Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Alpheus, the Name

Today, while searching for records about my great-grandfather Alpheus McClelland Rote, I realized that I didn't know the meaning or origin of his first name.

The name Alpheus, it turns out, has both biblical and classical origins.

The Biblical Alphaeus

Alpheus is a variant spelling of the name Alphaeus. Alphaeus is given as that of the father of two of Jesus' Twelve Apostles, Matthew (sometimes known as Levi) and James, although it's not clear whether this means that Matthew and James were brothers, or simply that the two apostles each separately had a father with this name.

The Classical Alpheus

Alpheus is also a latinized form of the Greek name Ἀλφειός (Alpheios). According to Behind the Name, Ἀλφειός derives either from "from Greek ἀλφή (alphē) meaning 'produce, gain, profit,' or from Greek ἀλφός (alphos), which can mean 'whiteness'" as well as 'white leprosy.'"

In Greek myth, Alpheus was the son of Oceanus and Tethys. He was a river deity (river-god), and also a hunter. Alpheus was the father of King Orsilochus, whose mother Telegone was also a child of the gods.

As a river deity, Alpheus was also the Alfeios River. He fell in love with the Neirad Arethusa (Ἀρέθουσα) when she bathed in the Alfeios River. She, as a follower of Artemis, was sworn to chastity. Praying for help from Artemis, Arethusa fled, with Alpheus in pursuit. Her journey included a number of transformations, as she was hidden in a cloud, became a stream, and, eventually, a fountain on the island of Ortygia near Syracuse. But, even in this final form and having crossed an ocean, her waters mingled with those of Alpheus, who had managed to cross the ocean by flowing under the sea from Peloponnesus to Ortygia.

There are also stories about how Alpheus fell in love with and pursued Artemis. The Artemis Alphaea and Alphaea temples in Letrini and Ortygia, as well as a joint altar at Olympia reflect the close ties between Alpheus and Artemis.

"Famous" People Named Alpheus

Here are just a few of the people named Alpheus that can be found on Wikipedia:
  • Alpheus Mytilenaeus was the author of a number of epigrams in the Greek Anthology, a collection of poems that span the classical and Byzantine periods of Greek literature.
  • Alpheus Cutler (February 29, 1784 – June 10, 1864) was an early leader in the Latter Day Saint movement who founded the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite) in 1853.
  •  Alpheus Felch (September 28, 1804 – June 13, 1896) was the fifth Governor of Michigan and U.S. Senator from Michigan.
  • Alpheus Hyatt (April 5, 1838 – January 15, 1902) was an American zoologist and palaeontologist. 
  • Sir Alpheus Cleophas Morton (1840 – 26 April 1923) was a British architect and surveyor, and a Liberal Party politician.
  • Alpheus Spring Packard Jr., LL.D. (February 19, 1839 – February 14, 1905) was an American entomologist and palaeontologist.
  • Alpheus Starkey Williams (September 29, 1810 – December 21, 1878) was a lawyer, judge, journalist, U.S.

Other Contexts for Alpheus

There is a genus of shrimp called Alpheus.