advesperate: to draw towards night

Evening sun in East Greenland © 2007 Marion McMurdo
The day advesperates in East Greenland. Click to enlarge
© 2007 The Boon Companion

Writing about crepuscular rays recently reminded me that there are two kinds of crepuscule (twilight): matutine, from the Latin matutinus, “morning”, and vespertine from vespertinus, “evening”.

Vespertinus is of course the origin of vespers, the evening prayer in some versions of Christianity. And it gives us my headword for this post, to advesperate. In the days when scientists spoke Latin to each other, a bat was a vespertilio, from their habit of taking flight at dusk. The Italian language mangled this slowly over the centuries, from vespertillo to vispertello to vipistrello to pipistrello, from which last we get the English word pipistrelle, for a small bat.

Thomas Hardy seems to have coined the word vespering, “flying westwards”, in his poem The Year’s Awakening, but it hasn’t seen much use since. It does let me point out the obvious connection between “ves-” and “west”, however. The sun sets in the west, and the linguistic link between evening and the west goes right back to a Proto-Indo-European root reconstructed as wespero-. The first syllable of that root was adopted into the Germanic languages, and ended up in English in both west and Visigoth (“western Goth”). Wespero- got into Latin almost unchanged, and gave us all those vespertine words I’ve described already; and in Greek it appeared as hespera, meaning both “evening” and “west”. Hesperus was a minor mythological character (according to Lemprière, he was an obscure brother of Atlas); his only claim to fame is as the personification of the planet Venus in its role as the Evening Star.

Lemprière's Classical DictionaryAs the Morning Star, Venus had two other names—Phosphorus, “light bringer”, or Eosphorus, “Dawn Bringer”.* Eos was the Greek goddess of the dawn, and (from the colour of the dawn sky) she gives her name to the red dye eosin.  Her name goes back to a Proto-Indo-European root aus-, which supplied the English language with east, Austria (“eastern kingdom”) and Ostrogoth (“eastern Goth”).

The Roman name for Eos was Aurora. So the aurora borealis is literally “dawn in the north”. The Romans saw a resemblance to a sunrise because, when the Northern Lights are strong enough to appear as far south as Rome, they are often tinged with red—the Emperor Tiberius once called out the fire-fighters when he glimpsed an auroral glow in the sky over the port of Ostia.

The Romans, who had a deeply confusing attitude to the names of their gods, also called Aurora Mater Matuta, “mother morning”. Which brings me neatly back to the Latin matutinus, “the morning”, the origin of our word matutine, “pertaining to the morning”, which helped me start this post. Matutinus also gives us matins, the morning prayers that are a counterpart to vespers. Matutinal means “in the morning” and matutinally means “every morning”.

And finally there’s matutolypea, “ill humour in the morning”—one of the reasons so few of these posts appear before midday. Matutolypea is a hybrid word, built from Latin matuta and Greek lype “sorrow”. Sadly, it seems to be one of those words that is never seen in the wild, only ever appearing in lists of unusual words. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for it …

*Given that the Ancient Greeks had different names for Venus according to whether it appeared in the morning or evening sky, you might ask whether they properly understood that it was just one object, seen in different positions at different times. They seem to have sorted that out quite early:

Eosphoros and Hesperos are one and the same, although in ancient times they were thought to be different. Ibycus of Rhegium was the first to equate the titles.

Ibycus of Rhegium, Fragment 331, 6th Century BC

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.