Eis ten Polin (Greek “into the City” > “Istanbul”?)



We woke up yesterday in the old pre-Istanbul Ottoman capital city of Bursa and, after a brief drive through the older part of the city (it didn’t even remotely begin to do justice to the place, but there is only so much that one can do), drove to Iznik, the ancient Greek Nicaea or Nikaia.  En route, I lectured on the seven ecumenical councils of the ancient Christian church.  A good snooze was had by all.


We looked at the ancient walls of the city, including the marvelous three-part Istanbul gate, and walked over to where Constantine’s summer palace probably stood.  This is the place where the famous First Council of Nicea was convened in AD 325, and where Athanasius distinguished himself in the battle against Arianism and in defense of what became Trinitarian orthodoxy.  Then, after walking through the town, we visited the Church of Haghia Sophia (the local one), where the last of the seven ecumenical councils, the Second Council of Nicea, ended the iconoclastic controversy in AD 787.  After another terrific but, yet again, awfully big Turkish lunch, we continued our several-hour drive toward Istanbul, and I continued to drone on and on about the councils.


After arriving at our hotel (partially via a ferry ride on the Sea of Marmara), we had a final meeting of our group in which everybody gave impressions of the trip and reflections about it, and then we had yet another fabulous but awfully huge dinner.


Pictures to follow.  I’m in a hurry right now.  (Must eat breakfast!)  We’re headed out in a few minutes for a cruise on the Bosphorus, and etc.


Posted from Istanbul, Turkey.



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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I was hoping for more exposituon on a possible drrivation of the name Istanbul from Greek.
    When I think of the same sounds, having different meanings in different languages, I recall Dan Rather’s rather odd claim that he had once been physically assaulted by a man who said (as understood by Rather) “what is the frequency Kenneth?” While that is an intelligible sentence in English, it seems to ve a terrible non sequitur, a very odd statement from someone commiting battery. It struck me that the problem might be that Rather assumed that the sounds he heard were intended to be English, while it could instead have been another language that Rather did not recognize as such.

    My personal nomination is German. If we assume the attacker was German, and angry over somebstory done by Rather, he MIGHT have been saying “Was ist das? Fragen sie? Kenne?” The meaning would then be in English “What is that? Do you understand? Do you know?” I submit that this meaning, a repetitive insistent Questioning of an angry man, makes more sense in the context of a physical assault. It is not enough for the attacker to beat him, he must humiliate him for his ignorance.

  • Glen Cooper

    On the use of the preposition EIS (IS “ees” in Byzantine Greek), which in Greek normaly means “to; towards”. It probably does not mean that here. I POLIS (–> TIN POLIN) clearly refers to Constantinople, as Byzantine writers usually referred to their capital as “The City”. The odd use of a preposition of direction to indicate location finds a parallel in Utah English dialect: sometimes you’ll hear, especially by older people, expressions such as “I’m to the market” meaning “I’m at the market.” Perhaps there’s a similar thing going on in German: zu Hause “at home”. One could use the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database to search for late Byzantine usage of IS, to see whether this locative sense is paralleled anywhere else.

    • danpeterson

      It’s a rather peculiar etymology, and I confess that I’ve never found it entirely compelling, although it’s very widely accepted. I’ve sometimes wondered whether it might not be enough simply to imagine a corruption of con-STAN-tin-OPLE into IS-TAN-BUL. Of course, the “polis” element (Greek “city”) would be common to both, so maybe its a distinction without much real difference.