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Greek Kinship Terminology

  • M. Miller

Classical Greek kinship terminology, as it is used for example by Isaios, offers few difficulties of meaning in its terms, and describes a bilateral family rather like our own. The principal usages mav be shown in genealogical form as follows:

The noteworthy terms are: (i) kedestes, (2) anepsios, anepsiadous, exanepsios, and (3) adelphos and adelphe. Kedestes is applicable to any male who is a close relative by marriage, but who does not belong to the circle of heirs within the anchisteia: the term thus covers our father-in-law, stepfather, brother-in-law, and son-in-law. The close association of the term with words for ‘mourning’ suggests that this name arose from the duties performed in the funerals of members of their wives' anchisteia, even though they were outside the circle of heirs. The terms pentheros and gambros are, apparently, influenced by the usage of kedestes, and tend to the same classificatory employment. The meaning of nyos similarly tends to wander. Anepsios varies between cousin-german and nephew, and each of these relationships also has its exact term, in both cases a compound of adelphos. Anepsiadous and its synonym anepsiou pais are used not only for the cousin's child (the first cousin once removed), but also for Ego's parent's cousin (also a first cousin once removed): so Theopompos, the mother's cousin and heir of Hagnias, calls himself anepsiou pais to Hagnias. The exanepsios was outside the Attic anchisteia, and the term is rarely found. The terms for blood relatives are of the common IE vocabulary except adelphos and adelphe, which have replaced phrater (surviving to mean ‘member of a phratry’), and the lexicographers' eor.

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1 As in the Labyad decrees.

2 Isaios XI.

3 Cf. Wyse, , Isaios, pp. 566 ff.

3a See p. 52.

4 The claim by Hagnias' uterine brothers (Isaios XI) was defeated by Theopompos thecousin of Hagnias' mother and agnatic second cousin of Hagnias.

5 Ruhemann, B.: “A Method for analyzing classificatory relationship systems,” in South Western Journal of Anthropology (Albuquerque) I (1945), pp. 531 ff.

6 The usual assumption is that they are a disguise for ‘Anon.’ and owe their existence to a poetic abhorrence of a vacuum. This assumption collapses in face of the question why so many disguises, when fewer would have made the genealogies so very much less intricate.

7 Historical social units which claimed descent from one or other of the heroes in this genealogy were: phatrai of the Olisseidai (Odysseus), Arkeidai (Arkeisios), and Dmahippidai (Damasippos) in Argos; demes of Ikarieis and Daidalidai in Attika; gene of the Kephalidai, Kerykes (Telemachos), and (?) Ionidai (among whom Autolykos was a personal name) in Attika; and the (?) phratry of the Eikadeis in Attika (for Autolykos is a descendant of their eponym Eikadios, and they worshipped Apollo Parnessios, god of the mountain on which the Autolykos of the Odyssey lived). The various literary, variants of the genealogy may reasonably be supposed to derive from one or other of these sources, or from the traditions ofother similar social units in other Greek towns and communities.

8 The sister's son remained in the anchisteia, (though not, of course, a member of his MB's lineage), but as succeeding only if heirs male (i.e. sons, brothers' sons) failed. Various usages of parthenos suggest (not that goddesses called parthenos took their title from ‘matriarchal’ and pre-matrimonial times, but) that parthenos was in origin simply a sister of the lineage, perhaps a younger sister, whether married or not. The hero Parthenopaios would then be the ‘sister's son’, and the notorious Partheniai of Sparta and Taras would be merely ‘sisters' sons’ who by some change in the inheritance law in favour of male descent were deprived of their expectations from their mothers' families.

9 As in the case of the sons of Bouselos (Isaios XI), among whose descendants intermarriage is very frequent.

3a (p.46) Or rather, by custom having the force of law. For example, in China the coincidence of inheritance laws and ancestor worship is somewhat similar to that among the ancient Greeks, and there customary law lays down that a sonless man should preferably adopt the second son of his elder brother, failing whom the second son of his younger brother, failing whom the third son of his elder brother, etc. But the Chinese kinship organisation being much more strongly patrilinear than the Greek, adoption of a son-in-law was much more restricted, allegedly occurring only if (1) the father had fallen out with his own kinsfolk and (2) if the son-in-law came from a very poor and obscure family and so was willing to give up his membership of it.

4a (p. 47) In very many languages a word for sister, or a compound of it, is used for sweetheart or concubine, e.g. the old English ‘bedsister’.

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The Journal of Hellenic Studies
  • ISSN: 0075-4269
  • EISSN: 2041-4099
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-hellenic-studies
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