Last night at Greek class, our teacher was taking words apart and explaining their origins and meanings. I always find this fascinating. Language is a fluid, growing thing. A word is not just a word. With twenty-six letters in the English language and millions of combinations of said letters, we form countless words and ideas which become part of our vocabulary, culture, and lives, and get passed down to the next generation. It’s important to understand where words come from and what they mean, for words connect us with our roots that are tangled in so many different cultures.
One example he used last night is the Greek ἀλήθεια (aleethia), which means truth. If you break it apart, a can mean the opposite of, or not. Λήθη (Leethie) means oblivion or forgetting. So, putting it together, ἀλήθεια means to not forget, to not let something go into oblivion or be forgotten. This takes on an even deeper significance when you realize that the ancient Greeks considered the learning of knowledge as the highest achievement of mankind. Keeping knowledge alive meant everything.
This concept of truth moved me profoundly. As human beings, we need our lives to have meaning. We don’t want to be forgotten. Hence, we paint, compose music, and design beautiful gardens. We pass recipes and photographs on to our children. We tell stories and write books. We strive to leave our own truth stamped on the world.
As my friend A. reminded me, we hunger for books that show “something meaningful that resonates deeply” within us. As writers, we strive to create stories that ring true no matter what the genre. Sometimes in order to create this truth, we have to “go rooting through the garbage, basements and attics for diaries that will tell… the un-camouflaged truth of what other people feel, think, say and do.” In the end, we want our writing to mean something to others, to uplift them, to move them, or to help them in some way become better for having read it. Then we will not be forgotten. Our ἀλήθεια will live on.