cornucopia
n. a goat’s horn endlessly overflowing with fruit, flowers and grain; or full of whatever its owner wanted
n.. a hollow horn- or cone-shaped object, filled with edible or useful things

Cornucopia comes from the Latin cornu, and it the direct etymological ancestor of the modern English “horn.” It’s one of many “c-” words in Latin that shifted their initial consonant to an “h”—see also centum/hundred and caput/head and cordum/heart. Funnily enough, while Latin C’s became English H’s, Latin G’s became English C’s; for example, granum/corn and genus/kin and ager/acre1.

The second part, copia is obviously related to the modern English “copious,” and means “plenty” or “abundance.” Very literally, we are talking about a “horn of plenty,” the ugly woven thing stuffed with gourds that you see around Thanksgiving.

When Dan Brown talked about it in The Da Vinci Code, he sort of got it right: its mythological origins do lie with Zeus: Amalthea, his nurse, raised the baby god on goats milk, and he in return gave her the horn of the goat, which had magical powers to stay filled with whatever the bearer desired. A less-often mentioned story is how either Amalthea’s skin, or that of her goat, became the covering for Zeus’s aegis. What Brown didn’t get right was the whole Baphomet/fertility rites nonsense, and of course my thoughts about Dan Brown and his excremental writing are a matter of public record.

  1. cf. Leonard Bloomfield’s Language, pg. 347-349.[]
§2006 · March 26, 2008 · Tags: , , , ·

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