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Κύριε, Δέσποτα, Domine: Greek Politeness in the Roman Empire

Dickey, E. ORCID: (2001) Κύριε, Δέσποτα, Domine: Greek Politeness in the Roman Empire. Journal of Hellenic Studies, 121. pp. 1-11. ISSN 0075-4269

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To link to this item DOI: 10.2307/631824


Why did the Greeks of the Roman period make such extensive use of the vocative κύριε, when Greeks of earlier periods had been content with only one vocative meaning ‘master’, δέσποτα? This study, based primarily on a comprehensive search of documentary papyri but also making extensive use of literary evidence (particularly that of the Septuagint and New Testament), traces the development of both terms from the classical period to the seventh century AD. It concludes that κύριε was created to provide a translation for Latin domine, and that domine, which has often been considered a translation of κύριε, had a Roman origin. In addition, both κύριε and domine were from their beginnings much less deferential than is traditionally supposed, so that neither term underwent the process of ‘weakening’ which converted English ‘master’ into ‘Mr’. δέσποτα, which was originally far more deferential than the other two terms, did undergo some weakening, but not (until a very late period) as much as is usually supposed. These findings in turn imply that Imperial politeness has been somewhat misunderstood and suggest that the Greeks of the first few centuries AD were much less servile in their language than is traditionally assumed.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Classics
ID Code:34859
Publisher:The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies

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