May 19, 2010

The Street with No Name

In one famous episode of Homer's Odyssey, the wily Greek hero of the Trojan War Odysseus recounts the tale of how he tricked a one-eyed Cyclops named Polyphemus. Trapped in the Cyclops' cave, Odysseus offers the giant three bowls of fine wine from his ship's stores. The Cyclops downs the wine greedily and asks Odysseus his name so that he can thank Odysseus properly. Odysseus replies that his name is Nobody. That's what his mother, father, and friends call him, he insists.

Now drunk, the Cyclops topples to the floor, sound asleep. In the meantime, Odysseus and his men had prepared a stake, which they drill into the giant's eye. Polyphemus, roaring with pain, wrenches the spike from his eye and shouts for help from his neighbor Cyclops. His neighbors, awoken in the night, gather around the cave's mouth. What's the trouble, they ask. "Nobody is trying to kill me," Polyphemus bellows.

"If you're alone," his friends boom back, "and nobody's trying to overpower you now—look, it must be a plague sent by mighty Zeus and there's no escape from that." They lumber off.

I was reminded of this story when I spotted the street sign shown below: No Name Street.


The sign is in the town of Millersburg, Ohio, and you can find this short street marked on Google maps. I don't know its history, but the sign is a neat reminder of the kinds of semantic paradoxes that can arise, in this case because of a collision between the literal meaning of the words (the absence of a name) and the purpose for which the words are used (as a designation for a street).

Reference:

Fagles, R., trans. 1996. Homer: The Odyssey. Penguin.

Photo by I. Peterson

3 comments:

Adriana said...

I love your posts!

paulsc said...

The taxi drivers in Leicester UK accurately boast that they know every street in Leicester since the road along one side of the Town Hall square is called Every Street.

ItzMzBunny said...

2 things!!

1.) My name is LéSans LéRue and it's Canadian French from Street without a Name.

2.) My birthday is May 20th


I stumbled upon on your post when I was searching for a website about a non-profit organization I found a few years back and I was looking for it this morning. I must admit I really liked this post!! And it's made me very very happy ^_^.