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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a neighbour whose house is on fire

burning flames against a black background night

Today is the 351st anniversary of the Great Fire of London, which started shortly after midnight on Sunday 2 September 1666 in Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane. By the time it finally burned itself out the following Wednesday, some 10,000 homes across the city had been destroyed.

To mark the occasion, we reposted a personal favourite HH tweet:

...and because it’s such a peculiar word, here’s the story behind it.

As we pointed out on Twitter, the word ucalegon is an allusion to a character who appears both in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. A close friend of King Priam and one of the counsellors of the city of Troy, Ucalegon—whose name essentially means “unworrying” or “unconcerned” in Greek—had his house set on fire when the city was sacked by the Achaeans:

Then Hector’s faith was manifestly clear’d,
And Grecian frauds in open light appear’d.
The palace of Deiphobus ascends
In smoky flames, and catches on his friends.
Ucalegon burns next: the seas are bright
With splendour not their own, and shine with Trojan light.
Aeneid (II, 307–12)

What became of Ucalegon after that we aren’t told. But it’s from here that his name fell into allusive use in English in the late seventeenth century.


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