The name Alexander fairly transparently comes from ἀλέξω "defend" + ἀνήρ "man". As an epithet of Hera, I've heard it translated as "defender of mankind".

But I generally think of ἀνήρ as being specifically a male person, like vir, as opposed to ἄνθρωπος/homo "human".

Can ἀνήρ ever refer to a woman, or to humans regardless of gender?


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The Androphagoi (mentioned as cannibals in Herodotus book 4) would include men and women, and it beggars belief that they would only feast on males to the exclusion of women.

Acts 17.34 provides at least one good example of ἄνδρες being gender-neutral:

τινὲς δὲ ἄνδρες κολληθέντες αὐτῷ ἐπίστευσαν, ἐν οἷς καὶ Διονύσιος ὁ Ἀρεοπαγίτης καὶ γυνὴ ὀνόματι Δάμαρις καὶ ἕτεροι σὺν αὐτοῖς.

Some "men" followed him and believed, among whom was both Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, as well as others with them.

I'd also offer Euripides' Orestes 1523 as a good chance of doing so, too.

Φρύξ: πᾶς ἀνήρ, κἂν δοῦλος ᾖ τις, ἥδεται τὸ φῶς ὁρῶν.
Phrygian: Slave or free, every one is glad to gaze upon the light.

Throughout Greek poetry, Zeus is πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε ("father of gods and men" e.g. in Iliad 8.49) — is Homer excluding women here? I highly doubt it.

That said, it's clear that the word primarily refers to males, and its derivatives have to do with male-ness.

I think part of the zealotry overlooks some of the interesting aspects of ancient languages. No one would deny that the plural masculine nominative ending of Romanus is Romani, yet a group of male and female Romans would still be Romani.

  • 1
    Excellent answer! Would you be interested in adding brief quotations from the cited sources, for reference? (I can look them up on Perseus later if you like.)
    – Draconis
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 2:46
  • @Draconis Done.
    – cmw
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 3:19
  • 2
    It's worth noting that all these examples refer to people in general: all men, every man, mankind, etc. I'm doubtful we could find an example of aner in reference to a single specific woman or a group only of women.
    – Anonym
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 4:25
  • 2
    Also interesting to note: the Acts passage is translated as viri. Definitely jarring, at least to my ear.
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 18:09
  • 1
    @brianpck Jarring indeed. I think it says much about how in antiquity women were an afterthought.
    – cmw
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 18:14

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