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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xiii. θάλασσα, πέλαγος.

The connexion of θάλασσα with the verb ταράσσειν, that it means properly the agitated or disturbed, finds favour with Curtius (p. 596) and with Port (Etym. Forsch. vol. ii. p. 56). Schmidt dissents (vol. 1. p. 642); and urges that the predominant impression which the sea makes on the beholder is not of unrest but of rest, of quietude and not of agitation; that we must look for the word’s primary meaning in quite another direction: θάλασσα, he says, ‘ist das Meer nach seiner natürlichen Beschaffenheit, als grosse Salzflut, und dem Sinne nach von dem poetischen ἅλς durch nichts unterscheiden.’ It is according to him ‘the great salt flood.’ But not entering further into this question, it will be enough to say that, like the Latin ‘mare,’ it is the sea as contrasted with the land (Gen. 1:10; Matt. 23:15; Acts 4:24); or perhaps more strictly as contrasted with the shore (see Hayman’s Odyssey, vol. 1. p. xxxiii. Appendix). Πέλαγος, closely allied with πλάξ, πλατύς ‘plat,’ ‘plot,’ ‘flat,’ is the vast uninterrupted level and expanse of open water, the ‘altum mare,’1 as distinguished from those portions of it broken by islands, shut in by coasts and headlands (Thucydides, vi. 104; vii. 49; Plutarch, Timol. 8).2 The suggestion of breadth, and not depth, except as an accessory notion, and as that which will probably find place in this open sea, lies in the word; thus Sophocles (Oed. Col. 659): μακρὸν τὸ δεῦρο πέλαγος, οὐδὲ πλώσιιμον: so too the murmuring Israelites (Philo, Vit. Mos. 35) liken to a πέλαγος the illimitable sand-flats of the desert; and in Herodotus (ii. 92) the Nile overflowing Egypt is said πελαγίζειν τὰ πεδία, which yet it only covers to the depth of a few feet; cf. ii. 97. A passage in the Timoeus of Plato (25 a, b) illustrates well the distinction between the words, where the title of πέλαγος is refused to the Mediterranean Sea: which is but a harbour, with the narrow entrance between the Pillars of Hercules for its mouth; while only the great Atlantic Ocean beyond can be acknowledged as ἀληθινὸς πόντος, πέλαγος ὄντως. Compare Aristotle, De Mun. 3; Meteorol. ii. 1: ῥέουσα δ᾽ ἡ θάλαττα φαίνεται κατὰ τὰς στενότητας [the Straits of Gibraltar], εἴπου διὰ περιιέχουσαν γῆν εἰς μικρὸν ἐκ μεγάλου συνάγεται πέλαγος.

It might seem as if this distinction did not hold good on one of the two occasions upon which πέλαγος occurs in the N. T., namely Matt. 18:6: “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (καὶ καταποντισθῇ ἐν τῷ πελάγει τῆς θαλάσσης). But the sense of depth, which undoubtedly the passage requires, is here to be looked for in the καταποντισθῇ:—πόντος (not in the N. T.), being connected with βάθος, βυθός (Exod. 15:5), βένθος, perhaps the same word as this last,Etym. Note. 9 and implying the sea in its perpendicular depth, as πέλαγος (==‘maris aequor’), the same in its horizontal dimensions and extent. Compare Döderlein, Lat. Syn. vol. iv. p. 75.

1It need hardly be observed that, adopted into Latin, it has the same meaning:

‘Ut pelagus tenuere rates, nee jam amplius ulla Occurrit tellus, maria undique et undique caelum.’

Virgil, aen. v. 8.


2 Hippias, in the Protagoras of Plato (338 a), charges the eloquent sophist with a φεύγειν εἰς πέλαγος τῶν λόγων, ἀποκρύψαντα γῆν. This last idiom reappears in the French ‘noyer la terre,’ applied to a ship sailing out of sight of land; as indeed in Virgil’s ‘Phaeacum abscondimus arces.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2281,G3989.]

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