Greek Names


Simon Armitage is a poet who is now presenting TV documentaries, particularly on what might be called ‘poetic’ subjects. I have recently watched one on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and now one tracing the journey of Ulysses through Homer’s Odyssey. I was surprised that he seemed to know so little about Greek pronunciation, or at least the traditional treatment of Greek names in English, especially as he has produced a verse translation of some of the Odyssey.

Names I spotted were Acheron /əˈkɛərɒn/, Charybdis /ʃəˈrɪbdɪs/, Ogygia /ɒʤɪˈʤɪə/ and a place I don’t recognise: /ˈʃerɪə/. Can anyone identify this one? If /k/ in Acheron, why not in Charybdis? I know that while chiropractor is always(?) /k-/, chiropody is often /ʃ-/, but still …


  1. Could it have been Σχερία – Scheria?

  2. I too suppose it’s intended to be “Scheria”, the island of the Phaeacians, where Ulysses meets Nausikaa etc. (in the sixth book of the “Odissey”).

    How do you think this name should be pronounced? (I’m not a native speaker of English.)

  3. I opt for /ˈskerɪə/.

  4. I’m no expert on Greek, and would always consult one before making a recommendation, but I agree with Petr – /ˈskerɪə/ – unless the ‘long-by-position’ rule would turn this into /ˈskɪərɪə/ as an Englished version.

  5. The pronunciation with a diphthong would have been my second option. Let’s have the opinion of a hellenist.

  6. Thanks.

    As I said, I’m not a native speaker of English.

    But, as far as the Greek form Σχερία / “Schería” is concerned, both the vowel of the first syllable and the syllable itself are undoubtedly short (or, in W. S. Allen’s terminology, the vowel is short and the syllable is “light”).
    The classical pronunciation was [skʰe.’ri.a:]: the vowel epsilon is always short, and the syllable Σχε- / “Sche-” [skʰe-] is short (or “light”) because it ends in a short vowel.

    The iota was pronounced as a syllabic vowel [i] (short or long), not as a (semi)consonant [j].
    Here, of course, no other pronunciation is possible, because the iota is accented. But, more generally, the sound [j] did not exist as a phoneme in old Greek (after the II millennium Mycenaean dialect).

    The Latin adaptation was “Scheria”, pronounced [‘skʰε.rɪ.a] in classical times.
    Here too, particularly in a Greek word, the (semi)consonantic pronunciation of the “-i-” would be impossible.
    If the “-i-” were pronounced [j], we would have *[‘skʰεr.ja], I suppose, giving a “heavy” (long) first syllable, because of the rule that is traditionally, but falsely, known as “length by position”. What would happen can be described as follows: we would have two intervocalic consonants; the first would belong to the preceding syllable, which would thus be “heavy” because all close syllables are “heavy” — even when their vowel is short, as here. — But, as I said, this “-i-” could only be a syllabic vowel for classical Latin prosody.

    I don’t know whether this rules out the plausibility of a “long” pronunciation /ˈskɪərɪə/ in English.

    As for the pronunciation of the initial “Sch-” as /ʃ-/ (instead of /sk-/) by Mr Armitage, it sounds strange, and I dislike it. But one is reminded of “schedule” and “schist”.

  7. But not ‘schism’, which has been sɪzm since my earliest youth, but for which the OED online 1989 and of course LPD now acknowledge skɪzm, both apparently still considering ʃɪzm an illiteracy! I observe however that I say skɪzˈmætɪk. Inconsistent old me, but of such bones as mine are corals made, and I hope coral is not so endangered a species as to incorporate anything but ˈskerɪə.

  8. “But one is reminded of ‘schedule’ and ‘schist’.”

    Though in these the /ʃ-/ pronunciation is influenced by French.

    “I don’t know whether this rules out the plausibility of a ‘long’ pronunciation /ˈskɪərɪə/ in English.”

    As I said, I’m not a native speaker. But /ˈskɪərɪə/ seems after all to be the more regular pronunciation: compare “criteria” (long “-e-” in Greek) and “materia (medica)” (short “-e-” in Latin); and also “alias”, “genius”, with lengthening of the stressed vowel (which was short in Latin: Allen, “Vox Latina”, p. 105).

    And “Hesperia”, and “Pierian Spring” (Wells gives /ɪə/ for both — though with a variant /paɪˈer-/ for the latter, perhaps because the normal sequence /-aɪˈɪə-/ might be difficult for some people, or sound awkward); and of course “Siberia”.

    And what about “Cimmeria”?

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