Dusty Phrases

Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find below an ancient phrase in one language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.

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Θάλαττα, θάλαττα
Thálatta, thálatta


The sea, the sea

This Greek phrase is a useful one to use when you arrive at your beach vacation. If you happen to live by the sea, and get an opportunity to say this all the time, all the better. From wiki:

Thálatta! Thálatta! (Greek: Θάλαττα! θάλαττα! — “The Sea! The Sea!”) was the cry of joy when the roaming Ten Thousand Greeks saw Euxeinos Pontos (the Black Sea) from Mount Theches (Θήχης) in Trebizond, after participating in Cyrus the Younger‘s failed march against the Persian Empire in the year 401 BC. The mountain was only a five-day march away from the friendly coastal city Trapezus. The story is told by Xenophon in his Anabasis.

Thálatta (θάλαττα, pronounced [tʰálatta]) is the Attic form of the word. In IonicDoricKoineByzantine, and Modern Greek it is thálassa (θάλασσα).

The cry is mentioned by the narrator of Frederick Amadeus Malleson’s translation of Jules Verne‘s Journey to the Center of the Earth, when the titular expedition discovers an underground ocean. It is absent from the original French work.

The phrase appears in Book 1 of James Joyce‘s 1922 novel Ulysses when Buck Mulligan, looking out over Dublin Bay, says to Stephen Dedalus, “God! … Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks! I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look.” In Book 18, Molly Bloom echoes the phrase in the closing moments of her monologue: “and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire.” In book III.3 of Finnegans Wake this is echoed as “kolossa kolossa!” combining the original chant with Greek kolossa, colossal.

Iris Murdoch wrote a novel called The Sea, The Sea, which won the Booker Prize in 1978.

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