cerastes /sɪ’ræstiz/

One of my favorite books is an illustrated copy of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, which I picked up on sale at a Barnes &Noble store, but you can find online at the Barnes & Noble web site.

The illustrations are by Gustav Doré, who has to be one of my favorite illustrators. The pictures are in black and white and are for me depict just what I think things should be like in the Afterlife.

In Canto IX, Dante and Virgil come across the Erinyes or Furies.
Because mine eye had altogether drawn me
Tow’rds the high tower with the red flaming summit,
Where in a moment saw I swift uprisen
The three infernal Furies stained with blood,
Who had the limbs of women and their mien,
And with the greenest hydras were begirt;
Small serpents and cerastes were their tresses,
Wherein their horrid temples were entwined.

"This is Meghera on the left-hand side..."

"This is Meghera on the left-hand side..."

The word cerastes is new to me, although I had clearly read it in the past and simply skipped over it.

A cerast(e) is a horned serpent typically found in Africa and parts of Asia. In the poem, Dante is trying to evoke the image of Medusa, so using “serpents and cerastes” does the job.

Ceraste

Ceraste

The word derives originally from the Greek, κεράστης, which means horned (κεράσ = horn). Note the initial letter is a hard /k/ sound in Greek. However, that softened when the word became the Latin, cerastes, and took on the initial /s/sound instead.

The word ceratinous is an adjective that means horny or of a horny structure or nature and a cerastium is a horn-shaped plant.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s