Zooglossia 6: A Dog Goes Βαὺ Ϝαύ

This is yet another entry in the search for Greek animal sounds. You can find earlier notes on goats, pigs, sheep, donkeys and cows.

Aristophanes Wasps, 902-3

Ph.“Where is the plaintiff, the Kudathênaian dog?

Dog: Ow, Ow!

ποῦ δ’ ὅ γε διώκων, ὁ Κυδαθηναιεὺς κύων;

ΚΥΩΝ   αὖ αὖ.

When I was in graduate school I had a few table lecterns built by my late father who used to spend time under the influence working in the woodshop in his later years. He made a series of unfinished lecterns that worked to various degrees. One of them had some of my favorite lines from Greek scrawled on them—as I worked my way through the PhD reading list, I would throw fragments on it when they entertained me. (This practice, if any, represents the extreme origin of this blog and the twitter feed).

The dog’s comment above from the Wasps was one of a dozen on it. For years, I thought of ancient Greek dogs as saying au au until, last week, in a fit of fancy over animal noises, I posted this on twitter and was corrected. Ancient Greek dogs don’t say au au. They probably spoke the same language our dogs do and said Βαὺ Ϝαύ.

There was a lively twitter conversation about this.

As usual, the Suda would have helped explain the confusion. According to it (and a comment repeated in the scholion to Aristophanes’ Wasps), “au au is the imitation of the howling of dogs” (αὖ αὖν: μίμημα ὑλακῆς κυνῶν). The verb   ὑλακτεῖν—a secondary formation from the onomatopoetic ὑλάω—is, as any student of Athenaze would know, used at times to mean “bark”, but it more properly means to howl. From Beekes:


Aristonicus, De Signis Iliadis ad 21.575

“The howl is the special sound of dogs.”

ὁ γὰρ ὑλαγμὸς ἴδιος κυνῶν.

Zonaras, beta 379

“Barking: ulaktôn: In Aristophanes [Thesm. 173] “Barking, for I was like this….”

Βαΰζων. ὑλακτῶν. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· βαΰζων γὰρ καὶ ἐγὼ τοιοῦτος ἦν.

That Greek dogs likely said bau wau like our own is confirmed by a few fragments and the existence of another onomatopoetic verb, βαΰζειν. The loss of the digamma in Greek obscures the similarity, but, as we have seen from other Greek words for animal sounds, there is a tendency to represents them through reduplication. There is probably something interesting to say about this and Greek phonetic representations of linguistic otherness, as in the reduplicated bar-bar-os.

BauFCG Anonymous Fragments, Fr. 195 (=IEG fr. 50)

“Bau, bau—you also utter the sound of a dog!”

Βαὺ βαὺ καὶ κυνὸς φωνὴν ἱείς.

Pseudo-Herodian, De prosida Catholica 3.1.495

“The bau is accented in imitation of a dog….from this too comes the word “to bark”

καὶ τὸ βαύ κατὰ μίμησιν κυνὸς ὀξύνεται «βαὺ βαὺ καὶ κυνὸς φωνὴν ἱείς». ἐξ οὗ καὶ τὸ βαύζω ῥῆμα.

Aristophanes, Thesmo. 173-4

“Stop barking at him. I was also the like this
When I was that age, when I was beginning to compose.”

ΕΥ.                Παῦσαι βαΰζων· καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ τοιοῦτος ἦν
ὢν τηλικοῦτος, ἡνίκ’ ἠρχόμην ποεῖν.

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