I was very surprised to learn (in LSJ s.v. ἑκηβόλος) that ἑκηβόλος originally meant "attaining his aim" and not "far-shooter" as I always thought.

If the Liddell-Scott-Jones recalls the later interpretation of the word (ἑκη- < ἑκάς=far), this dictionary doesn't explain the original form, hence my questions :

(a) What's the etymology of "ἑκη-" ?

(b) Do we know some Greek authors explaining how they understand the epiklesis ?

addendum : I found here a good(?) analysis of another problem concerning the epiklesis "ἑκατηβόλος". According to Dominique Thillaud, ἑκη- can be...

  • either (ϝ)ἑκάς as the Ancients thought; but if, as Chantraine said, ἑκάς comes from *swe-kas (reflexive pronoun + distributive κας as in ἀνδρακάς) we can't get the ἑκατη- at the beginning of ἑκατηβόλος.

  • either (ϝ)εκών, (ϝ)εκόντος as in ἑκάεργος (who acts of his own free will) or as in ἑκηβόλος (who shoots of his own free will). It's Dominique Thillaud's preferred hypothesis.


2 Answers 2


Your addendum is about as good of an answer as I can give! But if it helps at all…

The second half of ἑκηβόλος is nice and straightforward: it comes from βάλλω, "to throw, shoot, attack from a distance". So the compound as a whole means "someone who shoots hekē".

As for the first part, I've seen three different hypotheses.

The first is that it's the preposition ἐκ, "out of". In this case it would be an intensifier, or something like that: "someone who shoots away from something". But this hypothesis has a pretty glaring flaw, namely, the rough breathing in ἑκηβόλος. I feel confident discarding that as a later folk etymology.

The second is that it's the adverb ἑκάς, "far away". This would give the famous "far-shooter" meaning, and the alpha in the prefix makes sense: LSJ reports the Doric form as ἑκβόλος, indicating that the eta is just an Attic development.

The third is that it's the adjective ἑκών, "willing". This is the one LSJ prefers, and could potentially mean "someone who shoots willingly", or "someone who shoots what he intends to shoot", or something like that. But to me, this one isn't as convincing as "far-shooter"—and despite Thillaud's argument, I don't see how the extra -ᾱτ- would get in here, either.

As to why LSJ prefer the third interpretation over the second, I really can't say. Historically, those two prefixes would have looked the same all the way up to Koinē times (they both used to have a digamma, which became a rough breathing, then vanished), and ancient sources on etymology tend to be…unreliable at best. (If you want some wonderfully inaccurate folk etymologies, on the other hand, see Plato's Cratylus for a trove of them.) So I would say, take whichever makes more semantic sense to you; that's one of Thillaud's main criteria in preferring "willing", and really my main reason for preferring "far".

  • It would make just as much sense to say: indicating that the alpha is just a Doric development by analogy to the folk etymology, that therefore would be rather old, even if the eta~alpha difference is regular, that would just lend credence to a folk etymology correcting an ostensible attic mistake.
    – vectory
    Apr 16, 2019 at 18:58
  • @vectory …sorry, what? I don't understand what you're saying.
    – Draconis
    Apr 16, 2019 at 19:45
  • I'm saying that, quote "... indicating that the eta is just an Attic development", were an unfounded assumption.
    – vectory
    Apr 17, 2019 at 4:41
  • @vectory The shift from Pan-Greek ᾱ to Attic/Ionic η is well-attested and one of the most famous features of the Attic and Ionic dialects; for the opposite (Pan-Greek η to Doric ᾱ) I can't think of a single instance, though there might be one or two out there somewhere.
    – Draconis
    Apr 17, 2019 at 5:01
  • (It is absolutely an assumption—but I wouldn't say an unwarranted one. All of historical linguistics involves making assumptions based on the available evidence, since there are always gaps in the surviving corpus.)
    – Draconis
    Apr 17, 2019 at 5:04

i think it's rather the same—if you fling far and do hit, you're attaining your aim, right? from the letters, it just means 'there-throwing'.

  • I beg to differ : the way you link both interpretations explain how the word is understood by latter (Greek) authors. But the LSJ is generally well-documented and the article about ἑκηβόλος seems(?) to drop a hint about another etymology. By the way, what do yo mean by "from the letters" ?
    – suizokukan
    Jun 24, 2014 at 12:27

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