From Cicero's De Divinatione I.1:

Itaque ut alia nos melius multa quam Graeci, sic huic praestantissimae rei nomen nostri a divis, Graeci, ut Plato interpretatur, a furore duxerunt.

(My trans.)

And just as we have done many things better than the Greeks, thus we derived our name for this most excellent matter [divination] from "the Gods" [divi], while as Plato explains, the Greeks derived theirs [manteía] from "frenzy" [manía].

This is an interesting etymology, though I'm hesitant to trust Cicero's derivations. But what's more interesting is that he attributes it to Plato.

Does Plato, or any other Greek writer, draw an etymological connection between μαντεία and μανία? And do modern linguists agree with this assessment?

1 Answer 1


Yes, Plato makes this direct connection, and it does appear to be attested.

He does this in the Phaedrus, 244b-c:

τόδε μὴν ἄξιον ἐπιμαρτύρασθαι, ὅτι καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ τὰ ὀνόματα τιθέμενοι οὐκ αἰσχρὸν ἡγοῦντο οὐδὲ ὄνειδος μανίαν: οὐ γὰρ ἂν τῇ καλλίστῃ τέχνῃ, ᾗ τὸ μέλλον κρίνεται, αὐτὸ τοῦτο τοὔνομα ἐμπλέκοντες μανικὴν ἐκάλεσαν. ἀλλ᾽ ὡς καλοῦ ὄντος, ὅταν θείᾳ μοίρᾳ γίγνηται, οὕτω νομίσαντες ἔθεντο, οἱ δὲ νῦν ἀπειροκάλως τὸ ταῦ ἐπεμβάλλοντες μαντικὴν ἐκάλεσαν.

Fowler's translation:

And it is worth while to adduce also the fact that those men of old who invented names thought that madness was neither shameful nor disgraceful; otherwise they would not have connected the very word mania with the noblest of arts, that which foretells the future, by calling it the manic art. No, they gave this name thinking that mania, when it comes by gift of the gods, is a noble thing, but nowadays people call prophecy the mantic art, tastelessly inserting a T in the word.

(As a side note, ἀπειροκάλως is one of my new favorite Greek words.)

Chantraine, in his Dictionnaire Etymologique, s.v. μάντις, acknowledges that the "t" is difficult to account for, but says that it clearly related to mania:

Dictionnaire Etymologique

I'm in a bit of a rush, but can add a transcription/translation later if needed.

  • A translation would be great for future reference (as I can't read French), but no hurry on that.
    – Draconis
    Jun 20, 2017 at 22:22
  • Nice find. Not that Plato is any less capable of falling into the trap of folk etymologies :) Ultimately the stem of both Greek words is simply "to think", and one might not have needed to pass through the other. Unfortunately I'm no student of Greek etymology. :/ Jun 21, 2017 at 4:22
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    The French reads: "The masculine suffice in τι is an uncomfortable feature: we can hardly relate it to anything but μάρπτις "ravager", a hapax in Aesch. Suppl. 826; πόρτις is not an agentive noun and the name of the Είντιες tribe in Lemnos is not necessarily derived from σίνομαι. The hypothesis that in μάντις we have the fem. suffix of an action noun -τις / σις is improbable; E. Benveniste, Origines 83, proposes an original neutral form *μαντι which would be recognizable in the compound μαντιπδλος. It would be affected by a lengthening (technical term?) τ with ι for a suffix. ... Jun 21, 2017 at 4:34
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    ... The root is the same as that in the verb ὲμάνην, cf. ύπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ μαίνεται (Hdt. 4.79); despite Wilamowitz, Glaube der Hellenen 1.40, the prophet is possessed by divinity. The term is thus linked with all the words evoked in connection with μαίνομαι. Following an entirely different reconstruction of vocalization (technical term?) and suffixation, it has also been connected to the Sanskrit múni- (m.) "possessed person, prophet", but this connection is rightly set aside by Mayrhofer, Etym. Wb. des Allind., 2.654. ... Jun 21, 2017 at 4:44
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    ... By way of μαίνομαι, μάντις therefore arises from the root *men-, without any direct relation to the theme en -ti- of the Latin mens. // Provisional translator's note: The French punctuation does not make it clear whether Wilamowitz's opinion stands in contrast to the assertion that the root is the same as in ὲμάνην, or to the prophet's being possessed by divinity, but it seems more likely that he would venture an opinion on the latter, since his book title means "Hellenic Beliefs." (It doesn't make much difference either way, of course.) Jun 21, 2017 at 4:46

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