Isidore of Seville


In his etymologies (Book 5, Chapter 38, sec. 4) Isidore of Seville defined Aeternum as follows:

Nam aevum est aetas perpetua, cuius neque initium neque extremum noscitur, quod Graeci vocant αἰῶνας; quod aliquando apud eos pro saeculo, aliquando pro aeterno ponitur. Unde et apud Latinos est derivatum. … re/5*.html

Given my limited knowledge of Latin, I would translate that as:

The eon, avum, is an uniterrupted age, whose beginning and end is unknown. The Greeks call them aions, eons, a term they sometimes use for saeculum, sometimes for aeternum; Whence the Latins derrived it.

(In other words, a long periode of indefinite duration.)

Comments Welcome–is that the substance of what Isidore wrote, or is my translation in error?


Cambridge University Press has what seems to be a pretty decent translation, which on the whole agrees with yours. Reading the whole encyclopædic article entry (of “Chapter” 38) in which that #4 section is contained helped me to contextualise Isidore’s understanding of the different notions about time.

From what I’ve read elsewhere, there was originally no Latin word which expressed a concept like time which has no end (or further yet time with no beginning as well either), to the effect that this “endless time,” i.e.] cannot be the original meaning of aeternitas, “eternity.” Aetas, the root word from which aeternitas is derived, Isidore uses to mean “life” or “lifespan,” which appears to be exactly the original meaning of Greek aiōn. Here’s Isidore’s expertise on the subject, after which he goes on to define and describe the “ages” of world history (in the subsequent 2 chapters). Your #4 section is highlighted below.

of Isidore of SevilleEtymologies, by Stephen A. Barney, W.J. Lewis, J.A. Beach & Oliver Berghof, with the collaboration of Muriel Hall