Zooglossia: Animal Sounds in Latin (and Greek)

Vita Aesop G = Fabula 302

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

ὅτε ἦν ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα…

A few years ago I was temporarily obsessed with animal sounds

Varro, Menippiean Satire, fr. 3 [4. 156, 23]

“A cow moos, a sheep baas, horses whinny, and a chicken clucks”

mugit bovis, ovis balat, equi hinniunt, gallina pipat.

We do have preserved from antiquity a list of animal sounds. I find myself incapable of translating all of them faithfully. But here’s the list:

Suetonius, De Naturis Animantium

“It is characteristic of lions to growl or roar. Tigers roar [rancare]; panthers growl [felire]. Female panthers caterwaul [caurire]. Bears growl [uncare] or roar [saevire]. Boars gnash teeth. Lynxes roar [urcare]. Wolves howl. Snakes hiss. Donkeys honk [mugilare]. Deer grow [rugire]. Bulls moo [mugire]. Horses whinny. Donkeys snort and honk [oncere]. Pigs snort [grunire]. Boars snarl [quiretare]. Rams bleat [blatterare]. Sheep baaaa [balare]. Male goats mutter [miccire]. Small goats go baaa [bebare]. Dogs bark or bay [latrare seu baubari]. Foxes go gag a [gannire], Wolf cubs whelp [glattire]. Hares trill [vagire]. Weasels trill [drindare]. Mice mutter and squeak [mintrire vel pipitare]. Shrews snap [desticare]. Elephants trumpet [barrire]. Frogs croak [coaxare] Ravens crow [crocitare]. Eagles shriek [clangare]. Hawks caw [plipiare]. Vultures shriek [pulpare]. Kites coo and mourn [lupire vel lugere]. Swans sound drensare. Cranes grurere. Storks crotolare. Geese honk [gliccere vel sclingere]. Ducks quack [tetrissitare]. Peacocks paupulare. Roosters cockadoodledoo or sing [cucurrire] vel cantare. Jackdaws cacaa [fringulire]. Owls cuccube [cuccubire. Cucckoos cuckoo [cuculare’. Blackbirds gnash and buzz [zinzare]. Thrushes trill [trucilare] and chirp [soccitare]. Starlings sound passitare. Swallows either whisper or murmer—for their murmur is the smallest of all the birds. Hens cluck [crispier] Sparrows chirp [titiare]. Bees buzz [bombire or bombilare]. Cicadas snap [frinitare].

Leonum est fremere uel rugire. tigridum rancare. pardorum felire. pantherarum caurire. ursorum uncare uel saeuire. aprorum frendere. lyncum urcare. luporum ululare. serpentium sibilare. onagrorum mugilare. ceruorum rugire. boum mugire. equorum hinnire. asinorum rudere uel oncare. porcorum grunnire. uerris quiritare. arietum blatterare. ouium balare. hircorum miccire. haedorum bebare. canum latrare seu baubari. uulpium gannire. catulorum glattire. leporum uagire. mustelarum drindrare. murium mintrire uel pipitare. soricum desticare. elephantum barrire. ranarum coaxare. coruorum crocitare. aquilarum clangere. accipitrum plipiare. uulturum pulpare. miluorum lupire uel lugere. olorum drensare. gruum gruere. ciconiarum crotolare. anserum gliccire uel sclingere. anatum tetrissitare. pauonum paupulare. (gallorum cucurrire uel cantare.) graculorum fringulire. noctuarum cuccubire. cuculorum cuculare. merulorum frendere uel zinziare. turdorum trucilare uel soccitare. sturnorum passitare. hirundinum fintinnire uel minurrire – dicunt tamen quod minurrire est omnium minutissimarum auicularum – gallinae crispire. passerum titiare. apum bombire uel bombilare. cicadarum fritinnire.


An number of these are very close to their Greek equivalents

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.

Comparative Zooglossia:

Serpents: sibilare; cf. Greek surizein: ὁ ὄφις τὸ συρίζειν

Dogs: baubari, cf. Greek βαΰζειν

Rooster: cucurrire; cf. Greek “kokkuzein is for the sound of a rooster” Καὶ κοκκύζειν ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀλεκτρυόνος.

Ravens: crocitare; cf. Greek “Krôzein: to cry like a raven.” κρώζειν· ὡς κόραξ κράζειν

Cows: mugire cf. “Mukêthmos: the sound of bulls” Μυκηθμός: ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή.

Ouium: balare. Cf. τῶν δὲ οἰῶν βληχή, “The bleating of sheep” and “Baa” [βᾶ] (Hermippus, fr. 19).

Pigs: grunnire, cf. Greek goggrusai (“goggrusai: to make noise like a pig” γογγρύσαι· ὡς χοῖρος φωνῆσαι)

Horses: hinnire; cf. Greek “Mimikhmos: a horse’s voice μιμιχμός· τοῦ ἵππου φωνή

Donkeys: rudere uel oncare, cf. Greek ongkasthai: ὀγκᾶσθαι: “to bray like a donkey” and “ongkêthmos” (ὀγκηθμός· κραυγὴ ὄνου)

Goats: miccire, cf. Greek mêkades for goats, (Μηκάδες)

Frogs: coaxare, cf. the frog song Βρεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ

Cuckoo: cuculare, cf. Hes. Works and Days 486: “When the cuckoo cuckoos on the leaves of the oak tree.” ἦμος κόκκυξ κοκκύζει δρυὸς ἐν πετάλοισι

Owl: cuccubire; cf. Greek “Kikkabizein: Aristophanes uses this sound for the noise of owls” Κικκαβίζειν: τὴν τῶν γλαυκῶν φωνὴν οὕτως καλεῖ ᾿Αριστοφάνης.

Weasel: drindrare; cf. Aelian γαλῆς τριζούσης (“trilling weasel”)

Also consider:

Lion: fremere cf. Hesychius brimazein is the sound used for a lion’s voice” βριμάζων· τῇ τοῦ λέοντος χρώμενος φωνῇ

Eagle: clangere, cf. a generic bird sound in Greek: κλαγγή· φωνή, ἠχή (Il. 1.49), βοή. *ἢ κλαγγὴ ὀρνέων (1. 3)  Cf. Photius Κλαγγή: ποιά τις φωνὴ ὀρνέου.

Here are links to the previous Zooglossia posts for some details.

1. What does a goat say?

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.

2. What does a donkey say?


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.

3. Pigs grunting in Greek

Schol ad Ar. Pl. 22

“Who says “oink”—this is either from the sound of pigs or from trash [grutê, small bits, inconsequential things].

… ὃς γρῦ λέγεται· ἢ  ἀπὸ τῆς τῶν χοίρων φωνῆς ἢ ἀπὸ τῶν γρυτῶν·

4. Sheep go Baaaaaa.

Aristophanes, fr. 642

“He is about to sacrifice me and he is telling me to say “baa”.”

θύειν <με> μέλλει καὶ κελεύει βῆ λέγειν.

5. Greek Moo Cows

Suda, cf. Photius s.v. Μυκηθμός

“Mukêthmos: the sound of bulls”

Μυκηθμός: ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή.

6. A Real Dogamma: Dogs Bark and Howl

Zonaras, beta 379

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

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

7. Roosters, Cucckoos, Ravens and Crows

Etym. Gud.

“To krôzein: to make a sound like a raven, or, as a crow cries”

Κρώζειν, ὡς κόραξ, ἢ ὡς κορώνη κράζειν.

Cratinus, fr. 311

“They cannot endure the rooster crooning”

κοκκύζειν τὸν ἀλεκτρυόν’ οὐκ ἀνέχονται.

Aristophanes the Grammarian

kokkuzein is for the sound of a rooster”

Καὶ κοκκύζειν ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀλεκτρυόνος.

Hes. Works and Days, 486

“When the cuckoo cuckoos on the leaves of the oak tree.”

ἦμος κόκκυξ κοκκύζει δρυὸς ἐν πετάλοισι

8. Talking Horse in Ancient Greek

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.

9. Searching For Cat Sounds, Finding Weasels

Mosaic in lapidary of the Archaeological Museum of Delphi

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