Thursday, July 9, 2009

You say satrap, and I say Satrapi

I have no idea, of course, if the two words are anything other than coincidentally related. But the word 'satrap' has come up twice in the space of about five hours--first in the very opening lines of Xenophon's Anabasis, which I took a quick look at in the library today, and then on Yoani Sanchez's blog, where it caught my eye as I scrolled down to her post on Thugs and Caudillos. Here's the relevant quote:

And so I am worried about Honduras. I fear what happened will pave the way for the emergence of another figure invested with full powers. Beware! In the broad range encompassing satraps, the worst combination is when the figure of the caudillo and the armed thug converge in a single person.

But it's a third element that finally motivates me. Because in Yoani's blog, she most recently cites the acclaimed Iranian graphic artist, Marjane Satrapi--she of Persepolis fame. Wait a minute, I suddenly think--Satrapi?

My understanding of the word 'satrap', minimal though it is, is that it refers to some sort of minor, dare I say provincial, power. I think of it as the guy who's sent out to keep peace, mainly by squelching dissent, in the hinterlands. It's a bit awkward in the English language--how would one say it, anyway? Sat-trap? Sah-trop? Suh-trop?

But now, based on Marjane, I'm going to guess that it's of Persian origins. Let's see how close I am, and maybe even how to pronounce it...


Yep. It's a governor of a province in Ancient Persia, which has translated over time, and through Greek, Latin and old French, to mean any minor official or bureaucrat. That's maybe too easy, except that I would never have gotten the Persian roots if I had not realized that Marjane's last name must reflect it.

Why would anyone label themselves as coming from a clan of minor officials or bureaucrats? Well, as it turns out, they probably didn't. 'Satrap' comes from khshathrapāvan, which means 'protector of the province'. Has a nice ring to it, one that anyone would like to have associated with himself or his family.

Oh, and however they say it in in Iran, in English, the predominant pronunciation is 'say-trap'.

14 comments:

  1. One man's minor official is another's protector of the province. Depends on how onerously one is being protected, I suppose.

    I'd guess that some English names come similarly from various levels of officialdom, even other than such names as Prince, King or Queen. Marshall, perhaps? Judge? Reeve(s)?

    Th khsh beginning of the Persian word is interesting. The only other word I know of that begins with a similar sound is kshatriya, the warrior class of the original social grouping in India under the Aryan settlers/invaders. Perhaps the sound is unique to the Indo-Iranian languages, which would make sense.
    ==============
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  2. You know, in typical lazy fashion, I'm just assuming that the family name "Satrapi" is related to satrap, being Persian/Iranian and all. It may have nothing to do with it. I'm wondering, in fact, how a modern Iranian family, not deriving from Greek, Latin and Old French, comes up with Satrapi, and not something starting with that Khsh-- sound. Well, much eludes me.

    I do wonder now if the 'protectors of the province' and the warrior class are really all that far apart.

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  3. Well, my Indo-European is a little rusty, so I don't know enough to guess whether there might be a relationship between kshatriya and that big khsh word that turned into satrap. But the name Satrapi could have survived continuously in Persion until now.

    I wonder what the -i ending signifies in Iranian. I believe a satrapy was the region administered by a satrap.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  4. Well, I am not sure precisely what the "i" ending does, but according to Wikipedia, Persians/Iranians did not even use surnames until the reign of Reza Shaw from 1925-1941.

    A person was often distinguished from others by a combination of prefixes and suffixes attached to his name which, if omitted, might cause him to be taken for someone else.

    In many cases an individual was known by the name of the district, city, town, or even the village from which they came by using the locality's name as a suffix, for example: Nuri, Khorasani, Mazandarani, Tehrani, Esfahani, and Shirazi.


    So the "i" must show connection to the satrap in some way, though in what way remains unclear.

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  5. The i is most likely a suffix with the meaning "of..."

    Teherani = of (from) Teheran

    Satrapi = of (the family of, descending from) the Satrap.

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  6. Thanks, Marco. I was sort of getting the general idea without getting how it translated into English.

    Sounds like pretty impressive lineage, doesn't it?

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  7. This meaning I knew (Indian history being filled with intrigues and machinations by satraps), although not the origin. In fact, I even pronounced it incorrectly (sat-trap), so thanks once again.

    And I loved Marjane Satrapi's bold voice and penetrative humour (and witty drawings) in Persepolis, Return to Persepolis and the slimmer Embroideries. Iran is a more conservative version of many Asian societies.

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  8. Oh, and Kshatriyas are a Hindu warrior-class (now upper-caste) in India, but as this word came into existence (indeed the whole caste-system concept) after the invasion of the Aryans (who might have come from Persia), so the two words may be linked, may they not?

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  9. Sucharita,
    I don't know that 'say-trap' is authoritative, though. It sounds very much like a British mispronunciation of a Persian word, frankly, much the way our former president would say I-rack, for Iraq. There was a secondary pronunciation on the Free Dictionary, but I wasn't able to hear that one. Since your country actually had satraps, I imagine you have some correct form in your head.

    The Arian invasion as a link between those Khsh words is a very intriguing.

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  10. Well, the Indo-European languages are thought to have originated somewhere around southern Russia, and the Indo-Iranian languages constitute a sub-family of that group. You just look at a map, think of the route these upstart Aryans must have taken to India, and it's not hard to start imagining all kinds of connections between Persia and India.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  11. Can I say that I've been desperate to use Satrap for years but have never had the opportunity. Its crying a shame is what it is.

    My V word (cant you get rid of those?) is athnss which is very nearly where Xenophon came from.

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  12. As to the v word, yes I can, but I don't want to. Come on, athnss? How right is that?


    And I'm sure that you can find some way to work 'satrap' into your current YA writing project. Ala Scooby Doo.

    "Is that a chest of gold bullion?"

    "It might look like it, but I think it's satrap."

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  13. Adrian,

    Satrap should be do-able. Are there any bullies in the story, i.e. guys that rule the neighborhood?

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  14. You nonchalantly drop by fissiparous in casual conversation and can't find occasions to use Satrap?

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