Week twelve: PETASUS (probability 16765), by David Sutton

A PETASUS (or PETASOS) is a kind of low broad hat worn by the Greeks in antiquity and particularly associated with the god Hermes, though his is often portrayed as having wings. There are no fancy classical plurals involved: just PETASUSES and PETASOSES. Botanists may recognise the word as making a guest appearance in the Latin name of the butterbur, Petasites hybridus, given for the plant's large broad leaves.

We have numerous kindred words relating to the appurtenances of classical myth. For example, there is TALARIA, the winged shoes represented as fastened to the ankles of Hermes, and the CADUCEUS (plural CADUCEI), the wand carried by Hermes. There is AEGIS or EGIS (plural AEGISES, EGISES), originally the shield borne by Pallas Athene, now used generally for protection or patronage. There is THYRSUS (plural THYRSI) or THYRSE, originally a staff wreathed with ivy borne by the god Bacchus, now a type of botanical inflorescence, giving rise to the adjectives THYRSOID or THYRSOIDAL.

Then there is the CAESTUS, CESTUS or CESTOS, the girdle worn by Aphrodite which had the power of exciting love. (Watch your plurals here: CAESTUSES — no CAESTI* — but CESTUSES or CESTI, and for CESTOS CESTOSES or CESTOI). Finally there is the ANCILE (plural ANCILIA), a sacred shield of the Romans said to have fallen from the heavens in the reign of Numa, and known as the PALLADIUM of Rome, a PALLADIUM being originally a statue of Pallas Athene that was the safeguard of Troy, but later applied to any protective talisman. Note that PALLADIUM in this sense has plural PALLADIA, but in the sense of the chemical element has plural PALLADIUMS.


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