What were Ancient Greek tents made of?

Olympia turned into a tent city during the Sacred Games. People came from all over Greece and there was no permanent accommodation, so each city was allocated its own space and hundreds of tents sprang up. One can only imagine what the place looked like after thousands of men trampled the ground for a week. I'm thinking something like Glastonbury during the festival.

Okay, now what were the tents made of? It's a minor detail, but this is the sort of thing I have to get right. This turned into a mercifully quick piece of book research. Probably half of you already know the answer, but I didn't and I can't resist telling.

The obvious answer is canvas, but did the Greeks have canvas?

The answer is yes. In fact, according to the Shorter OED, our word canvas derives from the name of the material the Greeks used to make it: κάνναβις. Let me help you with that word. The kappa at the front is an English k of course, but often written as a Roman c. The two v-like letters in the middle are actually nu and have an n sound. The squiggle at the end is an s. Which gives us the English word: cannabis. Not only is the English cannabis precisely a Greek word, but canvas was made from hemp.

Canvas and cannabis are cognate. Now that I know it, it's obvious, but I never would have guessed.

5 comments:

Matthew Delman said...

Or the area around Bonaroo here in the States ... any festival really. Though I doubt the Ancient Greeks had to contend with beer bottles, random bits of paper waste, and things you'd prefer not to name during the clean-up.

CKHB said...

Cool! My husband probably already knew that, but... COOL!

RWMG said...

Think about what Herodotus says about the Egyptians doing everything the opposite way to everyone else and what they do indoors and outdoors. Then multiply by the appropriate number of happy Greek campers.

Amalia T. said...

Wow. I never would have made that connection either, but it's kind of obvious when you look at it. Interesting linguistic factoid! Thanks for sharing!

Gary Corby said...

Hey Robert, you got me laughing.

I agree Matt, a modern festival would have many more dubious items left lying around, but then in ancient times hygiene standards were somewhat more relaxed so it might even out.