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From:           Peter Nockolds 
Date:           Wednesday, 6 May 1998 16:56:46 +0100 (BST)
Subject:        Etymology of Caliban

As Caliban and Sycorax have now been placed amongst the stars I would
offer a derivation for 'Caliban'.  The name, which seems to have puzzled
scholars, may be read as a portmanteau of two Hebrew words, 'Caleb'
meaning 'dog' and 'Liban' meaning 'white'.  The latter is also a root
for 'Libanah' the Moon.  (cf. also Lebanon.)

This is consistent with two other names in the play.  Caliban's
counterpart Ariel is generally considered to derive from the Hebrew for
'Lion' (embodying in one word the alchemical symbolism of 'the Lion's
whelp embraced by a piece of tender air' in Cymbeline.)  Caliban's
mother 'Sycorax' has been seen as a compound of the Greek words 'sys'
and 'corax' meaning 'sow' and 'raven'.  The raven embodies blackness as
in 'raven-black' (sonnet 127) and thus Sycorax and Caliban give black
and white. This duality may be reflected in Ferdinand and Miranda's game
of chess.

My feeling is that Shakespeare developed an interest in Hebrew during
the first decade of the 17th century: a study of Hebrew provides certain
clues to the sonnets. The significance of the black-white duality may
perhaps be found in terms of Cabbalistic philosophy. (as well as the
dichotomy 'to be or not to be'.)

Peter Nockolds

(References from Frank Kermode's edition of 'The Tempest', Arden series
2. pxxxviii, note 2, p26, note 258, p142.)