🔼The name Puteoli: Summary
- Well, Hole
- Putrid, Stinking
- From the noun puteus, a well.
- From the verb puteo, to stink or rot.
🔼The name Puteoli in the Bible
The Latin name Puteoli (or rather the Greek variant Potioloi) occurs only once in the Bible, namely in Acts 28:13. After Paul and company's three month stay with Publius of Malta, they continued their — highly allegorical and Homeric — journey toward Italy, by boarding an Alexandrian ship that sported Dioscuri as its figurehead. From Malta they trekked to Syracuse, Sicily, then Rhegium on Italy's southern mainland and finally arrived at Puteoli, which is modern Pozzuoli near Naples, situated on the west coast of Italy, about 270 kilometers from Rome. At Puteoli they met otherwise unmentioned brethren with whom they stayed for a week, and "thus to Rome" they went, as it says in Acts 28:14.
Puteoli had begun its life as a Greek colony named Δικαιαρχια (Dikaiarchia), meaning something like "Old Justice" or "Just Government" (see the names Dike and Aristarchus). It was Romanized in 194 BC and quickly grew into a huge port city, with specific facilities for Alexandrian grain ships. It's not clear whether Paul took the famous Appian Way to Rome or boarded a ship to the formidable port of Rome named Ostia (where in 1961 the ruins of the oldest synagogue outside Israel was discovered; it dates from the reign of Claudius).
In 37 AD, as part of a publicity stunt, emperor Caligula had a more than 3 kilometer long, floating and temporary bridge built from Puteoli, and rode his horse across it. Puteoli is more famous, however, for its volcanic sand, pozzolana, which formed the basis for concrete and in turn allowed for Rome's signature building fetish.
🔼Etymology of the name Puteoli
The name Puteoli is generally understood to come from the noun puteus, originally meaning a well. This word in turn comes from a larger pu- root, meaning to cleanse, from which also come words like pure and purge, and the Latin adjective putus, meaning cleansed, bright, clear, pure. The word puteus evolved to denote any kind of subterranean hole: a pit, cistern or underground storage facility, and was even used in the sense of dungeon or holding pit for slaves. Puteoli may ultimately have received its name from pozzolana mines.
Curiously enough, an identical ancient pu- root has to do with stinking and rotting (hence our word putrid), which may be due to a grave being essentially a pit, and natural pits natural graves for hapless by-passers. The Latin verb puteo means to stink or to rot. Some commentators have opted for an etymology from this stink root because pozzolana would typically be harvested from a volcanic area, which in turn would stink from hydrogen sulfide, which is precisely the compound that gives rotten eggs their characteristic aroma.
Whatever the name Puteoli was supposed to mean to whoever gave it to this city (Pure Well, Stink Hole), in the story of Paul's epic sea journey that started with his voluntary surrender to Caesar to his final arrival in Italy, the name Puteoli conveys perfectly the sentiment so eloquently uttered by E. B. Redding about Andy Dufresne: Who Crawled Through A River Of Shit And Came Out Clean On The Other Side.