Friday, April 13, 2018

Word of the day: aegis

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is the noun aegis:

1 : a shield or breastplate emblematic of majesty that was associated with Zeus and Athena

2 a : protection
2 b : controlling or conditioning influence

3 a : auspices, sponsorship
3 b : control or guidance especially by an individual, group, or system
The dictionary explains:
We borrowed aegis from Latin, but the word ultimately derives from the Greek noun aigis, which means "goatskin." In ancient Greek mythology, an aegis was something that offered physical protection, and it has been depicted in various ways, including as a magical protective cloak made from the skin of the goat that suckled Zeus as an infant and as a shield fashioned by Hephaestus that bore the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa. The word first entered English in the 15th century as a noun referring to the shield or protective garment associated with Zeus or Athena. It later took on a more general sense of "protection" and, by the late-19th century, it had acquired the extended senses of "auspices" and "sponsorship."
The modern meanings of aegis always throw me for a moment, because when I see the word I think of Athena, whose aegis scares the bejeezus out of people, as when she shows it to the suitors in Odyssey 22: “At this moment that unmanning storm cloud, / the aegis, Athena’s shield, / took form aloft in the great hall.”

And the suitors, “mad with fear,” stampede.

[From Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 translation.]

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