noun pl. sar·coph·a·gi,
A stone coffin, often inscribed or decorated with sculpture.
Origin of sarcophagus
Greek sarkophagos coffin from (lithos) sarkophagos limestone that consumed the flesh of corpses laid in it sarx sark- flesh -phagos -phagous Word History: Sarcophagus,
our term for a stone coffin located above ground, has a macabre origin befitting a macabre thing. Its ultimate source is the Greek word sarkophagos,
“eating flesh, carnivorous,” a compound derived from sarx,
“flesh,” and phagein,
“to eat.” Sarkophagos
was also used in the phrase lithos
to denote a kind of limestone with caustic properties from which coffins were made in the ancient world. The Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder says that this stone was quarried near the town of Assos in the Troad and describes its remarkable properties as follows: “It is well known that the bodies of the dead placed in it will be completely consumed after forty days, except for the teeth.”
The Greek term sarkophagos
could also be used by itself as a noun to mean simply “coffin.” Greek sarkophagos
was borrowed into Latin as sarcophagus
and used in the phrase lapis
to refer to the same stone as in Greek. In Latin, too, sarcophagus
came to be used as a noun meaning “coffin made of any material.” The first known attestation of the word sarcophagus
in English dates from 1601 and occurs in a translation of Pliny's description of the stone. Later, sarcophagus
begins to be used in English with the meaning “stone coffin,” especially in descriptions of sarcophagi from antiquity.
(plural sarcophagi or sarcophaguses)
- A stone coffin, often inscribed or decorated with sculpture.
- (informal) The cement and steel structure that encases the destroyed reactor at the power station in Chernobyl, Ukraine.
From French sarcophage, from Latin sarcophagus, from Ancient Greek ÏƒÎ±ÏÎºÎ¿Ï†Î¬Î³Î¿Ï‚ (sarkophagos, “coffin of limestone", noun), so named from a supposed property of consuming the flesh of corpses laid in it, from ÏƒÎ±ÏÎºÎ¿Ï†Î¬Î³Î¿Ï‚ (sarkophagos, “flesh-eating, carnivorous"), from genitive ÏƒÎ±ÏÎºÏŒÏ‚ (sarkos) of ÏƒÎ¬ÏÎ¾ (sarks, “flesh, meat") + -Ï†Î¬Î³Î¿Ï‚ (-phagos) (from á¼”Ï†Î±Î³Î¿Î½ (ephagon), past of Ï†Î±Î³Îµá¿–Î½ (phagein, “to eat"))