Historical and language reflections


Migration: introductory reflections 55

Nostos 58

The Babylonian exile: galut and metoikesia 62

The Babylonian exile: omissions and apoikesia 68

Concluding reflections 70

References 72

Migration: introductory reflections

Having examined the importance of epistemological precision in the way we conceptualise phenomena of severe forms of adversity (in the first chapter) and then the value of introducing the term ‘involuntary dislocation’ (in the second chapter), it would be useful now to reflect on some early historical examples of involuntary dislocation in order to investigate how the people, at different points in time, made sense of these events and experiences, how they accounted for them, and what key terms they used to refer to them. These reflections do not constitute, by any means, an exhaustive examination of the historical accounts and the linguistic and etymological analyses of involuntary dislocation; instead, what is presented and discussed here is a limited selection of some central ideas in order to illustrate certain key themes and dilemmas in considering involuntary dislocation.

The phenomenon of migration, along with its associated experiences (pain, disorientation, discovery, yearning, return, identity, renewal, etc.), is as old as human beings. In every human tradition and history there are narratives of migration, and in every language there are key words that convey the act of moving away from one locality to another. The English word migration, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), comes from the identical word in Middle French, where it was first used to refer to people (in 1495), then to human souls (in 1585), and finally to animals (in 1770); in English, it was first used to refer to people in 1527. Nowadays, migration is used not only for humans and animals but also for any other forms of movement from one location to another, e.g. in biology and medicine for cells in the body, in information technology for the movement from one platform to another, etc.

What is of interest is that the word migration has the same etymological root with the Greek verb apaipco (ameivo). This verb means to change, to exchange, to replace (Hofmann, 1950); Liddell and Scott (1869) identify a much wider range of meanings, including to redeem, to alter, to pass on, to repay, to return, etc. More importantly, the same philologists indicate that, especially in the dialect of Attica (in which in the 5th century BC most classic Greek tragedies and comedies were written), the verb ameivo was also used with a specific connotation referring to the change and exchange in relation to actual places and geographical locations, thus referring to changing places, passing, crossing, going out, leaving a house, going into a house, etc. In addition, they identify such uses of this verb in the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (p. 72). Hoffman suggests that the verb ameivo is related to the Latin migro (p. 16), the root of the English word migration, as well as of the equivalent words in most other European languages, e.g. Danish, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, etc. Liddell and Scott point out that the same verb is related to the Latin moveo (p. 72), which is the origin of the English word movement.

The noun from the same verb is apoiPij (amoive) and refers to that which is changed or exchanged. Hence, Liddell and Scott identify meanings such as requital, recompense, return, compensation, repayment, amends, reward, etc. (p. 77). This means that amoive also refers to payment or received fee, i.e. that which was received in exchange for what was offered.

Finally, of great interest also is the adjective form of this noun, apoiPaioq (amoivaios), meaning ‘interchanging, alternate, reciprocal, . . . one in answer to the other,. . . answering as in dialogue, . . . giving like for like', etc. (Liddell & Scott, 1869, p. 77). In effect, amoivaios expresses, in an adjective form, most themes related to mutuality, exchange, and interaction.

This brief etymological research demonstrates the close relationship between changing place, travelling, exchanging and remunerating, recompensing, and rewarding as well as mutuality and interaction. The close link between these meanings is understandable given the fact that, especially in ancient times, whenever people used to travel, an unavoidable part of their activities and experience was the exchange of goods and the broad spectrum of mutuality of interactions. These human connections, which are the result of abandoning home spaces, are not restricted to the trading of material commodities, but have always included a wealth of wider cultural experiences.

From an etymological point of view, it can be argued that the very changing of places can be rewarding, regardless of the initial motive. This means that by going to new places one changes one's existing perspectives, enriches them with new ones, and this constitutes a form of a gain in its own right; and, furthermore, this experience has always had a mutual character. Etymologically, the three themes, i.e. changing geographical location, gaining something, and interacting with others, are closely interlinked. From time immemorial, it has been known that migrating has a strong rewarding component, with various types of benefits. Even when the dislocation is of an involuntary nature, even when those who migrate risk their lives through perilous routes and landing in unknown lands, the belief has always been that reaching their target destinations will be more rewarding than remaining at their home locations, outweighing the risks of the journey and of the unknown.

Understandably, what is also rewarding is not only the going away from one's own place, but also returning to it at some point. In our current vocabulary, there are three related terms addressing different types of movements of people: to emigrate refers to the movement away from one’s own country and going to another country, to immigrate refers to coming into another country to settle, and to migrate is a neutral word referring to any movement from one place to another. The important differences between them are in relation to time, duration, and intent. Whereas emigration and immigration suggest movements for longer periods of time with more serious intentions of settling there, migration implies briefer periods of times, as in the seasonal migration of birds, fish, or animals. In human societies, too, there has always been seasonal migration in order to maximise the use of natural resources (e.g. moving pastures to different locations in different seasons of the year) as well as in order to obtain jobs in different locations. The linguistic root migro covers all these movements and changes of places, suggesting that gains can be obtained from all of them.

It should be noted that migro does not refer to any form of travelling that does not imply some form of settlement, briefer or longer. No language uses any derivatives of migro to refer to casual, recreational, or any other forms of travelling that lack serious intent of engaging with the realities of the location that one travels to. This illustrates the remarkable sensitivity people have always had in making a sharp distinction between serious geographical movements and casual ones. Consequently, from an etymological perspective, the gain that is implied in the original root migro, through its relationship with apoipf] (amoive), cannot be guaranteed in the case of forms of travelling for briefer periods of time and with a lighter intent.

Another important observation is that the root migro is not connected with one of the most significant types of such movements - the returning home, after one had migrated or emigrated. Although the word migration includes the meanings of both going away from home and returning home, in a general and non-specific way, it is not associated particularly with the realities of the home-bound movement, of homecoming. This suggests that the meanings associated with returning home are highly specific and, evidently, there has been a need to use a distinct word to accentuate the complexities of homecoming in a much clearer way, without confusing it with other forms of migrating.

It is not surprising that some of the great epics of antiquity across cultures deal fairly centrally with the theme of migration and dislocation. It is claimed that the main three surviving epics of antiquity, the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh (said to have been composed around 1800 BC), the Indian Vedas (between 1500 and 1000 BC), and the Greek Odyssey (about 800 BC), have strong similarities among them in relation to the homecoming themes, despite their different historical and cultural settings and traditions. More specifically, parallels between the Gilgamesh and the Odyssey have been identified (Abusch, 2001; Louden, 2011; Marinatos, 2001; West, 1997) as well as between the Vedas and the Odyssey (Frame, 1978; Jamison, 1999; McEvilley, 2012). Although the Odyssey is the youngest of these three grand narratives of antiquity, it seems to be the closest to our Western understanding of human tribulations involved in the struggle to return home after one travels abroad for serious purposes, and it is for this reason that it would be instructive to consider the key term that it uses for homecoming, nostos.

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