The handbook of the Stoic philosopher and rhetorician Lucius Annaeus Cornutus (1st century CE) provides a good example of the ways in which Stoics applied etymology to the names, epithets, and other words connected with the Greek gods. It goes through a number of the most important Greek gods, starting with the heavens and moving downwards to end with the Underworld. For each god, it explains the meaning of the personal name, epithets, other associated terms, attributes, and often myths, usually by means of etymological analysis and in terms of the tenets of Stoic philosophy. However, Cornutus does not limit himself to this etymological approach to the words associated with divinities: instead, he combines etymological accounts of single words with allegorical interpretations of mythic narratives, events, and objects.
In the dialogue Cratylus written by Plato, this fourth-century BCE Greek philosopher provides an extensive analysis of etymology and considers its value as a potential tool for philosophical investigation. Etymologies are introduced as evidence into a debate on whether names are correct by convention or by nature. Understanding etymologies means understanding the messages that the primeval name-givers used them for in order to communicate their philosophical doctrines. The etymological procedure unpacks and expands the word’s sounds into a brief definition of that same word; if the name-giver has chosen the name wisely, that definition or description will be correct. Socrates ends up concluding that etymology on its own, without a solid philosophical foundation, is not very useful.