This afternoon I went to see 300. I liked it quite a bit. I liked Sin City, and this too is an adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel. Although the warrior cult stuff was over the top and cartoonish, it was visually interesting, and considering its proximate source it held pretty closely to the actual story of King Leonidas and his Spartan 300 at Thermopylae against the Persian hosts of King Xerxes, as recounted by Herodotus. The brutal martial training of the boys, the military effectiveness of the phalanx, the strength of Spartan women, etc., all were touched on in this sumptuous tale. And I understand that gay men are flocking to it, too, and well they should–there are abs everywhere!
Being the Mormon geek that I am, seeing the movie made me think of Book of Mormon Lachoneus, chief judge of the Nephites at the time of the sign of Christ’s birth (3 Nephi 1), and his namesake son. Why would the movie 300 make me think of that? Well, the name Lachoneus appears to be a romanized transliteration of the Greek gentilic lakon, “Laconian,” the region of southern Greece dominated by Sparta, and is effectively a synonym for “Spartan.” (The form for a woman is lakaina.)
This has actually been a fairly common criticism of the BoM: why does it contain Greek names, such as Timothy and, yes, Lachoneus? Beats the hell out of me. But seeing the movie made me think about this, and I thought I would try to list some possibilities. I’ll list as many as I can think of, and you see if you can add to the list.
1. The name may indeed simply mean Laconian. This is problematic from a couple of perspectives. First: was there sufficient contact between the Aegean world and Judea by 600 B.C. for such a name to have penetrated Lehite culture sufficiently to show up six centuries later? Palestine was on the trade route between the Aegean and Egypt, and there certainly was substantial contact prior to Alexander. How early and how substantial that contact goes is very much an open question. Second: why name someone six centuries into the New World experience with a gentilic for a long-forgotten Greek state? On the surface, this does seem like an odd name to show up in the New World six centuries after Lehi. But then again, maybe not. My nieces play sports for the Sycamore (IL) Spartans, far removed in time and space from the Laconia of old. (Of course, we have Herodotus, and the Lehites presumably did not.)
2. Perhaps the name no longer had true gentilic force, but had picked up some other meaning. This has happened in English itself. Example A: English laconic, which means spare of speech, and derives from the Athenian opinion that the Spartans were men of few words. The classic example is when Philip of Macedon boasted, “If I enter Laconia, I will raze it to the ground,” to which the Spartans replied simply, “If.” Example B: English spartan, which has come to mean spare circumstances in general (as in a spartan apartment). The Greeks had a verb, lakonizo, “to imitate the Laconians,” and as a substantive, the adjective lakOnikos could refer to (Laconian) shoes worn by men. Of course, the trajectory of any such developed or transferred meaning in the Nephite setting is completely conjectural.
3. The name may be used for its underlying etymology rather than as a gentilic. An analogy would be the Hebrew kn’ny, which could be taken as a gentilic meaning “Canaanite,” but also could be taken more generally as “westerner,” based on the underlying etymology of kena’an as meaning something like “westland” (Canaan being to the west of the great civilizations of the East). Looking quickly on the web, I couldn’t figure out what the etymology of Laconia is; does anyone happen to know?
4. Joseph could have just made it up. This one strikes me as doubtful; the form is just too perfect.
5. Joseph could have derived the word from some modern source. Perhaps there was an American place name he could have used. I have not looked into this at all.
Any other ideas?
BTW, the name Lachoneus shows up as a personal name deriving from the BoM usage, such as Lachoneus Moroni Colvin (1846-1943) or the actor Lachoneus Hale.