Zooglossia 2: What’s With the Donkey’s Bray?

This is a second entry in a totally unnecessary series of posts about the representation of animal sounds in Ancient Greek.


Ongkêthmos: the cry of a donkey”

ὀγκηθμός· κραυγὴ ὄνου

Earlier today I tweeted about this

I have been thinking about the ‘reconstruction’ of animal noises from verbs that represent them–here ὀγκάομαι, like many alpha-contract verbs is denominative. So, I figured I could just reconstruct a ὀγκ- ὀγκ to represent donkey sounds based on the abstract noun above and the verb form. Beekes is not completely down with that:


I don’t know if I can resist believing that this verb is zoophonetic (based on the animal sound). Even if it does have another etymology, that does not mean that it was not adapted to this context because of a serendipitous similarity to the donkey’s bray…

There are some other details about donkey sounds that are, perhaps, worth knowing.


brômasthai: ongkasthai: this is used for donkey speech. Ongkasthai is also used, but that is more infrequent.”

Βρωμᾶσθαι. ὀγκᾶσθαι. ἐπὶ ὄνου δὲ λέγουσι τοῦτο. λέγεται καὶ ὀγκᾶσθαι ἐπὶ ὄνου, ἀλλὰ σπάνιον τοῦτο.

LSJ lists βρωμάομαι, “to bray” (cf. Lat. Rudere) as onomatopoetic

Photius distinguishes between them

brômasthai: this is the braying of a hungry donkey. Also, brôma. This is the sound itself.”

Βρωμᾶσθαι· τὸ ὀγκᾶσθαι πεινῶντα ὄνον. καὶ βρῶμα· ἡ φωνὴ αὕτη.

Moeris asserts that the former is Attic and the latter is general Greek.

File:Kylix by Epiktetos showing an aroused Satyr mounting a donkey which is also aroused, ca. 510 BC, Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens, Greece (14103090773).jpg
510 BCE, Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens

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