Friday, June 8, 2012
How to Convert Greek Names into the Shshi Language
First a word on my progress toward publishing The War of the Stolen Mother. Yesterday I finished the final pass-through of the text and now it's ready to insert into the CreateSpace template. I've also been working on the cover art. I think I have the front cover completed, although I'm vacillating between two different pictures, so I'll have to ponder some more. I'm also considering several options for the back cover, and I'm doing a new line drawing to put on the title page. And then I have to do the map! So publishing is still a little way off.
Today I want to talk about all those complex names that you're going to encounter in the book. The original Greek names in the Iliad are every bit as complicated as those in my tale, but they are familiar in our culture -- Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Hector, Priam, Deiphobus, Laocoon, Cassandra, Odysseus ... the list goes on and on. It happens that in the index to Robert Graves' Greek Myths, a translation into English is given for all the names mentioned in the text. I used that as a springboard for working out equivalent names for my characters.
I'll remind everybody that Workers' names always have two syllables; Warriors, three; Alates, Four, and progenitors, five. At least, that is true among the Shshi, whether Shum'za (Little Heads) or Da'no'no (Very Big). It's not true among the Nasutes.
Thus Menelaus, which is translated by Graves as "might of the people," becomes Shi'lo'na'sha'ma, Strength of the People, plus the designation for King (na'sha'ma|). Agamemnon (called in the Iliad King of Men), translated as "very resolute" by Graves, becomes Pai’zeg’weil surnamed Tas Ut’zei (Warrior Who Never Loses, surnamed Rules All).
The name Achilles turned out to be hopeless. Graves says it means "lipless" and was a common designation for "oracular heroes," but since termites have no lips, it would be difficult to make that work! I suppose I could have used A'zid'wei or Zid'wei'a, which would have meant Palpless, or even A'wei'to or To'wei'a (Lacking a Mandible), but what kind of names are those for a heroic Warrior? Therefore, I had to make up a name of my own for Achilles and he ended up being Nei'ga'bao (Fated to Conquer). But I was able to do the surname; in the Iliad Achilles is continually referred to "swift-footed," hence Nei'ga'bao was given the surname Gli Mu'zi (Swift-Foot).
Graves translates Hector as "prop, or stay." Therefore we have Viz'ka'cha, which means Mainstay of the Fortress. In the Iliad, Hector is continually described with the epithet "of the bright helmet," so Viz'ka'cha gets the surname Gri Um'zi (Bright Head).
And then there is Paris, which means "wallet" in Greek. Paris was one of those frequent cases in Greek tales where an infant is exposed in the wilderness to die because of some portent of evil connected to his birth. They are subsequently nurtured by an animal and then discovered and rescued by some commoner. When Paris was exposed in that way, he was suckled by a she-bear, then adopted by a herdsman, who brought him home in a wallet, from which he was named. In my version, the egg which held "Paris" was doomed to be destroyed and was sent to the Charnel Hall, but when the Worker inserted the knife, it discovered a live nymph inside. Panicking, he hid the egg in a dung bucket. An Alate who happened to look in the bucket was astonished to see this little face waggling its antennae at him; hence the Namers called the nymph Roi'za'chu (Bucket Face). Also not the most dignified name for a great Warrior, but suitable for the character who becomes the major villain of my version!
In order to make the plot work, I take a lot of license with one particular character. Deiphobus in the Greek version was one of the many siblings of Hector and Paris and plays only a small role in the tale. But he does happen to be the one who helps betray Achilles to Paris on the battlefield and I built off that to create a significant and essential character. Deiphobus means "scaring the spoiler," and the name of my character, Dai'wak'zei, means exactly the same thing -- One Who Scares the Despoiler.
Graves gives the translation of Cassandra as "she who entangles men," so we have Ta'hat'a'pai (She Confuses a Warrior).
The name of the Healer Ra'fa'kat'wei worked out beautifully; in the Greek camp was a physician named Podaleirius, which means according to Graves "without lilies where he treads, i.e., discouraging death." Ra'fa'kat'wei means She Treads Not on a Flower, which quite captures the spirit of this expert and compassionate healer.
Calchas was the name of the Trojan Seer who defected to the Greeks. The name means "brazen." In my rendition he becomes Ma'tei'ban'shli, meaning He Sees Bold Ends.
And finally we have one "centaur." Actually, Cheiron was such a ubiquitous figure in Greek myth that I was forced to divide it into two people. In the Troy portion we see Cheiron as the one who trained all the famous Greek heroes. Ju'mu is an old Warrior from a southern people called the Yo'sho'zei (Ancient Ones) who blends the characteristics of the Shi and the Nasute in quite a horrific way, having great downward-hooking mandibles and a cone-shaped gland on its head that sprays sticky, frothy acid. There actually are termite species who possess those characteristics; I must draw a picture of Ju'mu sometime. This Cheiron figure's name means Hard Claw. In Greek Cheiron means simply "hand." In fact, however, "Ju'mu" is not the character's "real" name (note that it lacks the requisite three syllables). In the language of the Shshi a more accurate translation would be Ju'a'a'mu'a, which is as close as the Shshi can come to uttering Chu’te’e’nu’a, as it would be known among the Northern Nasutes. However, in the language native to the Yo'sho'zei, Ju'mu carries the brain-twisting epithet of Chuh’de’myukh’ze’uh’tzi. The names consistently mean Hard Claw.
And for the first time you've become aware that the Termite Peoples have more than one language!
One last thing: Some of you may be aware that Achilles was the leader of a people called the Myrmidons. That word means simply "ant" in Greek and here is what Graves has to say about the origins of that strange name: "Some say that Achilles's allies, the Myrmidons, were so named in honour of King Myrmidon, whose daughter Eurymedusa was seduced by Zeus in the form of an ant -- which is why ants are sacred in Thessaly." [Graves, Greek Myths (Penguin Books, c1955) v.1, p. 213] I couldn't believe how well that fit in with Shshi culture, which cultivates formicidiforms (called shza'zei|, or Little Ones) for the honeydew they produce! It played perfectly into the little myth that Za'dut tells to explain why Nei'ga'bao's people call themselves shein’zei| ki| shlo’lo’za’zei|, or Offspring of Little Ones.
And in case your head is spinning, I'm making a list of characters to place at the beginning of the book. They won't have translations, but they will have identifications!