de gruyter

Obscure Gods: Komos/Comus

Komos/Comus: personification of festivities, revelry, and carousing.

A constant companion to Dionysos and Ariadne, Komos was often depicted as a winged youth, sleepy with drink, or as a satyr chasing the skirts of various nymphs. He was the spirit of the act of the revel itself. In some scenes he plays the double flute.

So prolific are his images and his spirit found in Greek pottery that he lends his name to a class of red-figure paintings. Sometimes he is chasing nymphs (most often when he is shown without Dionysos), and other times he is seen just outside the door to a wedding feast, beginning to fall asleep from drunkness.

At the Greater Dionysia and, possibly the Greater Eleusinia, he gave his name to a riotous procession involving drink and music at night. Philostratos mentions that this rite also involved gender swapping.

Academics debate whether he was understood as a God or spirit until late antiquity.

Komos lends his name to the terms komaso (Greek) and comessatores (Latinized Greek) meaning ‘behave like Komos,’. He also lends his name to a class of images on Greek vases depicting revelry.

By the 17th century, he had become a comedic grotesque for the use of theatre. In appearance he’s seems a young and sleepy boy instead of a satyr. Othertimes, he is a rotund and greedy figure in these plays. (See Ben Jonson’s plays.) Milton wrote a play about him titled Comus which has him the child of Bacchus and Circe, though this is unrelated to the God himself.

Birch, Samuel. History of Ancient Pottery, Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman by Samuel Birch, John Murray, 1873.
Corns, Thomas N. The Milton Encyclopedia, Yale, 2012.
Coronato, Rocco. Jonson Versus Bakhtin: Carnival and the Grotesque, Rodopi, 2003.
Erasmus, Desiderius. Colloquies, Vol. 1, University of Toronto, 1997.
Halperin, David M. Before Sexuality: The Cosntruction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, Princeton, 1990.
Moormann, Eric M. and Vladimir Stissi. Shapes and Images: Studies on Attic Black Figure and Related Topics in Honour of Herman A.G. Brijder, Isd, 2009.
Murray, Oswyn and David Sacks, A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World, Oxford, 1995.
Schlesier, Renate. A Different God? Dionysos and Ancient Polytheism, de Gruyter, 2012.

William Blake, “Comus and his Revellers,” from Milton’s Comus. 1815

The word ‘lepak’ has recently been found in the Oxford Dictionaries

Lepak [leˈpaʔ] means to hang out, and is often used in a way that implies that the activity is non-productive.

Frankly, what comes as a surprise is not that it’s a Malay word that has been added to the Oxford Dictionaries (ODO). You’ll find that plenty of Malay words have made it into the mouths of native English speakers before (though, admittedly, ‘lepak’ has yet to make a mainstream presence there).

What does surprise me is the meaning of the word itself. As evidenced above, most Malay words that made it into English dictionaries did so because there was no other word for it at the time. Most of these words were borrowed during the age of colonialism, when new words were needed to signify the new things that British officials were seeing in Malaya - such as gingham, raffia, rattan etc. 

A well-known theory on word borrowing is called the lexical gap theory (Zenner and Kristiansen 2014) - this means that words are borrowed from other languages to fill ‘gaps’ in a language, whereby there are concepts that need names, but have no existing names in that language. It then so happens that other languages have names for these concepts, so we take those names from them and use it for our own. Malays had names for gingham (ginggang), rattan (rotan) and raffia (rafia). These were subsequently adopted by those native English speakers of the British officials, and Anglicised (made more English-sounding). This is not something only done by the British; it is a natural process of language development. We ourselves have taken many English words, such as komputer, televisyen, radio etc, because we did not have names for these concepts.

But what stumps me is that there is no lexical gap here. The English language has multiple existing names synonymous with the meaning of lepak, including hang out, chillloiter, dally, etc. So why the need to add this to the dictionary?

It could reflect growing usage. No finer example exists of a word being added to the dictionary because of growing usage than the word ‘selfie’ - this term has been around for years, but was only recently added to the ODO because it has become so prevalent, especially on the English-speaking side of the internet. But I, personally, have not seen very many non-Malaysians use the word ‘lepak’. There could be, of course - it just has never seemed widespread.

Zenner, E. and Kristiansen, G. (eds). (2014). New Perspectives on Lexical Borrowing p.184. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin.

Nr. 16. Modern siamesische Malerei: Kinnari.

Buddhistische Kunst in Indien   

Albert Grünwedel
Leipzig: Vereinigung Wissenschaftlicher Verleger Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1920.

Tafel XXII.

Die altchristlichen und mittelalterlichen byzantinischen und italienischen Bildwerke. Bearbeitet von O. Wulff und W.F. Volbach

O. Wulff & W.F. Volbach
Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1923.

Nr. 40. Relief von Gandhara, nach einer Phot.

Buddhistische Kunst in Indien    

Albert Grünwedel
Leipzig: Vereinigung Wissenschaftlicher Verleger Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1920.