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Volume 20, 1887
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Art. LII.—On the Etymology of the Word “Dierectus,” in Plautus.

[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 2nd June, 1887.]

The word “dierectus” is used by Plautus thirteen times, and by no other Latin writer. The etymologies suggested for it are: (1.) dis–erigo, which would make it mean “one lifted up in two directions,” i.e. “crucified,” i.e. “a scoundrel.” (2.) It is connected with dies, i.e. “one lifted up ‘in diem,'” i.e. “crucified,” i.e. “a scoundrel.” Professor Nettleship doubts its Latinity in toto, and thinks that it is a mistake for derectus or directus, as the case may be: i.e. (derectus) “one who is sent downwards,” i.e. “sent to Hades,” i.e. “a scoundrel:” or (directus) “one spread out in two directions,” i.e. “crucified,” i.e. “a scoundrel.” Neither of these etymologies, (1.) and (2.), seem satisfactory. I do not think we have any similar phrase, or any really good evidence which would seem to imply that the Romans or Greeks thought of crucifixion as a process of being “lifted up” or “spread abroad,” rather than anything else.

The passages in which the word occurs will, however, for the most part, fairly bear out the meaning, “one worthy to be crucified,” “a scoundrel.” It is, of course, unnecessary to remark that if you wish to say that a person whom you detest is worthy of punishment, it was not unusual among the ancients to express one's feelings by saying that the said person had already suffered such a punishment. Cf. also the use of “invictus" for “invincible,” and other similar words. The practice and idiom is not unknown to modern times either. To return, however, to the passages in which dierectus is found: there is one, viz., “Curculio,” ii., 1, 21, “lien dierectus't,” where the word is explained by a gloss as = diruptus, i.e. “burst asunder.” This suggests a clue to another etymology which gives a similar meaning, though derived from a different source. It must be remembered that the plays of Plautus were taken from Greek originals. In the comedies of Aristophanes the word διαρραγ∊ιηç frequently occurs, i.e. “may you burst asunder,” i.e. “curse you,” “a bad end to you.” Also such phrases as óιμoι, διαρραησoμαι, which would be a parallel to the above passage in the “Curculio.” The participle διαρρηκτóç would then mean “a person who has burst asunder,” or “come to a bad end,” i.e., according to the idiom noticed above, “a scoundrel.” Dierecte would then be equivalent to some such phrase as “ω διαρρηκτ∊,” “you scoundrel,” and would be simply the Greek word inaccurately translated into Latin,

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unless we take the long Latin e to be a proper rendering of the Greek a before a double consonant. If this is possible, it would satisfy the meaning of all the passages, I think.

P.S.—Since writing the above, I find that this view was taken by Salmasius; and I see that Professor Nettleship, in the “Journal of Philology,” thinks it possible that dierectus may be a bastard form from διαρρηγνυμι.—F.W.H.