In a fight between a heavily armoured guy with a sword and a guy without armour (more of an air-suiter) but carrying a net, a long trident, and a dagger, who would you favour?

This was once a viable real-life question, and you could ask which of each: which secutor and which retiarius? In the Roman circus, such match-ups were common. The retiarius, with his net and trident, would face off against a secutor, or even two of them. Secutor meant “follower”, and mayhem would typically follow; retiarius meant “net user”, and he would try to retain the secutor in order to retire him and hope to return, as there was no retreat. Nor any retrial – nor trial at all: no judge, jury, or prosecutor, just one pro secutor. Ready or not, ready your net. And try to retain it and use it on your adversary – don’t be reticent.

The retiarius would actually do the damage with the trident or the dagger, but it was the net he was associated with – that’s what the arius is about, often showing up in English as ary: actuary, apothecary, secretary, adversary. Or, of course, in the original in Aquarius, the sign of the water-carrier. And the ret? That’s the net. It’s not made of flax – ret may mean “soak flax”, but that’s unrelated, Germanic. This ret is from Latin rete, “net”. As in reticulated. There are numerous other English words that start with ret, but pretty much none of them are derived from rete.

This word has that pleasant tongue-tip effect that Latin often gives: the consonants are /r/ /t/ /r/ /s/ – a trill, a stop, a tap, a hiss, but all at the tip of the tongue. In form it has little resemblance to a net; its most salient visual trait is the two i’s sticking up. Actually, what makes me think more of a net – or specifically a web – is the trident. After all, the w in world wide web has the three upward points.

And today’s net user is not a gladiatorial contestant, not exactly. No, the net user is you – and me. And I cast my net on the web, the www – a triple trident – by my blog and via Twitter. Which is where I hope to ensnare followers. Who will, I hope, retweet.

6 responses to “retiarius

  1. I suspect that the toponym Europe is a reversal of Neptune with conversion of N to R and loss of the “t before p” which cannot be pronounced in many languages. That is, NePtuNe => NtPn => euRoPa.

    Neptune / Poseidon was dressed as a Retarius, complete with trident and net.

    His right hand was Italia. Compare Anatolia where N’TiLat yad = washed (by the sea) arm. The business-end of his trident was the triangular Sicily. Its older name was Trinacria. Tri = 3. Semitic NaKaR = pierce. Note that both the Greeks and Phoenicians colonized Sicily at about the same time.

    In his left hand he held a woven (Semitic S’RoG which reverses to Greece) net and a small shield (targe, which reverses to Crete). Greece and Crete are reversed because they are on the left/sinister side.

    I think the Triskele flag of Trinacria (now Sicily) was a graphic word-play on Poseidon, where Semitic PoS = female pudenda and DoN = tooth. Quite scary from a Freudian viewpoint.

    The Hebrew word for “net” is ReSHeT. Giving the shin its ancient T-sound (as in SHoR = TauRus), ReSHeT seems cognate with the ret- in retarius and reticle. Today, ReSHeT is the Hebrew word for a network.


  2. One English word derived from Latin ‘rete’ is retina and hence retinal, retinitis etc.
    The Latin neologism to translate ‘the internet’ is ‘interrete’ so maybe you could have an ‘interretiarius’ for an internet user?
    WWW is all the Ts rendered in Latin ‘Tela totius terrae’ – World Wide Web.

  3. @Izzy
    I don’t doubt your theory for the Semitic origins of the name Trinacria but to me when I transcribe it into Greek
    it looks like τρία + ακρον – ‘three’ + point.
    ακρον means point, end, extremity in fact ακρωτήριο is Greek for cape, promontory and Sicily famously has three capes.
    Other words in Greek include:
    ακροποδητί – on tip-toes (on foot point)
    ακρόπολις – acropolis
    ακροβάτης – acrobat.

    • Hi, Mwncïod —

      That’s a good point (forgive the bad pun). The concept of pierce and point(ed instrument) see quite close semantically. Plus, Western Semitic naKaR and Greek ακρον seem close phonetically. So a Phoenician might prefer my explanation while an ancient Greek might prefer yours.

      However, the idea that Italy/Sicily and Greece were weapons is not original with me. In the quotation below, note the term “armed hands” at the end.
      In “John Donne and the Anthropomorphic Map” 465, Noam Flinker wrote:
      Renaissance commonplaces about the connections between the microcosm and the macrocosm take on greater relevance when read in the context of what
      Gandelman called “The Mediterranean as a Sea of Sin” in light of an
      anthropomorphic map by Opicinus de Canistris (1984, Fig. 1; 1991: 85).
      He explains: “One sees ‘the woman’, mulier, whose head and nose
      constitute the coastline of North Africa (present Morocco and the Cape
      of Tanger), thrusting her nose toward the ear of ‘the man’, vir, whose
      head is constituted by Spain and whose armed hands correspond to the
      Italian peninsula and Greece. …

      The drawing at
      includes a map that is similar, if not identical, to the one described above.

      Ciao, Izzy

  4. You should really write poetry.

  5. I have taken doubleyouaye’s advice to heart. You can see the result in my comment to The Economist online article “Fun with place-names: A map’s a map for a’ that”. It contains a limerick that describes the Phoenician anthropomorphic map of Aphrodite (Afro-deity) in north Africa.

    Ciao, Izzy

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