Ethiopia - Names

Names

The Greek name Αἰθιοπία (from Αἰθίοψ, Aithiops, 'an Ethiopian') appears twice in the Iliad and three times in the Odyssey. The Greek historian Herodotus specifically uses it for all the lands south of Egypt, including Sudan and modern Ethiopia. Pliny the Elder says the country's name comes from a son of Hephaestus (aka Vulcan) named Aethiops. Similarly, in the 15th century Ge'ez Book of Aksum, the name is ascribed to a legendary individual called Ityopp'is, an extrabiblical son of Cush, son of Ham, said to have founded the city of Axum. In addition to this Cushite figure, two of the earliest Semitic kings are also said to have born the name Ityopp'is according to traditional Ethiopian king lists. Modern European scholars beginning c. 1600 have considered the name to be derived from the Greek words aitho "I burn" + ops "face".

The name Ethiopia also occurs in many translations of the Old Testament, but the Hebrew texts have Kush, which refers principally to Nubia. In the (Greek) New Testament, however, the Greek term Aithiops, ‘an Ethiopian’, does occur, referring to a servant of Candace or Kentakes, possibly an inhabitant of Meroe which was later conquered and destroyed by the Kingdom of Axum. The earliest attested use of the name Ityopya in the region itself is as a name for the Kingdom of Aksum in the 4th century, in stone inscriptions of King Ezana, who first Christianized the entire apparatus of the kingdom.

In English, and generally outside Ethiopia, the country was also once historically known as Abyssinia, derived from Habesh, an early Arabic form of the Ethiosemitic name "Ḥabaśāt" (unvocalized "ḤBŚT"). The modern form Habesha is the native name for the country's inhabitants (while the country has been called "Ityopp'ya"). In a few languages, Ethiopia is still referred to by names cognate with "Abyssinia," e.g., modern Arabic Al-Ḥabashah.

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