He had arrived back in the middle of an auction! There was a large notice in black and red hung on the gate, stating that on June the Twenty-second Messrs. Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes would sell by auction the effects of the late Bilbo Baggins Esquire, of Bag-End, Underhill, Hobbiton. Sale to commence at ten o’clock sharp. It was now nearly lunch-time, and most of the things had already been sold, for various prices from next to nothing to old songs (as is not unusual at auctions). Bilbo’s cousins the Sackville-Bagginses were, in fact, busy measuring his rooms to see if their own furniture would fit. In short Bilbo was “Presumed Dead,” and not everybody that said so was sorry to find the presumption wrong.
.....The return of Mr. Bilbo Baggins created quite a disturbance, both under the Hill and over the Hill, and across the Water; it was a great deal more than a nine days’ wonder. The legal bother, indeed, lasted for years. It was quite a long time before Mr. Baggins was in fact admitted to be alive again. The people who had got specially good bargains at the Sale took a deal of convincing; and in the end to save time Bilbo had to buy back quite a lot of his own furniture. Many of his silver spoons mysteriously disappeared and were never accounted for. Personally he suspected the Sackville-Bagginses. On their side they never admitted that the returned Baggins was genuine, and they were not on friendly terms with Bilbo ever after. They really had wanted to live in his nice hobbit-hole so very much.
This was my immediate thought when I read the definition. Apparently the word survives today (just barely) in narrow legal parlance, used in just such situations as Mr. Baggins found himself! But the origins of the word go back to Greek (and later, Roman) antiquity. Variously translated as “later-fated” or “double-fated” (more properly, the latter is deuteropotmos), the component etymons (so says the WDFE) are ϋστερον “later, latter” + πότμος “fate, death”. (Πότμος, not to be confused with ποταμός “river”.) Now I’m not an expert in Greek, but my recollection is that the usual word for death is θάνατος (as in the poem “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, which I still dimly recall from high school English :). Are fate and death really etymology linked, as suggested here? It certainly does makes sense.
The great Liddell / Scott lexicon of Classical Greek formalizes the connection. It defines πότμος as “that which befalls one, one’s lot, destiny, usu[ally] one’s evil destiny, a mishap, esp[ecially] like μοϊρα and μόρος, death”, following which are given a number of references to the literature, including Homer, Pindar, and Euripides . Homer, of course, is the most obvious: what is Odysseus if not the archetypal hysteropotmos? The other two words given here, μόρος and μοϊρα, deserve a footnote. The first is defined by Liddell and Scott as roughly synonymous with πότμος, “fate, destiny, death”, and its etymology takes us, along with μοϊρα, to the proper noun, Μοϊρα “Moera, the goddess of fate [...] often in Hom[er] the goddess of death” . Normally portrayed in the plural, as a Triple Goddess, the Moirae are the Fates, the “apportioners”, measuring out the lives of men. Once they became fixed at three, they were named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the Spinner, Measurer, and Cutter of the thread of life. In the case of hysteropotmoi, perhaps Atropos was taking a well-deserved nap. ;)
I said πότμος was not to be confused with ποταμός, but I wonder, could there be a metaphorical relationship between fate and rivers? Liddell and Scott give no such indication in their entry for the latter , but rivers are full of mythological and liminal significance: the Styx (Στύξ) most of all. It makes sense to suppose they might share a common origin, but is there any evidence? Ah well, something for further investigation, I suppose.
The oldest reference I have found to the word hysteropotmos itself (apart from its use in antiquo) is in the Allgemeines Fremdwörterbuch, an 1829 lexicon of foreign words in German. The definition given there is, “ein Zurückgeschiffter, wiederbelebter Scheintodter, vom Tode Erstandener” . If my scant German hasn’t failed me (and if I’m not misreading the Fraktur), this is, “someone who has come back, revived from being apparently dead, risen from death” — German speakers, please feel free to improve on this.
The word has been around for quite a long time, and it’s surprisingly useful (especially for describing the literary motif of the Zurückgeschiffter) — but the word has been all but forgotten. It is essentially dead. Perhaps this word itself should be brought back, made verbum redivivum, to become an hysteropotmos itself. That would be a beautiful irony, wouldn’t it?
 Adeleye, Gabriel G., and Kofi Acquah-Dadzie. World Dictionary of Foreign Expressions: A Resource for Readers and Writers. Eds. Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James T. McDonough. Wauconda, Ill: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1999, p. 171.
 Liddell and Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1870, p. 1229.
 Ibid., p. 943, italics original.
 Ibid., p. 1228.
 Heyse, Johann Christian August. Allgemeines Fremdwörterbuch, oder Handbuch zum Verstehen und Vermeiden der in unserer Sprache mehr oder minder gebräuchlichen Fremden Ausdrücke [etc.]. Hannover: Hahn, 1829 , p. 361.