Zooglossia 8: Horse Sounds in Ancient Greek

Did Ancient Greek horses go khraaaaaaay?

Apthonius, 3 [Aesop’s Fables = Perry 396]

“Once, nature provided a song to kites as great as that of swans. But when they heard the horses neighing they fell in love and tried to mimic it. As they tried to imitate them, they lose their own voice. They never learned to neigh and they forgot how to sing.

The imitation of something different deprives you of what is yours.”

     ὅσην τοῖς κύκνοις ἡ φύσις ᾠδήν, τοσαύτην ἰκτίνοις παρέσχε τὸ πρότερον. ἵππων δὲ χρεμετιζόντων ἀκούσαντες εἰς ἔρωτα ἧκον τῆς ἐκείνων φωνῆς καὶ μιμεῖσθαι πειρώμενοι συναποβάλλουσιν ἃ εἶχον, οἷς μαθεῖν ἐπετήδευον. χρεμετίζειν μὲν γὰρ οὐκ ἔμαθον, ᾄδειν δὲ ἐπελάθοντο.

     φέρει τῶν προσόντων τὴν στέρησιν ἡ τοῦ μὴ προσήκοντος μίμησις.

The most common representation of horse sounds in Ancient Greek is seems to be based off a root with uncertain origins. I suspect it might have, at least to some speakers, represented a similar vocalism to that of English neigh.

Image result for ancient greek horse


khremetismos: the sound of horses.”

χρεμετισμός· ἡ φωνὴ τῶν ἵππων

Cf. Zonaras Χρεμετισμός. ἡ τῶν ἵππων βοή

Herodian = Schol. T ad Il. 21.575b

“Then he heard the barking” Aristarchus says that some have “dog-howling” [kunulagmon]. Stesichorus also seems to read this, for he says (fr. 78) “the endless dog-howling”, We don’t know of any other examples of the compound. For howling  [ulagmos] is elsewhere the name properly applied for hearing dogs, just as neighing is for horses.

     Hrd. ἐπεί κεν ὑλαγμὸν ἀκούσῃ: ᾿Αρίσταρχός τινάς φησι γράφειν „κυνυλαγμόν”· καὶ Στησίχορος (fr. 78 P. = P.M.G. 255) δὲ ἔοικεν οὕτως ἀνεγνωκέναι· φησὶ γοῦν „ἀπειρεσίοιο κυνυλαγμοῖο”.  οὐχ ὁρῶμεν δέ τι πλεῖον ἐκ τῆς συνθέσεως· ὁ γὰρ ὑλαγμὸς καὶ χωρὶς τοῦ προσκεῖσθαι τὸ ὄνομα ἰδίως ἐπὶ κυνῶν ἀκούεται, ὡς ὁ χρεμετισμὸς ἐπὶ τῶν ἵππων.

Beekes (2010)


Anyone who has spent time with horses knows that they do not make only one type of sound. There are two basic lexical items for equine snorting: the somewhat uncommon φρυάγμα and the slightly more common φριμαγμος. Both are understood by ancient authors to be onomatopoetic representations of nasalized snorting. But some sources make one or the author a synonym of neighing. All of these words seem to be nominalized abstracts from (what ancient speakers considered) animal-sound roots.


“Snorting [phrimagmos]: whinnying [khrêtismos]

Φριμαγμός. ὁ χρεμετισμός.

Lexicon Vindobenese, khi 5

“Whinnying [krêtismos] and snorting [phruagmos] are poetically applied to horses.

χρεμετισμὸς καὶ φρυαγμὸς ποιητικῶς ἐπὶ ἵππων.

Schol in Lyk. 244

“Snorting is neighing. A snorting echo. This, I believe, means neighing. But neighing is not the same as snorting. It is the sound that comes through horses’ noses when they prance.”

     φριμαγμός ὁ χρεμετισμός.φριμαγμὸν ἦχον. οὗτος, οἶμαι, τὸν χρεμετισμόν φησιν· οὐκ ἔστι δὲ φριμαγμὸς ὁ χρεμετισμός, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῶν ῥινῶν *τῶν ἵππων* ἐκπεμπόμενος ἦχος, ὅταν γαυριῶσιν.

Schol. PT ad Theocr. 5.2

“Snorting [phrimasseo] This means to prance with pleasure, to leap, the whole herd. The verb snorting is onomatopoetic from the sound of goats. The verb is also applied to horses. It is onomatopoeia from their sound.”

PT φριμάσσεο: τουτέστι μεθ’ ἡδονῆς σκίρτα, ἐπαίρου, πᾶσα ἀγέλη. τὸ δὲ φριμάσσω ἀπὸ τοῦ ἤχου τῶν αἰγῶν ὠνοματοπεποίηται. τὸ δὲ φριμάσσω λέγεται ἐπὶ τῶν ἵππων· κατὰ ὀνοματοποιΐαν δὲ τοῦτο ἀπὸ τοῦ ἤχου.


Zonaras, Phi 1823

“Phruagmos: this is a meaningless sound, mixed with fierce breath, emitting through the nose of horses and mules. They do this especially when they are responding to the treatment of those taming them”

Φρυαγμός. ἠχὴ τὶς ἀσημοτάτη, πνεύματι ῥαγδαίῳ συμμιγὴς, διὰ τῆς τῶν ἵππων καὶ ἡμιόνων ῥινὸς ἐκπίπτουσα. δρῶσι δὲ τοῦτο μάλιστα, ὅταν παραιτούμενοι ὦσι τὰς τῶν τιθασσευόντων θεραπείας.

More Beekes (2010)


The sound I find most intriguing is attested only in one author but may be parallel to Latin hinnitus.


“Mimikhmos: a horse’s voice

μιμιχμός· τοῦ ἵππου φωνή

Mimaksasa: whinnying, making a sound”

μιμάξασα· χρεμετίσασα. φωνήσασα

From the LSJ 1902


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