Bad etymologies have been a mainstay of alternative history for centuries. In The Sirius Mystery, Robert Temple based much of his analysis on a series of unsupported etymologies tracing Greek terms back to what he called Egyptian “sacred puns,” none of which is supported by modern scholars. His most important “sacred pun” involves the earth-born men who arise from the serpent’s teeth in the Argonaut myth, best remembered as the skeleton warriors from the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts movie. According to Temple, the warriors arose as a pun on Sirius since “earth,” “tooth,” and “Sirius” are all represented by triangles in Egyptian hieroglyphics, triangles that differ only in the direction the apex points:
Temple drew on the work of Robert Graves, the midcentury poet who also liked to seek out speculative (and unsupported) etymologies to “explain” ancient history and myth. I discussed this in my article “Golden Fleeced.”
But all of this has precedent in “alternative” scholars dating back pretty much as far back as we can look. The “Ark-ist” theorist Jacob Bryant proposed that Egypt was descended from Noah’s son Ham because they worshiped the god Amon, whom he chose to see as (H)am-on, the deified Ham, who in turn was also the sun god and thus the sun god of most European mythologies.
Before this, the ancient Greek rationalist writers tried to seek out the “truth” behind ancient myths by looking into the words used in them and proposing fanciful explanations based on look-alike or sound-alike words. Euhemerus was the most famous of these scholars, though Dionysus Schytobrachion offered some of the most entertaining "explanations."
As reported in Diodorus Siculus, Dionysus thought the story of the fire-breathing bulls (tauroi) of Colchis resulted from etymological confusion of bulls with the land of Taurica:
The point, of course, is that mere coincidence of sounds does not equal a connection of fact in the absence of any supporting evidence for such a connection.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.