Petefre.

I’m on the fourth and last part of Pisemsky’s Тысяча душ [One Thousand Souls] (see this post), and in chapter 5 I ran across a phrase that baffled me: “затевает с ним шутки вроде жены Пентефрия” [played tricks with him like those of Pentefrii’s wife]. I finally remembered to look it up, and it turns out Пентефрий is an old Russian (or Church Slavic) equivalent of Potiphar; the modern Russian form is Потифар, exactly like the English. I suspected that the older form was from Greek, but it turns out the Greek is Πετεφρής — close, but no cigar. Where did the -n- come from? The Greek gave rise to a Latin form Petefre, of which Jerome says “non Petefre, ut in latino scriptum est, sed Phutiphar eunucho.” According to Wikipedia, “Potiphar (Hebrew: פוטיפר‎‎) is the shortened form of the Egyptian name ‘Potiphera’ meaning ‘he whom Ra gave.’ This is analogous to the name ‘Theodore’=’God’s gift’ in the Western world.” A confusing mess, which I sum up here for the benefit of those who might encounter one of these forms and wonder what’s going on.

Incidentally, as I say on the Talk page for the Wikipedia article:

I tried to add ru:Жена Потифара (“Potiphar’s wife”) and got: “The link ruwiki:Жена Потифара is already used by item Q15732436. You may remove it from Q15732436 if it does not belong there or merge the items if they are about the exact same topic.” I don’t know enough to know what the deal is with Q15732436, but it’s not a Wikipedia article, and it’s ridiculous that there’s a Russian Wikipedia article on this exact topic that cannot be linked to it. I hope someone more knowledgeable than I will fix this.

So if you know what’s going on there and how to remedy the situation, be my guest.

Update. It turns out the Wikipedia system is basically working as designed; see January First-of-May’s comment below. This Wikiworld is too complex for me.

Comments

  1. Пентефрíй in Old Slavonic apparently, but beyond that I can’t help

  2. Florentius Georgius says:

    The Ostrog Bible (first printed Church Slavonic Bible, 1580-1581) also says Пентефрѣи. This kind of alteration of a loanword could be quite old: it reminds me of Old Rus’ian Андрѣянъ (already in the Primary Chronicle), from Greek Αδριανός, with the same -н- before a dental consonant.

  3. Interesting, thanks very much!

  4. There is also Πεντεφρής – Joseph’s father-in-law, he may or may not be the same person as Potiphar/Πετεφρής

    I suppose Saints Cyril and Methodius got confused and mixed up the names in translation.

  5. Αδριανός is Greek for Latin Hadrian, and could have been affected even in Greek by ubiquitous Andrew. It doesn’t sound like an entirely convincing model for Pentefrius…

  6. If the form with n were in Greek, I could see it being affected by πέντε, but why in Slavic?

  7. There is also a variant of the name with D instead of T.

    This is possibly one of those cases where D is spelled NT in medieval Greek, and then borrowed into another language, but pronounced as spelled.

    The name of the city of Antalya in southern Anatolia (formerly Attaleia) has a similar origin.

  8. “Pontifar” is pretty common in English too. This could be a common and ancient error that happened to get written down in the Cyrillic version. The name itself would always have been completely opaque to monotheists (except maybe Copts). Even J and E could not evidently agree how to write it.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Where did the -n- come from?

    Someone spontaneously made it up, perhaps my brother with a time machine.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    The French name is Putiphar. No idea of where the u comes from.

  11. There is now a response to Hat’s talk entry. The ru:Жена Потифара Potiphar’s wife article is at

    https://ru.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%96%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%9F%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B8%D1%84%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B0

  12. January First-of-May says:

    So if you know what’s going on there and how to remedy the situation, be my guest.

    TL/DR: it’s basically working as designed, and Q15732436 is a Wikidata entry.

    A few years ago, it was discovered that some Wikipedia interwiki links pointed to the wrong thing, and that the whole thing generally was managed very poorly (even accounting for all the bots).
    The solution was to introduce Wikidata, a database of entries for sets of Wikipedia articles talking about the same thing (and for some other stuff too, IIRC, but mostly for that).

    Unfortunately, it didn’t really work: articles in different languages were often about subtly different things, which often made them either not linked to Wikidata at all (and still look like a mess, as described, for example, over here), or – especially if the differences were easily classifiable, and almost certainly if it happened that two particular versions coexisted in the same language – linked to different Wikidata entries depending on the particular variety (while the other varieties, however close, were listed in their own set, not linked by interwikis to the other ones anymore).

    In this case, the English article is focused on Potiphar himself (and talks about his wife a bit), while the Russian article is focused on Potiphar’s wife (and talks about Potiphar himself a bit).
    Polish has separate articles about Potiphar and his wife, necessitating the existence of two different Wikidata entries; the Russian, due to the name, ended up with the “wife” entry.

    Technically speaking, the way Wikidata is set up, the articles about both Potiphar and his wife should have been in a separate set from articles about just Potiphar (or indeed just his wife, as in Polish).
    But since the names for all the versions except the English, Polish and Russian just said “Potiphar” in assorted languages, the guys who were involved in this particular bunch decided not to bother, and, having read the English to see it focus, sorted it together with other languages’ articles about Potiphar.

    The existence of Potipherah (Joseph’s father-in-law, who might or might not be the same as Potiphar) and Zuleika (basically Potiphar’s wife in Muslim tradition; “Potiphar’s wife” redirects there) – never mind that Poti-Pherah is a redirect to Zuleika (why?) – doesn’t help matters either.

    Unrelatedly, “Petefre” (or something very similar) is perhaps how the Egyptian name might have been written under more modern transliteration systems (cf. “Neferkare”).

  13. Sigh. Well, thanks very much for explaining; I guess a sufficiently complicated data set is indistinguishable from simple incompetence.

  14. Then there’s Joseph’s Egyptian name “Zaphnath-Paaneach” (I’m having trouble with Word’s Hebrew), which Budge famously construed as Djed-pa-neter-ef-ankh “His god speaks and lives.” The Septuagint (made in Egypt) unaccountably has Ψονθομφανήχ.

  15. I imagine that religion is especially prone to this kind of Wikidata jumble; sects can differ violently about whether two scriptural mentions refer to the same person, or whether a given punctilio is too subtle to be worth distinguishing.

  16. But in this case it’s nothing inherently to do with religion; you could just as well have a similar mess with Nicholas and Alexandra if people felt Alexandra wasn’t significant enough to warrant her own article.

  17. Joseph’s Egyptian name “Zaphnath-Paaneach”
    Tzafnat Pane’ach is [reinterpreted as] Uncovering the Secrets in Hebrew. (One had to seek an Egyptian etymology because the scripture insisted that it was a real Egyptian name rather than a Hebrew calque, but the two words carried a meaning in Hebrew regardless). The expression, naturally, was often borrowed by Judaic thinkers for titles of their books.
    Paneakh / Paneyakh is also a notable Ashkenazi surname of Chassidic rabbinical origin (one of my classmates was a Paneyakh, often teased at school by adding certain two letters to the end of his surname). As it often happens with rabbinical dynasties, they have a cool but unproven origin legend, and of course their legendary etymology refers to a book called Tzafnat Pane’ach. In their case it’s a book written in 1782 by r. Jacob Joseph of Polonne, the author of the first Chassidic treatises and the favorite disciple of Holy Baal-Shem-Tov, the founder of Chassidism. Tzafnat Pane’ach was Jacob Joseph’s third and final book, and the story goes that the titles of these books served as honorific add-on’s to the rabbi’s name and that bits and pieces of the resulting long-winded title were carried by the descendants as hereditary surnames.

  18. January First-of-May says:

    But in this case it’s nothing inherently to do with religion; you could just as well have a similar mess with Nicholas and Alexandra if people felt Alexandra wasn’t significant enough to warrant her own article.

    Or with whether the Wikipedia article for Steve Dodson should redirect to Language Hat, or vice versa (as with the above, this is a made-up example – I don’t think Wikipedia has an article on either).

    As quite correctly noted, this is somewhat more common in religious matters, for rather obvious reasons (it can also easily happen when several different cultures have their own spins on a particular concept that are almost but not quite the same – see the Preciputary thread, which I linked above, for an example). But it has no inherent connection with religion specifically.

  19. Slightly more accurately, Tzafnat Pa‘ăneakh, צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ .

  20. Jacob Joseph of Polonne
    I am reminded that, Joseph being one of the rabbi’s names, Pane’ach would have been a natural pun of a kind the Judaic scholars really loved

  21. Or with whether the Wikipedia article for Steve Dodson should redirect to Language Hat, or vice versa (as with the above, this is a made-up example – I don’t think Wikipedia has an article on either).

    Indeed. Shame.
    Wikipedia has an article on Stephen Dodson Ramseur, a general in the slave-owners’ rebellion. Search for Language Hat gives “hat, ISO 639-2 and 639-3 code for the Haitian Creole language”. Now we know what is urschprache for this blog.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Hattic was spoken a lot closer to Ur, though.

  23. Michael Hendry says:

    I know nothing of Russian, but the idea that ‘pete-‘ became ‘pente-‘ under the influence of Greek ‘pente’=’five’ seems plausible. Does Russian have equivalents to any or all of English pentagon, pentangle, pentatonic, Pentapolis, Pentateuch, and Pentecost, or does it translate all those using whatever the Russian for ‘five’ is?

  24. January First-of-May says:

    Does Russian have equivalents to any or all of English pentagon, pentangle, pentatonic, Pentapolis, Pentateuch, and Pentecost, or does it translate all those using whatever the Russian for ‘five’ is?

    Pentateuch, pentagon and Pentecost are all translated using the Russian (or Old Church Slavonic, which is identical) word for “five” (that’s пять [pyat’], for the record, пяти- [pyati-] in complex words like those) – in the last case, technically, for “fifty” (which still starts with the same thing, being basically “five tens”).
    I’m not sure what Pentapolis, pentangle or pentatonic even are in the first place, so I’m not sure what the Russian terms for them are either. The Russian for “pentacle” does start with “penta”, but I think it’s a 20th century loan from English, anyway.

    EDIT: I forgot “pentagram”, which also starts with “penta” in Russian (пентаграмма), and while it’s also an obvious loan, i don’t think it’s from English, or indeed 20th century,

  25. пентюх

  26. January First-of-May says:

    пентюх

    I thought of that one too, but couldn’t recall the etymology.

  27. It’s disputed.

  28. I’m not sure what Pentapolis, pentangle or pentatonic even are in the first place

    Pentangle is a very old corruption of the learned pentaculum with the French borrowing angle; it’s the symbol on the shield of Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s pretty much been displaced in Modern English by the synonym pentacle.

    Pentapolis is any collection of five interlinked towns or cities; пентаполь in Russian.

    The pentatonic musical scale has only five notes per octave, prototypically the five black keys on a piano. It is common in many musical traditions worldwide, and is пентатоника in Russian.

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