Zooglossia 5: Cows Go Moo in Mycenae

Another entry in an animal obsession. Sheep go baa, baa. Ancient Greek cows may have said moo….

Did Ancient Greek cows say Μῦ μῦ?

Suda, cf. Photius s.v. Μυκηθμός

“Mukêthmos: the sound of bulls”

Μυκηθμός: ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή.

Cf. Schol. Q ad Hom. Od. 10.413:  μυκώμεναι] βοῶσαι· μυκηθμὸς γὰρ ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή. Q.

We also have independent confirmation that cows may have said mu as early as the Mucynean period:

This nominal root, likely onomatopoetic from the sound of animals, has a few verbal reflexes in Greek, including μυκάομαι and μύζω. There are additional derivatives: μυκητής (“bellower”, μυκήμων “bellow”, μύκημα (“lowing, bellowing”; used of lions and thunder too). The upsilon is long to contrast with the short vowel in μύκης (“mushroom”) and Μυκήνη (Mycenae).  Here’s Beekes again:

Mu 1Mu 2

Perhaps this is not a sound exclusive to cattle, however. Consider Suda mu 1390:

Mycalê and Mukalêsos: name for a city. It comes from the fact that the Gorgons bellowed here.”

Μυκάλη καὶ Μυκαλησός, ὄνομα πόλεως. παρὰ τὸ ἐκεῖ μυκᾶσθαι τὰς Γοργόνας.

The verb is also used to indicate the low sound of objects or the roar of a lion. See Suda, mu 1394

Mukêsantos: “after it sounded”—Homer has “on their own, the gates of heaven sounded, the gates the seasons hold” and in the Epigrams, “after the drum sounded deeply, the boldest of the rest of the animals ran off faster than a deer.”

Μυκήσαντος: ἠχήσαντος. Ὅμηρος: αὐτόμαται δὲ πύλαι μύκον οὐρανοῦ, ἃς ἔχον Ὧραι. καὶ ἐν Ἐπιγράμμασι: οὗ βαρὺ μυκήσαντος, ὁ θαρσαλεώτερος ἄλλων τετραπόδων ἐλάφων ἔδραμεν ὀξύτερον.

And the sound moo seems to be used for non-verbal soundmaking for humans too:

Aristophanes, Thesm. 231-231   

Kê: Moo, Moo

Eu: Why are you mootering? Everything has been done well.

 ΚΗ.                Μῦ μῦ.

 ΕΥ.                       Τί μύζεις; Πάντα πεπόηται καλῶς.

There might be multiple layers of onomatopoetic derivatives here—one for the cow and another for the human moan, and even this is probably a simplification.

Zonaras, s.v. Μῦ (=Etymologicum Magnum s.v)

Moo: a simple sound, this utterance imitates a moan. A moan is an echo of moo, a sound coming from the nose.”

Μῦ. τὸ στοιχεῖον, ὅτι μυγμόν τινα ἔχει ἡ τούτου ἐκφώνησις. μυγμὸς δέ ἐστιν ὁ τοῦ μῦ ἦχος, διὰ τοῦ μυκτῆρος ἐξερχόμενος.

Image result for ancient Greek cow

Zooglossia 3: Grunting with Pigs

I fear I am at once Geta and his grammarian. For installment number three of ancient Greek animal sounds, it is time for some swine.

Historia Augusta: Geta 5.4-5 (thanks again to‏ @Stevendsmith74)

“It was [Geta’s] habit to pose questions to grammarians, for instance, how they might name the way various animals make sounds: sheep bleat, pigs grunt, doves coo, boars grunt, boars growl, lions roar, leopards sneer, elephants sound horns, frogs croak, horses whinny, donkeys bray, bulls low. He would prove each of these with ancient writers.”

Familiare illi fuit has quaestiones grammaticis proponere, ut dicerent singula animalia quomodo vocem emitterent, velut: agni balant, porcelli grunniunt, palumbes minurriunt, porci grunniunt, ursi saeviunt, leones rugiunt, leopardi rictant, elephanti barriunt, ranae coaxant, equi hinniunt, asini rudunt,1 tauri mugiunt, easque de veteribus adprobare.

It seems likely to me that Ancient Greek pigs said  γρῦ γρῦ


goggrusai: to make noise like a pig”

γογγρύσαι· ὡς χοῖρος φωνῆσαι

“The noise of a pig

γρύλλη· ὑῶν φωνή

Cf. Photius gogggruzein and grulizein: “swine sounds”

 Γογγρύζειν καὶ γρυλίζειν· ἡ τῶν ὑῶν φωνή. [cf. Zonaras]

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·

An ancient Greek toy pig (c. 4th century BCE?) on the auction block at Christies

Zonaras does not seem to agree completely, but he does have: “grullos, a pig”. Γρύλλος. ὁ χοῖρος

Later, he says, “gru: something brief. a chance. Some say it is the filth beneath a nail or a type of small measure.”

Γρῦ. τὸ βραχὺ, τὸ τυχόν. ἔνιοι δὲ τὸν ἀπὸ τῶν ὀνύχων ῥύπον ἢ εἶδος μικροῦ νομίσματος

Zenobius Sophista, 5.54

“Among Attic speakers gru is used to describe something small and accidental. For they call both the dirt under a fingernail gru and the bric-a-brac of a home grutaria. The man who sells the bric-a-brac is a grutopolos.”

     Εἴρηται δὲ καὶ παρὰ τοῖς ᾿Αττικοῖς τὸ γρῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ τοῦ τυχόντος. Καὶ γὰρ τὸν ἐν τοῖς ὄνυξι ῥύπον λέγουσι γρῦ, καὶ γρυτάρια τὰ κατὰ τὴν οἰκίαν λεπτὰ σκευάρια, καὶ γρυτοπώλην τὸν τὰ σκευάρια πωλοῦντα.

This and the Suda preserve the proverb “Dion’s Grunt”, for something small and incidental” Τὸ Δίωνος γρῦ, ἐπὶ τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ τυχόντος

Here’s Beekes on this

gru gru