The hero of our stories is called the protagonist while the villain is referred to as the antagonist. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to wonder what the origins of those words are.
Protagonist showed up in the late seventeenth century, after Middle English started to be replaced by Modern. Shockingly enough, it’s not Latin in origin but Greek, coming from protagonists which basically means main character. The prot- part of the word comes from proto—first—and the -agonist part comes from agonistes, which means actor. So literally, the primary actor.
Antagonist isn’t much of a surprise, although it did show up almost a century earlier in Old French. But the origin is easy: ant-, from anti- and meaning against. More interesting is if you look further back into the suffixes’ history. Agonistes is from the Greek agon, or contest, and it’s related to both agony and act.
Is there something deep and meaningful in that? Perhaps. Words are what we make them to be, what we need them to be.