What this stimulated in my mind was the idea that the letter may have been so called originally not because of an association with the physical location of Galatia but owing to the addressees being those who drank milk (i.e. catechumen).
Tityrus and Galatea are found together only in Virgil, Eclogue 1. The article argues that they form a ‘significant’ pair of pastoral names, suggesting ‘cheese’ and ‘milk’. It provides evidence from Theocritus, where ‘milky’ Galatea is inserted in the semantic field of ‘milk and cheese’; Lucian, where Galatea forms a pair with the proper name Tyro; and the Alexander Romance, where Satyros is etymologized from ‘tyros’ (‘cheese’), in light of the fact that Virgil’s ‘Tityrus’ indicates a species of satyr.
Though Galatea appears already in Homer (Il. 18.45) and Hesiod (Theog. 250), the earliest near-explicit etymology of the name appears much later. According to the historian Douris Polyphemus set up a shrine to Galatea near Etna to honor her for the “abundance of milk” (διὰ τὴν … τοῦ γάλακτος πολυπλήθειαν) and this would have inspired Philoxenus of Cythera, when he visited the place, to invent the story of Polyphemus’ love for Galatea (FGrHist 76 F 58).10 The story is justifiably rejected as an example of the rationalization of myths,11 but precisely this feature would make it the first near-explicit etymology of Galatea. The first explicit occurrence appears in the 12th century A.D. It is found in Eustathius’ commentary on the above-mentioned Homeric passage (vol. 4, page 135.12-15 Van der Valk). Eustathius mentions that the Nereid Γαλάτεια was so called from “the milk-colored foams of the sea-waves” (διὰ τοὺς τῶν κυμάτων γαλαταχρόους ἀφρούς). We do not know how far back this etymology goes. According to the evidence we possess, literary (implied) etymologies of Galatea appear first in Hellenistic poetry and specifically in Theocritus, though he was not the first poet to introduce the Polyphemus-Galatea story but probably Philoxenus of Cythera. The theme was also treated by Callimachus and Bion.12 In Hellenistic literature poetry and philology are perfectly coordinated and hence Theocritus’ literary etymologies are at the same time the testimony of his erudition. Context, however, makes a great difference in poetry: names acquire or change meaning according to it, with dynamic flexibility and allusiveness that defeat the static and explicit word of philological etymologizing.
7Theocritus treated the story of Polyphemus and Galatea in Idylls 6 and 11. The poems suggest different etymologies of the Nereid’s name. I start with the latter, which is the better-known of the two:
Ὧ λευκὰ Γαλάτεια, τί τὸν φιλέοντ’ ἀποβάλλῃ,
λευκοτέρα πακτᾶς ποτιδεῖν, ἁπαλωτέρα ἀρνός …
O white Galatea, why do you spurn my love?
whiter than cream cheese, softer than a lamb…
ἐξένθοις, Γαλάτεια, καὶ ἐξενθοῖσα λάθοιο,
ὥσπερ ἐγὼ νῦν ὧδε καθήμενος, οἴκαδ’ ἀπενθεῖν·
ποιμαίνειν δ’ ἐθέλοις σὺν ἐμὶν ἅμα καὶ γάλ’ ἀμέλγειν
καὶ τυρὸν πᾶξαιτάμισον δριμεῖαν ἐνεῖσα.
Why don’t you come out, Galatea, and when you come out forget,
like me who is sitting here, to go back home?
May you be willing to tend the sheep with me and milk them
and set the cheese putting in sharp rennet.
ὦ Κύκλωψ Κύκλωψ, πᾷ τὰς φρένας ἐκπεπότασαι;
αἴ κ’ ἐνθὼν ταλάρως τε πλέκοις καὶ θαλλὸν ἀμάσας
ταῖς ἄρνεσσι φέροις, τάχα κα πολὺ μᾶλλον ἔχοις νῶν.
τὰν παρεοῖσαν ἄμελγε· τí τὸν φεύγοντα διώκεις;
εὑρησεῖς Γαλάτειαν ἴσως καὶ καλλίον’ ἄλλαν.
O Cyclops, Cyclops! Where is your sound mind gone?
If you went to weave your baskets or gather shoots
for the lambs, you would show more sense.
Milk the ewe that you have; why chase one that flees from you?
Perhaps you will find another Galatea, even fairer.
As a rule attention is paid only to the first passage, which opens the Cyclops’ song. Polyphemus addresses the Nereid as “white Galatea” and compliments her further by calling her “whiter than cream cheese (?)”.13 By modern standards Γαλάτεια is a semantically ‘opaque’ name.14 Ancient standards did not, however, obey the strict linguistic rules of today. Besides, the use of names in literature has always had its own ‘arbitrary’ rules. The most accurate thing we can say about the use of Γαλάτεια in this poem is that it acquires meaning by virtue of its combination with other semantic units.15 In other words, the combination of the name with ‘cheese’ and ‘whiteness’ causes the segment Γαλά(τ)-16 to suggest ‘γάλα’ (‘milk’).
Richard Hunter wonders if “Polyphemus did not realise the meaning of Galateia’s name, as he did not understand Odysseus’ disguise as Outis”,17implying that the Cyclops compares Galatea with cheese while her name suggests milk. In order to clarify this point it is necessary to look at the other occurrences of the name in the poem. It is extremely important that all three occurrences of ‘Γαλάτεια’ in the Cyclops’ song insert the name in the semantic field of ‘milk’ (‘whiteness’, ‘milking’) and ‘cheese’ (‘whiteness’, ‘cheese-making’). In passage 1 λευκά Γαλάτεια combines with λευκοτέρα πακτᾶς: here the name Γαλάτεια substitutes for γάλα.18 In passage 2 Γαλάτεια forms a semantic cluster19 with γάλ’ ἀμέλγειν and τυρὸν πᾶξαι τάμισον δριμεῖαν ἐνεῖσα (‘cheese-making’): the cluster includes both Γαλάτεια and γάλα. Finally, in passage 3 ταλάρως stands for ‘cheese-making’ (it was a receptacle where milk intended for cheese-making was placed) and combines with ἄμελγε (‘milking’) and Γαλάτειαν: here Γαλάτειαν again substitutes for γάλα.
If, therefore, Γαλάτειαν is consistently exploited in the Cyclops’ song to create semantic pairs with ‘cheese’, this would suggest, in my view, that the Cyclops is aware of the meaning of the name. In Theocritus 11 the Cyclops constructs a ‘Γαλάτειαν’ perfectly adapted to his main activity as a shepherd: she is whiter than his dairy products; she is invited to tend the sheep, milk the ewes and make cheese; he would have liked to ‘milk’ her like a ‘ewe’, but she is unwilling and so he will have to content himself with ‘milking the ewe that he has’, one of the girls that have taken a fancy to him. The specific semantic associations of ‘Γαλάτειαν’ occur only in the Cyclops’ song and not in the opening section addressed by the poet to Nikias (8, 13). Finally, the examination of these passages has confirmed that in all cases the essential semantic pair is ‘milk / Γαλάτειαν and cheese’. When the pair is thematized, it adapts to different contexts and suggests different things. ‘Whiteness’ is just one of them.
In Theocritus 6 the name is differently contextualized. Here is the passage:
καὶ γάρ θην οὐδ’ εἶδος ἔχω κακὸν ὥς με λέγοντι.
ἦ γὰρ πρᾶν ἐς πόντον ἐσέβλεπον, ἦς δὲ γαλάνα,
καὶ καλὰ μὲν τὰ γένεια, καλὰ δέ μευ ἁ μία κώρα,
ὡς παρ’ ἐμὶν κέκριται, κατεφαίνετο, τῶν δέ τ’ ὀδόντων
λευκοτέραν αὐγὰν Παρίας ὑπεφαίνετο λίθοιο.
For in truth, I am not as ugly as they say.
Only lately I was looking into the sea, when all was calm,
and I thought my beard looked beautiful, and so did my one eye,
while my teeth gleamed whiter than Parian marble.
As noted above, in literature the meaning of names is not static but dynamic; it may change within a collection of poems or within the same poem. Richard Hunter sums up the semantics of the present passage as follows: “Whereas in Idyll 11 Polyphemos gazed ἐς πόντον in the hope of seeing the beloved Galateia (18), here he looks ἐς πόντον and sees his own beloved self: instead of Γαλάτεια, there is γαλάνα …, instead of a girl (κώρα, cf. 1.82), there is his eye, κώρα … In Idyll 11 whiteness was on the side of ‘Miss Milky’; now the Cyclops has it”.21 One has to be reminded that we never hear the voice of Galatea but only the voice of the Cyclops. In other words her name acquires meaning only through him and according to his viewpoint. In Idyll 11 he sees ‘γάλα’ in her name; here he sees ‘γαλάνα’, ‘calm of the sea’, because it is what suits him and specifically what permits him to see his own reflection in the water. Theocritean Γαλάτεια is a purely mental construction. In other words her name exists only in the Cyclops’ fantasy and is shaped according to his mood and love passion or strategy. This is the ground where poetry challenges philology.
13Worthy of note is Lucian’s commentary on the semantics of ‘Γαλάτεια’ in Theocritus 11 and 6. In one of his Marine Dialogues (1.2.11-3.6) the Nereid Doris, who is talking to Galatea, makes the following biting comment about Polyphemus’ attraction to her sister: “What could he see in you but your white skin (τὸ λευκὸν μόνον)? And this because all he knows is cheese and milk (ὅτι συνήθης ἐστὶ τυρῷ καὶ γάλακτι) and he considers everything pretty that is like them. If you want to find out what you really look like, go sit on a rock when the weather is calm (εἴ ποτε γαλήνη εἴη), lean over the water and look at yourself: just a bit of white skin, that is all (οὐδὲν ἄλλο ἢ χροίαν λευκὴν ἀκριβῶς). Who will care for it without a touch of red (τὸ ἐρύθημα)?” Initially Lucian identifies the ‘milky’ whiteness of Γαλάτεια as a construction of the Cyclops’ mind. He next adapts the Cyclops’ ‘gaze in the calm water’ (γαλήνη) in order to render the viewpoint of a third party (Doris). The Attic Greek (γαλήνη) makes the play on γαλάνα / Γαλάτεια less obvious, but the mirror works anyway as in Theocritus 6. Doris assumes that Γαλάτεια will see in the calm water ‘plain whiteness’, while in the Cyclops’ eyes his own teeth ‘shone with a gleam whiter than Parian marble’. The Parian marble comparison would have suited Galatea’s body much better than the Cyclops’ teeth, but Doris is wicked and makes things worse by adding that white skin alone is not to be appreciated unless accompanied with ‘a touch of red’. Galatea’s reply is sarcastic: “Well, I may be all white as you say (Καὶ μὴν ἐγὼ ἡ ἀκράτως λευκή), but at least I have a lover, while you have none: not a shepherd, not a sailor, not a ferryman”. Galatea neither confirms nor denies her sister’s earlier comments; she merely accepts, for the sake of argument, her last disparaging comment about the ‘pure whiteness’ of her skin and strikes back. Thus Lucian’s humorous commentary ends up doing the same thing as the text of Theocritus: it elucidates it and at the same time provides further viewpoints on the ‘whiteness’ of Γαλάτεια, which remains invariably context-bound.
Γαλάτεια and Τυρώ in Lucian’s True History
14I argued above that in Theocritus 11 the essential semantic pair is ‘milk / Γαλάτεια and cheese’. We can now look at a passage where the second member of the pair (‘cheese’) is also replaced by a proper name. In Lucian’s True History the narrator and his companions sail to a sea of milk and an island of cheese. The vines on the island produce milk instead of wine; it has a temple dedicated to Galatea and is ruled by Queen Tyro. Here is the ancient passage followed by an English translation:
Μετ’ οὐ πολὺ δὲ εἰς πέλαγος ἐνεβαίνομεν, οὐχ ὕδατος, ἀλλὰ γάλακτος· καὶ νῆσος ἐν αὐτῷ ἐφαίνετο λευκὴ πλήρης ἀμπέλων. ἦν δὲ ἡ νῆσος τυρὸς μέγιστος συμπεπηγώς, ὡς ὕστερον ἐμφαγόντες ἐμάθομεν, σταδίων εἴκοσι πέντε τὸ περίμετρον· αἱ δὲ ἄμπελοι βοτρύων πλήρεις, οὐ μέντοι οἶνον, ἀλλὰ γάλα ἐξ αὐτῶν ἀποθλίβοντες ἐπίνομεν. ἱερὸν δὲ ἐν μέσῃ τῇ νήσῳ ἀνῳκοδόμητο Γαλατείας τῆς Νηρηΐδος, ὡς ἐδήλου τὸ ἐπίγραμμα. ὅσον οὖν χρόνον ἐκεῖ ἐμείναμεν, ὄψον μὲν ἡμῖν καὶ σιτίον ἡ γῆ ὑπῆρχεν, ποτὸν δὲ τὸ γάλα τὸ ἐκ τῶν βοτρύων. βασιλεύειν δὲ τῶν χωρίων τούτων ἐλέγετο Τυρὼ ἡ Σαλμωνέως, μετὰ τὴν ἐντεῦθεν ἀπαλλαγὴν ταύτην παρὰ τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος λαβοῦσα τὴν τιμήν.
Soon we entered a sea not of water but of milk, in which there was an island, white in color and full of vines. The island was a huge piece of hard cheese, as we later found out by eating it. Its perimeter was twenty-five stades long. The vines were covered with grapes, but when we pressed them we drank not wine but milk. In the middle of the island there was a temple of Galatea the Nereid, as the inscription on it indicated. During the time we stayed there, the ground itself was our bread and meat, and the vine-milk was our drink. We heard that the queen of the place was Tyro, the daughter of Salmoneus, and that Poseidon had given her this honor after death.
15The Lucianic passage is sometimes used in combination with the passage from Douris quoted earlier about the shrine Polyphemus dedicated to Galatea (FGrHist 76 F 58), in order to support the existence of a local cult of Galatea. What concerns me in this fantastic description is the pair of significant names Γαλάτεια and Τυρώ. Obviously Lucian looked for a name that would represent the second member of the semantic pair ‘milk and cheese’ and found it in Tyro. According to Diodorus Siculus (6.6.5) her name derives from τυρός (‘cheese’) and she received it “because of the whiteness and softness of her body” (διὰ τὴν λευκότητα καὶ τὴν τοῦ σώματος μαλακότητα). (Cf. also ∑ Hom. Od. 11.235)