Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

Commentary & Notes

Chapter 5: Diagon Alley

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ΣΤΕΝΩΠΟΣ ΔΙΑΓΟΝ The rather weak pun in English ("diagon-ally") is a poor reflection of the original Greek - diagon in English is meaningless, of course, where as in Greek the name means "the alley leading through" (into the magical world).

ἐφημερίδα Very difficult for a Greek reader to understand the concept of a "newspaper". You are used to getting "news" by talking to friends and acquaintances in the agora, exchanging views, gossip and information through leisurely conversation. Modern people cannot form views or have anything to talk about until they have read a "newspaper" which tells them what views they are supposed to have on the small amount of information it allows them to learn. In this way the very stupid and the less stupid can all believe the same thing: bizarrely this is regarded as in some way "democratic" by those who have never experienced a real democracy - where there are as many opinions as people!

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βύβλινα σακκίδια πρὸς τέϊον ἠθμοειδῆ Another use for the great Egyptian invention (see "newspaper" above). Hagrid's dependence on the non-alcoholic drink "tea" has already been noted. Like the Homeric Cyclops whom he partially resembles, he is not a regular wine-drinker. He can make his tea at any time by pouring hot water on these "little perforated papyrus bags". Preseumably he is not concerned if the dried leaves inside his little bags take on something of the flavour of the other contents of his pocket. Many would prefer to make a "tea" out the mint, anyway!

τράπεζα is of course a table, such as any stall-keeper might set up in the agora. Their use by money-changers means that even today in Greece a building where, until recently, poor people used to entrust their money to rich people is called τράπεζα.

κόβαλοι Greeks are more familiar with this word to mean a rogue, a scoundrel: quite appropriate for bankers, then. JKR's κόβαλοι are supernatural beings, like our Greek nymphs or satyrs: there are many kinds in English mythology: besides goblins, there are gnomes, elves, pixies, sprites and all manner of fairy folk who haunt the remains of their woods and natural places.

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δράκοντας γάρ φασι φυλάττειν I remember being told as a child that crocodiles guarded the bullion in the vaults of the bank of England.

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Φοῦιξ apparently a word used in Sparta for a blister on the heel. Not quite right for a bungler, but suggests a very annoying person.

Priestess of Hermes?῞Ερμην We are all familiar with herms, the small pillars topped with the head of Hermes, god of luck and travellers, whose phallus we stroke every time we leave our houses. In the modern world there are small pillars called "parking meters", to whom citizens make offerings of small coins (they call it "feeding" the "meter": which may be a mother goddess, connected with our μήτηρ - or it may not. The religion of the moderns is a strange and complex affair). These mothers do not seem to confer a blessing, however, as one may frequently see citizens abusing them and their priests or priestesses.

Right: a typical priestess of the Meter goddess, posing in front of a "herm".

δράκοντα κεκτημένος ... As will appear later the δράκων that Hagrid has in mind is no mere snake. The snake/serpent motif runs powerfully throughout the work of JKR, reminding one of Aeschylus' use of it in the Oresteia.

Aiolipileαἱ αἰολίπυλαι αἱ τοῦ ῞Ηρωος τοῦ ᾿Αλεξανδρέως or perhaps better ῞Ηρωνος . Heron the Alexandrian was one of our greatest inventors. The aeolipile was only one of many, which included the first vending machine, rhe first wind-powered machine, the pump, the syringe. In fact, the industrial revultion could have started in the Greek city of Alexandria right then, 2000 years early, if Heron had not had the good sense to see what misery it would cause. His steam engine remained an amusing toy. The moderns used the principle to devise a wonderful sytem of transportation to even the remotest demes in their countryside, but then decided it had to be "cut". Moderns treat their economy rather as Hippocrates and his colleagues sometimes do a sick man: when it would appear to need nourishment, they prefer to cut and bleed.

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νηματαπλοκοῦντα χρῆμά τι μάλα κνηκὸν σκηνῇ ἐοικὸς Παναθηναϊκῇ This behaviour is as strange in London as it would be in Athens! Not even women among us do their weaving in public! Hagrid is so sure of his rampant masculinity, that he is not afraid to act like a woman. And who would dare to challenge him? Or Heracles if he had taken up weaving? The weaving in question is described as "goat-colour": possibly Hagrid was using wool from a goat. As it was as large as one of the tents put up for the Panathenaia festival, it was presumably a garment intended for personal use.

τὰ ἱμάτια τῷ ἑαυτοῦ ὀνόματι πεποικιλμένα We do not hear of Hagrid undertaking this task of embroidering names, despite his skill at womens' work. It's curious that scholars at an English school all wear identical garments, yet these still need to be marked with names of individuals! I find that very amusing. But it's typical of this modern world where slaves are employed to perform many completely unnecessary tasks.

βίβλια ῥητά The authors, along with these supposed books on magic are entirely fictitious, providing an excuse for rather weak wordplay innvolving the name of the author and the subject of their opus. Why are the Hogwarts students not encouraged to read the Papyri Graecae Magicae, for example?

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τοῦ Μονεμβασίας οἴνου This is an anachronism - the wine of Monemvasia in Laconia became well-known in later times (in the 15th century AD an English king's brother was drowned in a butt of it, according to their (unreliable) poet Shakespeare). In Italy it was known as Malvasia, and this was corrupted into "Malmsey" in English. It is a wine strengthened by the addition of more alcohol, hence the small cups (ἐκ ποτηριδίων - note the "Potter" echoes!).

καπνιζομένην καπνοσύριγγα "smoking a pipe". This is one of the crucial passages which help us to date this work. Smoking in "pubs" became illegal in 2007 AD, so the book must have been in circulation before that (unless of course JKR intends readers to believe that the ban did not apply to magical premises). This strange custom ("smoking") may still be witnessed by the visitor to London - "smokers" congregate in small groups outside buildings to "smoke" - despite the bitter cold or showers of rain which are so plentiful in this city. The activity is popularly supposed to "calm nerves" - how are these people ignorant of the power of Dionysus to produce this effect so much more pleasantly?

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Δωρίς "the Dorian woman dressed in saffron" suggests an athletic young girl in a fashionable chiton, rather than, as it turns out, a homely old dear smoking a pipe!

Δαίδαλος Δίγλωττος. Δίγλωττος, "he of the double tongue" translates as the meaniningless "Diggle" in JKR. Daedalus, despite the fame of its original bearer as an inventor, does not seem tohave become a popular name in later times. Many magical folk in JKR's work have Greek names rather than "Christian" names - perhaps to emphasise the paganism of the wizard world.

χαίρομαι κεὐφραίνομαι Sensitive readers might be shocked if they knew the original context of this phrase, borrowed from Aristophanes' Acharnians!

Κίουρος . σκίουρος is a squirrel; apparently therefore Κίουρος would equate to "Quirrel".

῏Ω Ποποποτέρ ... δεδυνῆσθαι The Greek text conveys the severity of Quirrel's stammer by cunning use of the reduplicated forms of the perfect tense in our language.

Λαμιῶν. Λάμια was a flesh-eating monster - every bit as terrifying as a vampire.

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Γραίᾳ, Γραίας. The Graiai, or "Grey Sisters" were the daughters of Phorcys, the Old Man of the Sea. They were grey-haired from birth - and had only one eye and one tooth between them, which made social interaction difficult. Perhaps not as unusual in the modern world - they sound like typical residents in a "care home".

αὐτοτορύνητοι Self-stirring cauldrons? These wizard folk seem indeed strange: on the one hand they avoid technology (quill pens, parchment) on the other had they devise labour-saving devices beyond anything dreamed of in the muggle world. Even the most advanced modern peoples do not have self-stirring saucepans, or self-stirring coffee cups.

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γλαυκοπωλεῖον Nine types of owl are listed as available in the Owlshop. In English you only have the one word: "owl". You, on the contrary have all your innumerable words for small furry animals, where we make do with μῦς so we won't be too critical.

σπλῆνας νυκτερίδων.. Thanks to their poet Shakespeare, wizards and witches are popularly believed to use ingredients such as these for their potions ["Eye of newt and toe of frog..."].

πρός ὕαλον... ῾Υπερνέφελος Δισχιλιοστός This amazing "glass" is a rare material in our world - and how its made is a secret still. But so common is it in the new world that merchants use it to protect their wares from too close inspection: unlike the agora in Athens, you are not encouraged to handle and inspect the goods too closely. The young men are trying inspect a broom, such as slaves might use to sweep dung from a courtyard. Even in modern times this a very strange thing to interest young men! But the "2000th Over the Clouds" is no ordinary yard brush, as will be revealed!

τὸν Γριγγώτου The wizard bank occupies grandiose premises just like banks elsewhere in the modern world. Difficult for the moderns to realise that our Greek banker was an actual person sitting in the market place at an actual table, with a pair of scales and a pile of coins! It's strange that "bank robbery" is unknown to us, but common in the "new" world despite their fortress-like buildings. But maybe there was once a Mr Coutt or Mr Barclay sitting at his table like Pasion in the Piraeus? But would Bonnie and Clyde have been deterred by a threatening poem displayed at the entrance to the banks they robbed?

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ἐπὶ βίβλους μεγάλας λόγους συγγράφοντας At least the wizard bank has no computers! But it seems as if the κόβαλοι like the great Pasion may have been slaves.

σκυλακοτροφικούς I have remarked previously on the modern fondness for "pets". You will find it hard to believe that many in modern times have set up factories, not, like Pasion, to make shields, but to manufacture food pellets for dogs (and make more money by selling them than Pasion could have dreamed of)! Such are the "dog biscuits" that emerge from the detritus in Hagrid's pockets.

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ἡ ἄτραπος ... This underground passage reminds me of what I've been told about our silver mines at Laurion near Athens. How many more Attic owls we'd be able to produce if we had little carts to bring out the precious ore rather than relying on all those slaves!

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ὀλίγα κέρματα The wizard world had little interest in making accounting easy for their bankers!

γαλεώτη, ζαγκλή, κονίς The names the coins are as bizarre as their values! Though, to be fair, no stranger than ours: 6 obols (meaning skewers) to 1 drachma (meaning a handful). This shows how we Greeks have been obsessed with kebabs from the earliest times! The English translation seems to have tried to reproduce the Greek sound rather than its sense (if any). Galleon = lizard (presumably a symbol - like the tortoise for Aegina or the owl for Athens? We don't know). Both have "sickle" for the second denomination - but the "knut" is a word otherwise unknown in the English language. The Greek κονίς ("dust") at least suggests the worthlessness of small coins (witness the fate of your farthing and your half-a-pee). Ζαγκλή is the old name for Messina in Sicily - though, weirdly, their coins have a hare as their symbol.

βοῦς γὰρ ἐπὶ γλώττῃ βέβηκε μέγας Like the watchman who's seen the beacon telling of the fall of Troy (in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, as well you remember), Hagrid has "an ox on his tongue". The watchman can't talk about the treacherous goings-on in the House of Atreus, much as he'd like to. And Hagrid,too, is sworn to secrecy, for reasons we'll discover.

αὐτοτορύνητοι Self-stirring cauldrons? These wizard folk seem indeed strange: on the one hand they avoid technology (quill pens, parchment) on the other had they devise labour-saving devices beyond anything dreamed of in the muggle world. Even the most advanced modern peoples do not have self-stirring saucepans, or self-stirring coffee cups.

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τὸ τῆς Μαλκιούσης [πωλητήριον] "The shop of the woman numb with cold". The robe vendor's ancestors obviously went into business to make garments to keep themselves warm. Actually she seems rather a nice, warm person! What's in a name?

ἆρ᾽ ἰκαροσφαιρίζεις; "Do you play Icarus ball?" is the question. The modern world has many strange sports unknown to our Olympic competitions - rugby, croquet, tennis, snooker, but as will be revealed, Icarus Ball is truly unique. What is it? The clues are in the name. It envolves balls. And flying in the air, like Icarus. And falling down, like Icarus (sometimes).

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καὶ δὴ τοῖς ῾Υφελπύφοις συνῆν. καὶ δὴ reminds us of Medea in Euripides' tragedy speculating about her future if she murders her sons: "Suppose them dead. What city will accept me?" The young man's antipathy to the "wrong" house seems at first hard to understand: another intriguing question has been raised in the reader's mind.

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βάτου ᾿Ιδαίας The wild berries of Mount Ida in Crete were possibly used by the Curetes to nurture the infant Zeus. For Harry just a flavour for a commonly available snack made allegedly from frozen cream. How they find ice all year - even in this cold country - is a mystery.

ὀλίγον δὲ διαφέρει τῆς ποδοσφαιρικῆς Here Hagrid reveals his deep ignorance of the favourite sport of the moderns - including our descendants in Hellas, champions of Europe in the year this book was published. Look out for examples where Wizard folk generally, not just Hagrid, seem to take little interest in the Muggle world (eg his unfamiliarity with its money).

τὸ δεῖνα is a common exclamation in Greece. We don't like using names for gods, parts of the body, or bodily functions when we are excited in the way the moderns habitually do! Maybe closest would be "Dash it!" where dash stands for an unsayable word! Hagrid in English uses the ostensibly mild oath "Blimey!" (which still refers to a god, though).