Step 5 of 6

What’s in her name

Fig. 1. The shepherdess Sefira in the Egloga de tres pastores - Biblioteca Nacional de Francia - [Gallica: Bibliothèque Numérique](

Fig. 1. The shepherdess Sefira in the Egloga de tres pastores - Biblioteca Nacional de Francia - Gallica: Bibliothèque Numérique

The name Sephirach can be traced to various sources: the New Testament, Greek mythology, Italian pastoral poetry, or Spanish humanist comedy.

Biblical swindler

Sephirach sounds like a Hebrew name. The fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of a couple who try to cheat the apostles and promptly fall dead. Their names are Ananias and Sapphira. The wife of Potiphar also came to function as a warning, specifically as a warning to women.

Mythological stepmother

שׁוּפרָא (‘shipra’) in Hebrew means beauty as well as splendor. There might be a reference to Potiphar’s wife’s counterpart in Greek mythology, Phaedra. The name Phaedra carries the meaning of ‘bright’ and ‘shining’, just like the Hebrew Sapphira. The mythological Phaedra falls in love with her stepson and accuses him of attempted rape when he rejects her. Phaedra was the protagonist of canonical plays by both the Greek Euripides and the Roman Seneca.

Seductive shepherdess

The name Saphira was also common in Italian and Spanish pastoral poetry of the Renaissance. The Italian poet Filenio Gallo gave the name to a virtuous nymph in his eclogue Safira (ca. 1470). The Spanish poet and playwright Juan del Encina adopted the name from Filenio Gallo in his Égloga de los tres pastores (1509). (figure 1) Here, Sephira is a shepherdess. A besotted shepherd kills himself out of desperation because she does not reciprocate his love.

Spanish adulterer

One of the earliest Latin plays written in Spain is the Comedia Zaphira (1502) by Hercules Florus Alexicachos, who originally came from Cyprus. The play is a comic love story, in which the titular character Zaphira kills her much older husband in order to be with her lover. There is little to suggest that the play was widely known, but the name could have been used in other humanist comedies that are now lost.

It is difficult to say which of these sources is the most likely for Crocus. Probably, he chose the name because of its multiple connections to other female characters in literature.