Zooglossia 1: What Does a Goat Say?

Vita Aesop G = Fabula 302

“There was a time when all the animals spoke the same language”

ὅτε ἦν ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα…

A few days ago I had been thinking about how every once in a while I tweet just part of Aristophanes refrain from the Frogs, “Βρεκεκὲξ…” and can always count on someone to respond with a “…κοὰξ κοάξ”. Sometimes twitter is filled with bile and horror (you know, our chief executive and nazis); other times it is filled with support, surprise and serendipity.

So, I got to thinking that an account I would definitely subscribe to would be one that was just made up of animal noises from different languages. You know, Arabic mice, French ducks, Tamil dogs, Mandarin elephants etc. It would be charming, interesting, and a welcome relief from everything else. Then, I tweeted about it:

As I have probably mentioned before,  I don’t really know any programming and I am not really the type to try to do this on my own. Also, there is a beautiful webpage @ajwyman sent to me which collects a lot of these sounds (but the flash player is a little messed up).

(If you are interested in the twitter thread, I storified it)

But the responses were fun and they got me thinking about animal noises in ancient Greek more. I am not at all the first to do this. There is a nice post from a decade ago on the topic. There are some great sources for Latin animal sounds, including a book in the public domain Patrick from @diyclassics tweeted about.  Michael Hendry also has a great worksheet for Latin. I should not have been surprised that the Latin Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to Animalium soni. (And here is another post from a cultured medievalist)

I would be remiss in not mentioning some more academic takes on the subject, recognizing that the way we think about animals reflects on the way we think about ourselves and that studying this through time has its own value. Someone sent me a great post about animal sounds in the medieval period. And, informed by linguistics, anthropology, and Classics, the inimitable Maurizo Bettini has a book out on the subject of the representation of animal noises in human languages (it is in Italian, I ordered from ILL.)

All of this stuff is great. But, of course, it is not enough Greek and it does not satisfy the child in me: I want something of a pull-and-play that has only Ancient Greek versions of animal noises. This would fulfill no vital function in the world. So, instead, I am spending just a little time seeing what can be found on the topic. Here’s a nice thematic passage @Stevendsmith74 sent me.

Aelian Varia Historia 5.52

“Nature has produced animals which have the greatest range of voices and sounds, in the same way, in fact, as she has made people. Just as the Skythian speaks one way and the Indian speaks another, or the Aithiopian has his own language and the Sakai have theirs. And the language of Greece is different from Rome. Indeed, it is the same with animals who in various ways utter the a sound or an song native to their tongue. One roars, another moos, a neigh comes from another, a bray from one, a bleat or maaaa from another. A howl is dear to one; a bark to another; while some growl. There are those who scream, whistle, hoot, sing, croon and tweet. There are endless gifts proper to different animals by nature.”

51. Πολυφωνότατα δὲ τὰ ζῷα καὶ πολύφθογγα ὡς ἂν εἴποις ἡ φύσις ἀπέφηνεν, ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ὁ γοῦν Σκύθης ἄλλως φθέγγεται καὶ ὁ Ἰνδὸς ἄλλως, καὶ ὁ Αἰθίοψ ἔχει φωνὴν συμφυᾶ καὶ οἱ Σάκαι· φωνὴ δὲ Ἑλλὰς ἄλλη, καὶ Ῥωμαία ἄλλη. οὕτω τοι καὶ τὰ ζῷα ἄλλο ἄλλως προΐεται τὸν συγγενῆ τῆς γλώττης ἦχόν τε καὶ ψόφον· τὸ μὲν γὰρ βρυχᾶται, μυκᾶται δὲ ἄλλο, καὶ χρεμέτισμα ἄλλου καὶ ὄγκησις <ἄλλου>, ἄλλου βληχηθμός τε καὶ μηκασμός, καί τισι μὲν ὠρυγμός, τισὶ δὲ ὑλαγμὸς φίλον, καὶ ἄλλῳ ἀρράζειν· κλαγγαὶ δὲ καὶ ῥοῖζοι καὶ κριγμοὶ καὶ ᾠδαὶ καὶ μελῳδίαι καὶ τραυλισμοὶ καὶ μυρία ἕτερα δῶρα τῆς φύσεως ἴδια τῶν ζῴων ἄλλα ἄλλων.

Whether it is a good idea or not, I am going to be posting occasionally about animal noises. Some of them, as with the frog or dog mentioned in tweets above, are simple because we have animals “quoted”. Others can be ‘reconstructed’ based on nominal or verbal representations of the sounds–essentially zoophonetic onomatopoeia.

If you would like to join in, send me any passages that you find on this topic. I am especially interested in anything about the sounds of horses, donkeys, weasels, and cats.

What does the (ancient Greek) goat say? Maaaa, Maaaa. Μῆ μῆ

Photius, s.v Μηκάδες (cf. Suda mu 901)

“An epithet for goats; it comes from their species’ sound”

Μηκάδες: ἐπιθετικῶς αἱ αἶγες· ἀπὸ τοῦ ἰδιώματος τῆς φωνῆς.


File:Satyr goat Met L.2008.51.jpg
Metropolitan Museum of Art, L.2008.51


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