Plep yesterday featured Apmonia, The Modern Word’s Samuel Beckett page. I’m familiar with the site and its wonderful author sections, but I wondered about the odd name. It turns out to come from Beckett’s early novel Murphy; the quotes page has the relevant passage from the first chapter:

Murphy’s purpose in going to sit at Neary’s feet was not to develop the Neary heart, which he thought would quickly prove fatal to a man of his temper, but simply to invest his own with a little of what Neary, at the time a Pythagorean, called the Apmonia. For Murphy had such an irrational heart that no physician could get to the root of it. Inspected, palpated, ausculated, percussed, radiographed, and cardiographed, it was all that a heart should be. Buttoned up and left to perform, it was like Petrouchka in his box. One moment in such labour that it seemed on the point of seizing, the next in such ebullition that it seemed on the point of bursting. It was the mediation between these extremes that Neary called the Apmonia. When he got tired of calling it the Apmonia, he called it the Isonomy. When he got sick of the sound of Isonomy he called the the Attunement. But he might call it what he liked, into Murphy’s heart it would not enter. Neary could not blend the opposites in Murphy’s heart.

Now, isonomy is an English word (meaning ‘equality of laws, or of people before the law’), as is attunement, but not so “apmonia”; where did Beckett get it? I googled, and on the first page of results found a Greek book page that included the title ΕΡΩΤΙΚΗ ΑΡΜΟΝΙΑ [erotikí armonía]. The upper-case form of the Greek word αρμονία ‘harmony’ happens to look exactly like Latin-alphabet “apmonia”; Beckett had presumably noticed this at some point and made a note of it for future use.


  1. Jimmy Ho says

    The absence of accents on capital letters can be confusing even for Greekophones: not paying attention could lead one to mistake, e.g., “misOs” (half) for “mIsos” (hate) on a theater sign.
    In the country itself, the mercantile use of Latin alphabet, associated with “Westernitude” and “Europeanity” is quite frequent, even for names based on Greek word, like “Metropolis” (an important record chainstore).
    As a kid I remember asking what was that “Panteboy” thing advertized all over Salonica and being particularly embarrassed when the -somehow impatient- response came: “What ‘Panteboy’? ’tis the ‘Rantevou’ (loanword from French ‘rendez-vous’), a coffee house.”
    I had assumed that PANTEBOY on a flashy poster was meant to be read the Western way. I had heard about Playboy the same year, so my young mind was quick to establish a connection that suited its curiosity (the poster’s main color, I should say, was pink).

  2. Having happened on this ancient post via JC’s “Random link” feature (and replaced its dead links with archived ones), I wondered whether official scholarship had figured this out. Of course the answer is yes; from The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader’s Guide to His Works, Life, and Thought [Google Books] by C. J. Ackerly and S. E. Gontarski (Grove, 2007):

    Apmonia: with “Isonomy” and “Attunement” a term arising from SB’s reading of the pre-Socratics, specifically Burnet’s Early Greek Philosophy. The joke turns on the witty Greek letter rho masquerading as a Roman “P”; “Apmonia” thus creates harmony, though its sense in Greek is akin to “octave.” […]

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