Words tend to degrade. The ambition of the ancient hero was fame or kleos, the immortality accorded him by the poet’s praise. Fama comes from the Latin root fa-, “to speak”. It has now returned to its roots. Our fame consists mostly in being talked about, the more the better—the cause of all that talk being incidental. ‘Celebrity’ comes from a root meaning ‘crowd’. What distinguishes the celeb is presence in the market place. But celebs themselves have become a crowd. ‘Star’—the “new star in the firmament”—was once high praise. Now it hardly registers. Even the hyperbolic ‘super’ barely manages to elevate the star above the throng, and carries with it a hint of Warhol’s cruel irony.
Reading: Jean-Pierre FAYE. Langages totalitaires (Paris: Hermann, 1972).
Marcel DETIENNE. Les maîtres de vérité dans la grèce archaïque
(Paris: Éditions la Découverte, 1990; orig. 1967). (English translation: Masters of truth.)