn, the iambos part of the word probably has something in common with iambos 'iamb'. One suggestion is that iambos came from the ecstatic cry ia (cf. Latin Io).
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