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βελοσφενδόναι from plutarch's sula

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βελοσφενδόναι from plutarch's sula

Postby daivid » Tue Jul 26, 2011 5:14 pm

In Plutarch's Sulla in his account of the Battle of Chaironea
he uses the word βελοσφενδόναι to describe
the missiles the Roman's used against the Phalanx of freed
slaves. βελοσ is missile but, I presume, it has been combined with another word
and there is no entry for φενδόνη in my dictionary.

On the assumption that the original word has lost an initial
vowel I have tried adding vowels to φενδόνη and looked
those up but no joy.

I have seen βελοσφενδόναι translated as "fiery bolts" which seems odd as a literal
translation in the context. Heavy javelin (ie Pila) is what I'd expect.
λονδον
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Re: βελοσφενδόναι from plutarch's sula

Postby spiphany » Tue Jul 26, 2011 9:03 pm

Try dividing the word a bit differently -- usually when words are added to form compounds, the prefixed element will end in a vowel, so βελο-σφενδόνη

LSJ has for σφενδόνη "sling"
and for βελοσφενδόνη "dart wrapped with pitch and tow, and thrown while on fire from an engine". It doesn't cite any other usages except Plutarch, but presumably there's some other evidence for this particular piece of equipment (perhaps Roman sources?)
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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Re: βελοσφενδόναι from plutarch's sula

Postby daivid » Tue Jul 26, 2011 10:36 pm

spiphany wrote:Try dividing the word a bit differently -- usually when words are added to form compounds, the prefixed element will end in a vowel, so βελο-σφενδόνη

LSJ has for σφενδόνη "sling"


Yup even my humble dictionary has σφενδόνη. Thanks for the translation and thanks even more for the
pointer to how to break down compound words.


spiphany wrote:and for βελοσφενδόνη "dart wrapped with pitch and tow, and thrown while on fire from an engine". It doesn't cite any other usages except Plutarch, but presumably there's some other evidence for this particular piece of equipment (perhaps Roman sources?)


My first reation was that this just can't be right. There are battles where engines were deployed but only by and army that had been able to prepare a position - Sulla definately was not able to do this.

However the engines might have been deployed on the walls of Chaeronea. Were one to run
with this interpretation it would fix the position of the freed slaves in the battle line. Further
it would suggest that the freed slaves fought even better than Plutarch states
- that is that they not merely held their own but actually forced back the legionaries until
they came into range of Chaeronea.

Appealing though that is, now I can break down βελοσφενδόνη into its parts (thanks again)
it seems that the simplest interpretation is a javelin thrown with the aid of loop of rope to
give extra leverage.

It is possible that another writer used the same word where bolt throwing engines is clearly intended
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