Mar 28, 2011


Summary: Here's one of the prettiest words I know—elysian—complete with background, history and famous usages.

In keeping with the pretty-versus-ugly word theme from Friday's post (dated incorrectly in display), I want to second Kathy's comment to Mark Nichols' Daily Writing Tips blog post on the same subject. She shares:

"I have always thought this was a beautiful-sounding word, meaning 'paradise.' Evidently, the ancient Greeks did, too; Hades is not so pleasant."

The beautiful word she's talking about is elysian, which was where Greek heroes were thought to dwell after their noble deaths. Hades was sort of their version of Hell, or the underworld. Here's more:

Elysian (ill - IH - ZHEN) also pronounced with the long E sound (ee - LEE - ZHYEN), which is my favorite pronunciation - (adj.) blissful, delightful, paradisical, heavenly. The first known use of this word is in 1579. It originates from the Greek word Elysium which is the proper name given to the Greek version of Heaven or Nirvana or most similarly Valhalla. Interestingly enough, however, Elysium was actually located inside of Hades, as it was the only 'place' for souls to go to, and this heavenly spot was reserved for the heroic and the virtuous. It was often depicted as a beautiful and serene field of flowers.

Poets often refer to the "elysian fields" as nature (most famously by Henry David Thoreau) or, of course, Heaven (e.g., Edna St. Vincent Millay's I Dreamed I Moved Among the Elysian Fields)—although these days, one Google search warrants results on everything from rock bands to microbreweries to towns in Texas and New Jersey. So be it. To me, the word is very melodic.

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