Re: Single word antonyms?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Oct 14 1997 - 09:53:22 EDT

At 3:55 PM -0500 10/13/97, John Baima wrote:
>I came across Romans 16:23 and it occurred to me that the word CENOS (sorry
>if that is not the right transliteration) is a single word antonym because
>it can mean both guest (stranger) and host (as here in Romans). Okay,
>perhaps POLITHS is the antonym in most usages, but doesn't guest/host seem
>to be opposite meanings? The usage of the word seems peculiar to me, and I
>was wondering if anyone else can think of other words which function in the
>same way.

It may indeed seem peculiar but it was a peculiar institution, XENIA, that
doesn't exactly correspond with any single word in our usage and is usually
translated (the institution) as "guest-friendship." Latin HOSPES has
exactly the same ambiguity in that it could be conveyed in English as
either "host" or "guest" but XENOS and HOSPES really mean "friend from
abroad" or "out-of-town friend." In antiquity, relationships between
individuals and families belonging to different city-states were common,
especially among the nobility, and no matter which party was entertaining
and which was being entertained in the home of the host, BOTH parties were
termed XENOI or HOSPITES. So it is a reciprocal relationship and one ought
not to understand EITHER "host" OR "guest" as the fundamental sense.

Nor is this the only reciprocal word of that sort;one far better know to NT
readers is CARIS, which we usually translate as "grace." But the actual
meaning of CARIS is something like "good will shown in action that earns
reciprocation from the other party." So, depending on the context the word
can mean "favor performed by one party for another" or "gratitude returned
by the second party." CARIN DIDONAI TINI is to "perform a favor" while
CARIN EIDENAI is "acknowledge a favor" or "give thanks."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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