Word of the Week (196): LUCUMO (probability 20949), by David Sutton

This week, let's talk priests. A LUCUMO was an Etruscan priest (the Etruscans, you will remember from the 'Aeneid', were the people that Aeneas and company had to deal with when they arrived in Italy fleeing from the sack of Troy). The plural can be LUCUMOS or LUCUMONES. Do not confuse with a LUCUMA, which is a kind of South American tree.

The Romans were not short of priests themselves. The general Latin word for priest was PRESTER, but more specifically there was the FLAMEN (plural FLAMENS or FLAMINES), a priest serving one particular god. This yields an adjective FLAMINICAL. Then there was the FETIAL, a member of a group of priests who acted as heralds and performed the rites connected with the declaration of war and conclusion of peace. This has variants FECIAL and FETIALIS; the plural of FETIALIS is FETIALES.

A PONTIFEX was a member of a college of priests who issued decrees on matters of religion, their chief being called Pontifex Maximus, though to his friends he was probably Ponty or Max. From this derives the more modern PONTIFF, which when capitalised refers to the Pope, and hence gives us the verbs PONTIFY or PONTIFICATE, to give pompous opinions on things you may not know much about. The adjectives are PONTIFIC and PONTIFICAL, and the latter may take an S, PONTIFICALS being the formal clothes of a priest, bishop or pope.

A BACCHANT (feminine BACCHANTE) was a priest or priestess of Bacchus, the god of being sloshed most of the time. The BACCHANT competed in debauchery with the Greek CORYBANT (plural CORYBANTS or CORYBANTES), one of the priests of Cybele in Phrygia, whose rites, says Chambers, 'were accompanied by wild music, dancing, etc'. I leave the etc to your imagination, but it probably didn't involve Scrabble.

We'll look at a few more exotic priests next week.


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