I am researching the "Alexamenos Graffito" from Rome and the various opinions of what the correct translation of the Greek inscription should be.

I know some believe it is "Alexamenos worships (his) God" while others believe it is "Alexamenos worship God!" Some even believe that the name Alexamenos is actually two separate words "ale" and "xamenos"!

I have just a rudimentary knowledge of classical Greek, so I'd like to know if there is some consensus on what the translation might be. If available, please provide references.

Also, just out of curiosity, what is the etymology of the name Alexamenos? Does it come from similar roots as the name "Alexander"?

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    I think the Wikipedia article sums it up nicely. It names what options there are and informs us that there is no consensus. Alexamenos and Alexander come from alexô, "to defend", directly or indirectly. The verb comes from a root al(e)k- with a similar meaning. The ultimate origin is uncertain. Alexamenos would be a present participle meaning "defender"; Alexander would be "defending man", where "man" probably refers to virile strength. Alexamenos was an existing name, so I see is no reason to split it up into parts that do not seem to be words. – Cerberus Oct 23 '12 at 20:40
  • Thank you, Cerberus! I suppose Wikipedia is fairly thorough on this subject, then. I just have a tendency to distrust wikis! :) And thank you for the interesting information about the name, as well! I agree, there should be no reason to split it into two words. The general consensus as to the translation seems logical enough. – Melanchthon Oct 23 '12 at 23:07
  • Thanks. You know, we can't be sure that Wikipedia is right in all respects on this matter, but it seems a specialist subject, and what I read there sounds like it makes sense. So I would personally trust it. However, if you really want to know, academic research is required. Find articles on this Graffito and see how various scholars interpret it. Perhaps follow some links from Wiki's footnotes. – Cerberus Oct 23 '12 at 23:18
  • From Chaintraine: the etymology of (the various forms of) alexô. – Cerberus Oct 23 '12 at 23:34
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    The Wikipedia article appears to be well-referenced, so that (as is the intention, though it is not always realised) if you want to verify the contents or explore further, the references are there. – Colin Fine Oct 31 '12 at 17:15

It can't be "Alexamenos, worship God!" for two reasons: the name is in the nominative, not the vocative; and if σέβετε was imperative, it would be imperative plural, which makes no sense with a singular addressee. So the only possible reading is "Alexamenos worships (a/the/his) god".

  • Did all graffitists adhere strictly to the nominative/vocative distinction? I know there were multiple varieties of Greek and that they changed considerably over time. I also know Greek was a lingua franca with many non-native speakers. I am quite certain that modern day graffiti writers ought not be held as exemplars when it comes to the much simpler English grammar. – hippietrail Oct 7 '13 at 7:31
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    Well, of course it could be a grammatical mishmash of the ROMANES EO DOMI variety, but I see no reason to think so given that there's a perfectly good reading which is grammatical. (Btw, if it is a non-native speaker error, that speaker's native language must not have been Latin either, since a Latin speaker would almost certainly not make that particular nominative-for-vocative mistake.) – TKR Oct 7 '13 at 18:14
  • The use of the nominative singular for the vocative is commonplace in koine Greek. You can find it on almost any page of the LXX and the NT. – fdb Jan 15 '15 at 22:57

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