Words for life cross the frontier between Semitic and Indo-European languages in the period of Greek and Roman civilisation.
Greek bios resembles the Latin vigere, to be well and strong, in that it is a common word for life in the sense of day to day physical existence. Grimm's law helps us to see the relationship. Related to vigere are vis, stem vi, force or power, vita, life, and vivo, I live.
The Greek is, in-, force or presence, originally began with a digamma, a letter like our f. It is the same as the Latin vis, and related to bios. Sanskrit giv is the Russian zhiv-, alive.
Turning from the material or physical aspect of life, we find the key word in Greek, psyche. It is generally translated 'soul', and means the principle of life. The power of self-originated movement was taken by the Greeks to be a sign of the presence in the object or animal of psyche. The Greek philosopher Thales is believed to have said that a magnet contained psyche.
Latin anima means air, then life in the sense of breath and physical life; animus is the spiritual and reasoning aspect of life.
We have seen that Egyptian ankh is life, and sankh is to make to live, and I have suggested that here we have the explanation of Latin sancio, sanctify, meaning 'make to live'.
Is the Greek angelos, messenger, composed of ankh and El? In Numbers XXII: 23, the story of Balaam and his ass illustrates how electrical phenomena could be interpreted as messengers. Hebrew chai means 'alive'; chaim [a plural form] means 'life'. Greek haima is blood. Egyptian sankh is almost identical with the Latin for blood, sanguis.
It is possible that onomatopoeia played a part in the creation of vocabulary to communicate by sound the effects produced by the electrical god. Psyche is an obvious example of a word which can suggest the hissing or spitting sound of sparks and electrical discharges. Qa begins with a sound produced far back in the throat. In Egyptian, tcham, sceptre, suggests the sound at close quarters of a lightning strike, and ka probably sounded quite like the Hebrew qa of qadhosh, holy. Breathing, gasping and choking sounds may have provided models for the varieties of 'k' sound. The letter z could sound like st, and sometimes stands for Set.
The sky, and sky phenomena, are the usual explanation, in the ancient world, for the origin of life. If the earth mother produces living organisms it is generally the result of action from above. Divine activity could come from underground, and there was a pair of deities, Cerus and Ceres, who were concerned with the fertility of the fields. But the Latin verb aro, plough, suggests the divine fire. Much human activity was mimesis, imitation of divine activity observed in the sky or coming out of the earth.
Hebrew dam, blood, may have been reversed to give the Latin madeo, madere, to be wet. Blood was used to drench altars and increase conductivity. Sanga is Sumerian for a priest, who is concerned with bringing to life the god. It is clearly the same as sanguis and sankh. In Hades, ghosts had to drink blood before they were physically capable of talking to Odysseus and Aeneas.
Mayani has suggested that the Etruscan levac means 'anointer', and quotes in support the Albanian ljej, to smear. Egyptian priests anointed kings with sa-ankh. This life force was electrical, transferred from a statue that had been charged. Statues could be hollow, like Leyden jars. The Etruscan levac resembles the name of the Levites, who had the dangerous task of looking after the ark. Vide Numbers III.
We have seen that sancio is to bring to life. In Egypt, sanctification was the raising and bringing to life of the holy ka, Osiris, who was enclosed in a chest.
Greek airo, raise, may be related to ar, the fire that gave movement and life, and enabled people and animals to stand, Latin sto. Greek zo means 'I live'. Etrucan zac [stac] = stand.
One of the methods employed in Egypt was to set the coffin of Osiris in a hollow tree trunk, and raise the trunk to an upright position. The trunk could symbolise the spine of Osiris, or the world tree Yggdrasil.
The Roman writer and philosopher Cicero refers to the popular belief that human beings came from rocks, or from oak trees. Both rocks and oaks attract lightning.
Human beings were created by the Egyptian god Khnemu, a potter. His wife Heket provided the soul which was added to the clay.
Khnem means: a jug; to write; to be joined to. It may be significant in this context that Etruscan zichne, to write, is Set ichne, the tracks of Set, i. e. the marks made on rock by lightning.
Riqqu'a, Hebrew, plate, beaten metal. Qe'arah, Hebrew, bowl, dish. Cf. Latin patera, which may contain ar. Hulsna, Etruscan, libation. The stem of the word is huls. German schlucken is to drink. A reversal.
Cepen, Etruscan, priest. This may be spendo, since the letter c in Etruscan, as in English, is sometimes an s and sometimes a k. But cepen may be an instance of ka.
Phiale, Greek for a libation bowl, is similar to the Latin patera, which resembles the Hebrew pathar, explain. Fa, pa, mean light. Phiale is also a shield, and, in Iliad XXIII: 243, a cinerary urn.
Spendo, with the letter 's' meaning 'down from', as in modern Russian, has something in common with Greek sophos, clever. Hebrew oph means 'birds'. The augur's knowledge came down from birds. The Hebrew mophet is a portent, meaning 'from the birds'.
Greek aspis, aspid-, is a shield. It is a reversal of the Mycenean dipas, cup, or heaven. Hittite tipas is a cup, and also means 'heaven'. The Latin lanx, lanc-, dish, may be El, the one above, and ankh, life.
The draughts board was said to have been invented by Thoth. Alexander the Great also claimed to be the inventor. Greek pessos is a 'man' at draughts. Etruscan pes is five. The squares on the board may represent areas of the sky, and the Egyptians called the 'men' dancers. At Carthage there was an important body of five magistrates called the pentarchy. At Rome the term quinqueviratus meant a body of five officials.
There is an inscription from Syria of the time of the Roman emperor Trajan, dedicated to Leukothea. It contains the words 'apotheotheis en toi lebeti', made divine in the cauldron. The Greek lebet-, cauldron, is probably el beith, El's house.
Vases sometimes resemble in shape the human heart, the organ that ancient American priests regularly tore out of the bodies of their sacrificial victims. Such a rite may have had a magical purpose similar to that of Greek tragedy, and to that of the Egyptian practice of insulting red-headed people, throwing an ass over a cliff, and sacrificing red cattle, because Typhon was red-headed and like an ass in colour. The original aim was to bring Typhon low. Vide Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 362Eff..
The Hebrew parur, kettle or pot, may be a word inspired by the sight of the seething pot in the sky. Par is a Slavonic word for steam; ur is Egyptian for great.
It is worth noting that the ancient views on what we might call a
theory of evolution were more intelligent and accurate than the
popular science of more recent times has recognised. It is one
thing to explain how various species have either survived, or
failed and become extinct, and to trace the factors responsible.
It is quite another thing to explain why there should be different
species in the first place from which nature can select. The
recent study of radiation and extra-terrestrial catastrophes,
leading to an increase in the understanding of the causes of
change, would have the understanding and approval of the
ancients, whose views amounted to a belief in punctuated
equilibrium or quantavolution.