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November 19, 2007

How to Pronounce *Iocaste* and Other Names from Literature

Hi Students,

Even after my long-winded explanations of phonology and etymology in our class lectures, some of you still have questions on how to pronounce some of the names from Oedipus Rex (or, Oedipus, The King).

Below, I have reprinted a few worthy explanations from voices younger than mine. Perhaps their explications are simpler to understand . . .

. . . for example, with *Iocaste*, there is a lot of variation on how it is even spelled in different translations, and this, I believe, has led to the disagreement on how to pronounce it. In the third chapter of her dissertation, Jennifer Colón writes of *Jocasta*:

The problematic issues with this female figure begin with her name. In fact, she is known by multiple variants including: Epicasta, Epicaste, Iocasta, Iokaste, Jocasta, Jocaste, and in Spanish Yocasta and Yokasta. This is a very telling and provocative fact, because, as theorists including Michel Foucault point out, a name often reveals the character’s function within the work. Io means moon; Jocasta (Iocasta) means “Shining-moon” and is “another mythic combination of the Moon-goddess and her sacred king” (Walker 478). In this case, the name reveals the character’s multifaceted identity and development in regard to the typically more central character of Oedipus to whom she is both mother and wife. (Colón 90)*

*Source: Colón, Jennifer A. "Mothers and Sons in Hispanic Short Fiction by Women." Florida State U. Diss., 2003. 1 Nov. 2007 [http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/theses/available/etd-11172003-045012/unrestricted/Colon.pdf].

The University of California has a site dedicated to spelling issues in Greek literature titled "Note on Spelling and Pronouncing Greek Names." I have excerpted a few of their notes here:

There are, unfortunately, competing ways of spelling Greek names. For the principal hero of the Iliad, for instance, we will see both Akhilleus and Achilles; beside Herakles , we find also the spelling Hercules ; or, more radically, we find both Odysseus and Ulysses for the same man. The reason for this is that the Greek names were taken over into the Roman tradition, and in the course of taking the names over, slight (and sometimes not so slight) alterations were made. We might compare for instance our use of Munich for German Munchen ; or Naples for Italian Napoli. In the examples above, Akhilleus is a transliteration from the Greek, which many these days prefer to use; and likewise, Herakles and Odysseus are also direct transliteration from the Greek. The Latin forms, Achilles, Hercules, Ulysses were preferred in an earlier era because of the continuity of the literary tradition in the west from Rome to England; that is, writers in earlier centuries (such as Shakespeare or Milton) were likely to think of the Greek names as they had passed through the more familiar (to them) Latin traditions.

Forms as different as Hercules for Herakles or Ulysses for Odysseus simply have to be learned-- but there are only a few of these. For most of the spelling differences, there is a more or less predictable variation, in accordance with the rules of spelling in the two languages. The following chart should help you sort out the principal differences between the Latin and Greek ways of spelling the Greek names.

Latin c = Greek k : Calypso = Kalypso, Circe = Kirke
Latin final a = Greek final e : Athena = Athene
Latin j = Greek i : Jocasta = Iokaste, Ajax = Aias
Latin ae or e = Greek ai : Gaea = Gaia, Clytemnestra = Klytaimnestra
Latin e or i = Greek ei : Rhea = Rheia, Chiron = Kheiron
Latin oi = Greek oi : Oedipus = Oidipus
Latin final us = Greek os : Telemachus = Telemakhos
Latin final um = Greek on : Ilium = Ilion (a name for the citadel of Troy)


For help with pronouncing Greek names, consult the very useful Pronouncing Glossary at the back of Fagles' translation of the Iliad.

The link to this page can be found HERE.

Regarding the pronunciation of the name *Iocaste*, the wife/mother of Oedipus, Andrea Martell, a
Bachelor of Journalism with Honours, writes on the website omega.cohums.ohio-state.edu:

...In Greek, Io is ee-oh (or something to that effect); in English, Eye-oh. Allow for regional and partisan variations in both pronunciations; but Yo or Jo would definitely be wrong. "I" here is a vowel, not a consonant. One does not pronounce Iocaste with an English j sound when it's spelled in Greek (or in English with an i); then one pronounces it with a consonantal i or "y" sound...

The full thread of this discussion is available HERE.

P. S. Don't believe everything you read on Wikipedia folks. Anyone can add "data" to those encyclopedic listings and, as you've probably gathered by now, in academia there is often strong disagreement even within the same specialized fields.

. . . I will add others in this post as the issues pop-up in class.

Best wishes,

Lee Hobbs

Posted by lhobbs at November 19, 2007 10:09 AM

Readers' Comments:

Dear Dr. Hobbs,

Thank you for putting some of this pronunciation information together here. I was looking to confirm what I thought was the pronunciation of "Clytemnestra," a Greek queen, then that of "Clytie," the nickname of a Faulkner character.

I wanted to point out, though, a huge error in this page's heading, which I'm surprised has lasted this long: "Pronouns" is totally the wrong word.

Also, and I just thought I glimpsed this as I was clicking away from the page, I think there is something by the main page's message box that says "You comments."

I hope you had a good Christmas and will have a very happy New Year,



Comments from Lee:

Thanks Peter for highlighting those particular typos. I have changed the expression "fun pronouns" to "Names" which is more appropriate to the article's content. I appreciate your input--please visit the blog again!


Posted by: Peter at December 26, 2008 11:15 AM

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