Sol & Other Sun Words
The English Romantic painter, water-colourist and light-worshipper, the great precursor of Impressionism, J.M.W. Turner was asked what religion he followed. Turner said “The sun is God.”
Early Turner self-portrait painted about 1799 CE, oil on canvas, The Tate Gallery, London, England
So did the religious revolutionary of pharoanic Egypt, Akenaton, proclaiming solar Aten, the sun disc, as sole proprietor of heaven and sweeping away all the cow-headed and jackal-necked deities of the Nile delta, to introduce the first Egyptian monotheism. The pharoah's real name was Amenhotep IV, who later changed his name to Akhen-aten ‘working spirit of the Sun.’
French monarch Louis XIV said the king is the sun and dubbed himself Le Roi-Soleil ‘the sun king.’ Napoleon Bonaparte said, “If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.”
Our ancient mother tongue, Proto-Indo-European, appears to have had two roots for sun, *sāol and *sāwol. Sol, luminiferous orb of day, round which our loving planet Earth revolves, is a solar name related to the word sun. Sol is sunny Latin sol solis, its adjective solaris, its sun-filled chamber: a solarium.
An early Germanic translation of a Latin day name, dies solis, was sunnon-dagaz ‘day of the sun’ or Sunday.
From Latin descend all the Romance language suns: Spanish and Portugese sol, Italian sole and French soleil. One of my pet sunlit phrases is Italian: un posticino al sole ‘a little place in the sun.’ The umbrella that protects your skin from harsh heavenly rays began in French as parasol, borrowed from Italian parasole = Italian parare ‘to shield’ + sole ‘sun.’
The Latin reflex is cognate with Sanskrit suvar and other Indic sun words like súar, súra and súrya , Lithuanian sáule, Old Norse and Icelandic sól, modern Norwegian, Swedish, Danish so, Welsh haul Polish słońce and classical Greek ἥλιος helios, which gives us many scientific words in English like heliocentric, and the flower that turns toward the sun, the heliotrope, and the point at which a planet is farthest from its sun, its aphelion.
Also on board this etymological train are the West Germanic n-forms from the older etymon *sunnōn: Old English sunne, Old Frisian sunne, Old Saxon sunna, Dutch zon, Afrikaans son and High German Sonne.
Country Name 日本
Two common names for Japan are Nippon にっぽんand Nihon にほん, both meaning ‘sun origin, sun rise’ that is, land of the rising sun, but from a easterly Chinese perspective! Indeed the very terms originated in Chinese documents of the Sui Dynasty.
A Little Garden of Solar Citation & Sun-splashed Poesy
Below shine a few of my favourite sunny citations from poetry and prose.
In The Tempest, Prospero’s great speech, renouncing his magical powers, throbs with the potent thrust of Shakespeare’s English:
. . . I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war : to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt . . .
As Antony’s star falls near the conclusion of Antony and Cleopatra Antony bemoans his approaching fate:
O sun, thy uprise shall I see no more:
Fortune and Antony part here;
In Hamlet, Shakespeare has Polonius, that senile Aunt Blabby of advice-givers, keep giving it.
Good madam, stay awhile. I will be faithful. [Reads.]
'Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
And, in Romeo and Juliet, one of the simplest, starkest and most wondrous of lover’s compliments is spoken by Romeo.
[JULIET appears above at a window]
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
And elsewhere in the same play, sun references proliferate, as part of the antithetical checkerboard of light and dark metaphors which grace the entire drama, for example, of Juliet:
“So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,/ As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.”
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Buddha said: Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
William Blake, England’s most adept mystic poet, wrote: If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt, they'd immediately go out.
But now, the fiery steeds who draw the four-horsed chariot of the sun across the daytime sky, flee toward ungolding Phoebus’ stable of the night, and even yours sunnily, your kindly sage, no matter in what bestowing mood he be, must fling his book upon the straw and, in hay-pillowed repose, await the sleep kiss of the evening star.
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
Check out my recent 4-part series on The Origin of Building Terms.It’s a glance at a few housing terms that baffled me when I first encountered them. To review the four parts of this series, click the appropriate links below.
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Read My Recent Columns
1. Medieval Latin Words in Modern English
2. A Potpourri of Popery: Papal Regalia Words
3. Glissando & Other Musical Terms
4. Origin of Religious Art Terms like Maestà