By far the commonest native meaning of natura is something like sort, kind, quality, or character. When you ask, in our modern idiom, what something ‘is like’, you are asking for its natura. When you want to tell a man the natura of anything you describe the thing. In nineteenth-century English the word ‘description’ itself (‘I do not associate with persons of that description’) is often an exact synonym for natura. Caesar sent scouts to find out qualis esset natura montis, what the hill was like, what sort of a hill it was. Quintilian speaks of a man ingenii naturâ praestantem (XII, 1), outstanding by the quality of his mind. Cicero’s title De Natura Deorum could be translated ‘What the gods are like’.
It will be noticed that whereas Caesar wanted to know the (doubtless unique) character of a particular hill, Cicero wrote about the common character of all gods, and Horace can speak of humana natura, the character common to all men. There is a logical distinction here, but linguistically the two usages are the same. A class or species has a natura, and so has a particular or an individual.
It is not always possible, or necessary, to decide whether the idea of the species or that of the particular is uppermost. Cicero says that ‘omnis natura strives to preserve itself’. It makes little difference whether we render omnis natura ‘every class or species’ or ‘every kind (of thing)’, hence ‘a thing of whatever kind’, and hence almost ‘everything’.
Those who wish to go further back will notice that natura shares a common base with nasci (to be born); with the noun natus (birth); with natio (not only a race or nation but the name of the birth-goddess); or even that natura itself can mean the sexual organs—a sense formerly born by English nature, but apparently restricted to the female. It is risky to try to build precise semantic bridges, but there is obviously some idea of a thing’s natura as its original or ‘innate’ character.
If we look forward, the road is clear. This sense of natura, though soon to be threatened by vast semantic growths of another origin, has shown astonishing persistence and is still as current a sense as any other for English nature. Every day we speak about ‘the nature of the case’ (or of the soil, the animal, the problem).
H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (s.v. ‘meticulous’)
meticulous. What is the strange charm that at one time made this wicked word irresistible to the British journalist? Did he like its length? Did he pity its isolation (for it has no kindred in England)? Could a Latin scholar like him not get meticulous out of his head? Could so accomplished a Frenchman never be sure whether meticuleux or m. was the word he knew so well? Or what was it? It is clear, first, that the word is not a piece of latinity that cannot be forgotten. ‘Ante- and post-classical’ say Lewis and Short: that is, you may read your Cicero and Virgil and Horace and Livy through and never meet it, and when it is unearthed in Plautus or somewhere it means not what the journalists made it mean, but just frightened. It is the word for the timid hare, or the man who is gibbering with fear (Nullust hoc meticulosus aeque… Perii, pruriunt dentes – Was ever man in such a funk? … Lord, how my teeth chatter!).
Some centuries ago m. had that meaning, comprehensible enough through the Latin metus (fear) to all who have learnt any Latin, but not to others, since metus by some odd chance has given no common words in English. But the word died out, and when it was resuscitated in the 19th c., it was given a new sense for which it was not in the least needed, and freely used as an unwanted synonym for careful, exact, punctilious, scrupulous, precise, etc.
It would be idle to try to put it back into an etymological strait-jacket and to apply it only to the care that has its origin in terror of being caught breaking rules or misstating facts, but if it is to escape the reproach of being a SUPERFLUOUS WORD it should at least be confined to a degree of care, not necessarily excessive or fussy – we have pernickety for that – but greater than what is implied by punctilious or scrupulous.
The first of the two examples that follow illustrates the legitimate use; the second is ludicrous in that it excludes not merely the idea of great care but even that of any care at all. Gone is the wealth of m. detail with which he loved to elaborate his finely finished pictures. / Mr. —-, who has succumbed to the wounds inflicted upon him ten days previously by a pet lion, had his fate foretold with m. accuracy more than 2000 years ago by the greatest Greek dramatists.
BNJ 769 F 2 Antoninos Liberalis, Metamorphoses, 35
“Cowherds: Menekrates the Xanthian reports in his Lykian Matters and Nicander does as well. Once she gave birth to Apollo and Artemis on the island Asteria, Leto went to Lykia carrying the children to the baths of Xanthus. And as soon she she appeared in the land, she went to the Melitean spring where she wanted her children to drink before they went to the Xanthus.
But when some cowherds drove her away, so that their cattle might drink from the spring, Leto retreated, abandoning the Melitê, and wolves came to meet her, and they gave her directions and led her right up to the Xanthus itself while wagging their tails. She drank the water, bathed her children and made the Xanthus sacred to Apollo. She also changed the land’s name to Lykia—it was called Tremilis before—after the wolves who led her there.
Then she went again to the spring to bring punishment to the cowherds who drove her off. At they time they were washing their cattle near the spring. After she changed them all into frogs and struck their backs and shoulders with rough stones, she threw them all into the spring and granted them life in the water. In our time still, they shout out along the rivers and ponds.”
John William Donaldson, The New Cratylus (Preface):
Many people entertain strong prejudices against every thing in the shape of etymology, prejudices which would be not only just but inevitable, if etymology or the doctrine of words were such a thing as they suppose it to be. They consider it as amounting to nothing more than the derivation of words from one another; and as this process is generally confined to a perception of some prima facie resemblance of two words, it seldom rises beyond the dignity of an ingenious pun, and, though amusing enough at times, is certainly neither an instructive nor an elevated employment for a rational being.
The only real etymology is that which attempts a resolution of the words of a language into their ultimate elements by a comparison of the greatest possible number of languages of the same family. Derivation is, strictly speaking, inapplicable, farther than as pointing out the manner in which certain constant syllables, belonging to the pronominal or formative element of inflected languages, may be prefixed or subjoined to a given form for the expression of some secondary or dependent relation. In order to arrive at the primary origin of a word or a form, we must get beyond the narrow limits of a single idiom. Indeed, in many cases the source can only be traced by a conjectural reproduction based on the most extended comparison of all the cognate languages, for when we take some given variety of human speech, we find in it systems and series of words running almost parallel to one another, but presenting such resemblances in form and signification as convince us that, though apparently asymptotes, they must have converged in the form which we know would potentially contain them all. This reproduction of the common mother of our family of languages, by a comparison of the features of all her children, is the great general object to which the efforts of the philologer should be directed, and this, and not a mere derivation of words in the same language from one another, constitutes the etymology that is alone worthy of the name.
“In addition to these, here are the characteristics of prominent poets, the lyric ones who sing their songs to a lyre and who may have a chorus of fifty men set up in a circle, those who also used to take a bull as a prize. These features are shared with the dithyrambic poets. The dithyrambic poets are in the habit of composing their fine hymns do Dionysus and they used to take tripods [as gifts?]. These poems are called dithyramboi thanks to the “two exit doors” of Dionysus, Semele’s stomach and Zeus’ thigh. “
If you didn’t get the joke, it is because di-thura-ba- [here, duo-thuron-bantos; “two-doors-walking”] presents the essential sounds of dithyramb. Byzantine etymological text repeats the origin and explains it a bit, not without adding another on its own.
Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. dithyrambos
“Dithyrambos: Dionysus. It is an epithet of Dionysus because he was raised in a cave with two doors in Nussê. This is also the hymn named for the god and dedicated to him. It comes from “coming through two doors”, the womb of his mother Semele and Zeus’ thigh—since he was born twice: once from his mother, and once from Zeus’ thigh. This is how he exited the ‘door’ twice.”
The Greek language however is considered the most renowned among the languages of the earth. For it is more sonorous than Latin and all other tongues, and it may properly be divided into five parts. The first is Koinu, that is mixed or common, which all people use. The second is Attic, that is the Athenian, which all of the authors of Greece used. Third is Doric, which the Egyptians and the Syrians have. The fourth is Ionic, and the fifth Aeolic, which they said people spoke in the Aeolic manner. There are certain distinctions in the respect of this type of Greek language, for thus is their speech divided.
Some say that there were four Latin languages, that is the Original, the Latin, the Roman, and the Mixed. The Original, which the most ancient people of Italy used under Ianus and Saturnus, is disordered as in the songs of the Salii. The Latin, which the Etruscans and everyone else in Latium used under Latinus and the kings is the language in which the Twelve Tables were written. The Roman began after the expulsion of the kings, from which Naevius, Plautus, Ennius, and Vergil, as well as the orators Gracchus, Cato, Cicero, and some others poured forth. The Mixed is what broke forth after the extension of the bounds of empire along with new customs and people into the Roman state, corrupting the integrity of the word through solecism and barbarism.
Graeca autem lingua inter ceteras gentium clarior habetur. Est enim et Latinis et omnibus linguis sonantior: cuius varietas in quinque partibus discernitur. Quarum prima dicitur KOINU, id est mixta, sive communis quam omnes utuntur. Secunda Attica, videlicet Atheniensis, qua usi sunt omnes Graeciae auctores. Tertia Dorica, quam habent Aegyptii et Syri. Quarta Ionica, quinta Aeolica, quas AIOLISTI locutos dixerunt. Et sunt in observatione Graecae linguae eiusmodi certa discrimina; sermo enim eorum ita est dispertitus.  Latinas autem linguas quattuor esse quidam dixerunt, id est Priscam, Latinam, Romanam, Mixtam. Prisca est, quam vetustissimi Italiae sub Iano et Saturno sunt usi, incondita, ut se habent carmina Saliorum. Latina, quam sub Latino et regibus Tusci et ceteri in Latio sunt locuti, ex qua fuerunt duodecim tabulae scriptae.  Romana, quae post reges exactos a populo Romano coepta est, qua Naevius, Plautus, Ennius, Vergilius poetae, et ex oratoribus Gracchus et Cato et Cicero vel ceteri effuderunt. Mixta, quae post imperium latius promotum simul cum moribus et hominibus in Romanam civitatem inrupit, integritatem verbi per soloecismos et barbarismos corrumpens.
The diversity of languages arose in the construction of the tower after the flood. Before the arrogance of that tower divided human society into diverse sounds and significations, there was one language of all peoples, which was called Hebrew. The Patriarchs and the Prophets used it not only in their sermons, but also in their sacred letters. But at the beginning, there were as many languages as there were peoples, and then more peoples than there were languages, because many different groups of people arose from one language.
Languages are so called in this place from the words which are made by the tongue (per linguam), by that sort of locution in which that which makes something is named by the thing which is made; thus ‘mouth’ is often used for words, just as ‘hands’ for letters.
There are three sacred languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, which are the most outstanding in the entire world. For in these three languages, the case of the Lord was written upon the cross by Pontius Pilate. For this reason, and on account of the obscurity of Sacred Scriptures, the understanding of these three languages is necessary so that you may reference one of the others if an expression in one of the languages presents some doubt to your mind about the meaning of a word or its interpretation.
Linguarum diversitas exorta est in aedificatione turris post diluvium. Nam priusquam superbia turris illius in diversos signorum sonos humanam divideret societatem, una omnium nationum lingua fuit, quae Hebrae vocatur; quam Patriarchae et Prophetae usi sunt non solum in sermonibus suis, verum etiam in litteris sacris. Initio autem quot gentes, tot linguae fuerunt, deinde plures gentes quam linguae; quia ex una lingua multae sunt gentes exortae.
Linguae autem dictae in hoc loco pro verbis quae per linguam fiunt, genere locutionis illo quo is qui efficit per id quod efficitur nominatur; sicut os dici solet pro verbis, sicut manus pro litteris.
Tres sunt autem linguae sacrae: Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, quae toto orbe maxime excellunt. His enim tribus linguis super crucem Domini a Pilato fuit causa eius scripta. Vnde et propter obscuritatem sanctarum Scripturarum harum trium linguarum cognitio necessaria est, ut ad alteram recurratur dum siquam dubitationem nominis vel interpretationis sermo unius linguae adtulerit.
“People claim that among the Celts there is a drug which they call the “arrow” [toxikon]. They report that it induces so quick a death that the Celts’ hunters, whenever they have shot a deer or some other animal, rush ahead to cut off its flesh before it is penetrated completely by the drug both for the sake of using the meat and so that the animal might not rot.
They also claim that the oak tree’s bark has been found to be an antidote for the poison. But others claim that there is a leaf which that call “raven’s leaf” because they have seen ravens, once they taste the poison mentioned before and start to feel the drug’s effect, rush to this leaf and stop their suffering by eating it.”
In a post, Palaiophron talks about seeing me lecture and kindly does not make it clear that when a student first asked me for the etymology of Nausikaa, I was flabbergasted and admitted it. The context was a discussion of the names Nausithoos (“swift-in-ships”) and Nausinoos (“ship-minded”) in the Homeric and Hesiodic traditions. Why wouldn’t I think that the offering of two etymologies might prompt an audience member to wonder about a third, when I mentioned the name as a parallel?
The embarrassing truth is that for some unknown reason I had never really thought about the meaning of the name Nausikaa. So, on the spot, I suggested Ναυσι+ καίω for something like “ship-burner”. Palaiophron rightly reacted that this would be preposterous for the narrative of the Odyssey and eventually dug up the records of the ancients who tied the name to either a form of καίνυμι (to excel, or surpass) or from κοσμέω (to arrange, adorn).
So, he cites Pseudo-Zonaras, in his Lexicon, writes: “Nausikaa. Excelling in ships.” (Ναυσικάα. ταῖς ναυσὶ κεκασμένη) confirmed by Etymologicum Magnum which adds Nausikaa: “Excelling (that is, honored [or, an ornament to?]). Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη). Kallierges repeats this (598.28): Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη) ταῖς ναυσί.
Someone asked me to put together a post on nostos. Here’s what I got. I am happy to add anything someone else can find. This is far from exhaustive.
The Greek noun nostos (“homecoming”) is mostly reconstructed as a reflex of a verbal root neomai (“to come or go”) but its semantic range drifts to include ideas of salvation and rescue.
From Beekes’ Etymological Dictionary of Ancient Greek (2010)
In early Greek poetry, nostos is a song that is about homecoming. On this, see Nagy 1999 , 97; Murnaghan 2002, 147. Douglas Frame (1978) argues that it also means “return to light and life” whereas Anna Bonifazi adds “salvation not death”. For more on the nostoi as a tradition, see the discussion and bibliography in Barker and Christensen 2015. Gregory Nagy surveys the meaning of the term nostos in the Odyssey as return and a song of homecoming in his Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.
In later Greek, the term retained much of this meaning but, as I will show below, it can also mean “sweetness”. The thematic and proverbial power of the poetic tradition seems to have kept this specialized meaning as primary as the language developed.
From E.A. Sophocles “Dictionary of Byzantine Greek”
Our English word nostalgia comes from a post-classical Latin compound which has deep resonance with Greek epic, especially Odysseus. Odysseus has thematic associations with algea (neuter plural for algos, “grief, pain”). Our modern meaning of “acute longing for familiar surroundings” or “sentimental longing for a period of the past (OED online)” may draw on ancient poetic associations. A nostos is a return to the home, which is symbolically a return to the past. Ultimately, it is partly a futile wish because neither home nor person (neither the past, nor the rememberer) remain the same.
Nostalgia was originally coined by Johannes Hofer in 1688 for a pathological mental disorder, a type of mania that involved longing for the past. Some modern psychological studies still examine the phenomenon. It has been described as both parafunctional in undermining a sense of well-being and rootedness in the future (Verplanken 2012) and as a useful resource of memory which can help reinforce identity against existential threats (Routledge et al 2012 and Sedikedis and Wildschut 2016).
The ancient etymological dictionaries pretty much provide the same information as the Byzantine Suda:
Suda, Nu 500
“Nostos: The return to home. From the sweetness of a homeland. Or it comes from the giving of flavor. But also “the poets who sang the songs of Return follow Homer to the extent they are capable. It seems that not only one poet composed and wrote the homecoming of the Achaeans, but some others did too.
“Homecoming: in regular use it is “sweetness”, applied to edibles. This comes from the [sweetness] of returning and coming back again home. From the sweetness of your homeland, for nothing is sweeter than your fatherland, according to Homer. From nostos in customary use we also have nostimon, which can mean “pleasant”, “sweet”. And there is a certain god, Eunostos, a divinity of the mill. The poetic term nostos comes from neô [to go], in, for example “now I am not going home.” This means “I do not return” [epanerkhomai]. There is also the form nostô, which provides the compounds palinostô, and aponostô.”