On multiple places on-line, including Wikipedia, there is information that Saint Isidore of Seville claimed that the name of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus, got his name from "baculus" meaning "walking stick", as drunk people need a walking stick to walk.

An idea of the quality of Isidore's etymological knowledge is given by Peter Jones: "Now we know most of his derivations are total nonsense (eg, he derives baculus, 'walking-stick', from Bacchus, god of drink, because you need one to walk straight after sinking a few)".

It's a lovely story to tell, but is that true? I can't find anything like that in the original works of Isidore of Seville. The only thing I could find Isidore of Seville wrote about the name "Bacchius" is the following:

Bacchius appellatus est eo, quod eo pede Bacchia, id est Liberi sacra celebrabantur.

Most of his etymologies are in the scroll 10 of Etymologiae, but it doesn't mention either "Bacchius" or "baculus" (you can search digitally here: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/isidore/10.shtml).
So, where does that claim come from?

  • Why the downvotes, actually? Nov 9 '20 at 5:00
  • 3
    The first quote posted does not say Bacchus got his name from "baculus" meaning "walking stick" but the opposite: he derives baculus, 'walking-stick', from Bacchus, god of drink. And just because plagiarism of material is rife, does not prove anything is true, anyway. It's unclear what this question is for. Nov 9 '20 at 9:44
  • Should be closed until there question matches the claim
    – pipe
    Nov 9 '20 at 11:33
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    Cross posted here: literature.stackexchange.com/questions/16261/… Nov 9 '20 at 14:09

Firstly, as pointed out in comments, your summary of the claim is inverted: the claim is that the word baculus was named after the god Bacchus, not vice versa.

The first two sentences of section xiii of Book XX are this:

Baculus a Bacco repertore vitis fertur inventus, quo homines moti vino inniterentur. Sicut autem a Bacco baculus, ita a baculo bacillum per diminutionem.

Which appears to contain the quote claimed. Online Latin translators are terrible, but I think it translates something like this:

The baculus was invented by Bacchus to aid men who had drunk wine. Just as baculus comes from Bacchus, so bacillum from baculus as a diminutive.

From a complete English translation:

first quote from OP

  1. The bacchius is so called because with this foot the Bacchanals, that is, the rites of the god Liber (i.e. Bacchus), are celebrated. I— .xvii.13–xvii.28 Isidore of Seville

Relevant quote:

xiii. Other implements that we use (De reliquis quae in usu habentur) 1. The walking stick (baculus) is said to have been invented by Bacchus, the discoverer of the grape vine, so that people affected by wine might be supported by it. As baculus is from Bacchus, so a ‘rod’ (bacillum) is from baculus, as its diminutive. — XX.xiii.1–xiv.10 Isidore of Seville

— The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville - S. Barney, W. Lewis, J. Beach, & O. Berghof (Eds.) - Cambridge University Press - https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/etymologies-of-isidore-of-seville/provisions-and-various-implements/D55402FB57BC6CFAC61045984721124F / https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511482113.024

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    You are correct. Online translators from Latin are usually terrible. So, why not either translate it yourself or quote an established and well respected, perhaps even old, but by now 'free', English translation? Nov 9 '20 at 12:58
  • @LangLаngС Quite simply, because I don't speak any Latin whatsoever.
    – IMSoP
    Nov 9 '20 at 13:19
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    @LangLаngС Thanks for the translation. I came upon it (a review of it is the citation in Wikipedia) but didn't have access to the full text to quote.
    – IMSoP
    Nov 9 '20 at 14:10

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