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Ethea vel ethya grece mergus avis et cetera.


ethya AC | ethia B efjp
grece | grcee C {misprint}
mergus | ĩ grecus j
et cetera om. B efjp


Ethea or ethya is Greek for Latin mergus, a certain bird, etc.


Greek αἴθυια /aíthyia/ "diving-bird, probably shearwater" (LSJ). Two late Greek sound changes apply: αι /ai/ > ε /e/ and υ (/y/ French 'u', German 'ü') > ι /i/, which changes the pronunciation to /*éthiia > éthia/. Also Robert (1922) mentions a variant used in some codices: αἴθυα /aíthya/, which could well have been the one Simon saw, leading also to the pronunciation /éthia/. The use of the letter "y" in ethya by witnesses A and C is purely graphic, since "y" and "i"' were used interchangeably at that time and thus does not necessarily reflect a closer knowledge of the etymology of the word. The unstressed end-syllables –ea and –ia became interchangeable in late Latin, which explains the variant forms Simon offers.

Robert (1922: 73), connects the name αἴθυια /aíthyia/ with αἴθω /aíthō/ "to burn" and αἴθων /aíthōn/ "fiery, burning; of colour red-brown, tawny" (LSJ), for which Robert gives a semantically slightly wider translation: "qui a la couleur du feu, rouge, sombre, foncé, brun, noir" {i.e. "which has the colour of fire, red, dull, dark, brown and black"}.

Ornithological identification:

This bird αἴθυια /aíthyia/ is already mentioned in the Odyssey (5.337) and was described by Aristotle HA542b17). It is a seabird, clearly depicted as a diver, about which some information can be gathered from a variety of authors. But the problem is that the Greeks and Romans did not sharply distinguish the seabirds they observed and therefore αἴθυια /aíthyia/ cannot be definitely identified. It is traditionally translated into Latin as mergus, mergulus, a bird with similar identification problems.

Gulls and shearwaters are mentioned by some, cf. LSJ "probably a shearwater", an identification G. Arnott (2007: 7), s.v. Aithyia dismisses because "Gulls and Shearwaters, however, do not dive under the waves", but gulls arguably and shearwaters certainly are diving birds, too, with certain shearwater species reaching exceptional depths. Instead Arnott suggests as possible candidates Phalacrocorax aristotelis L., the "European shag" [[1]], with a metallic green-tinged sheen on the feathers or Phalacrocorax carbo L., the "great or black cormorant" [[2]]. The relatively drab colours of these latter two birds could still be subsumed under αἴθω /aíthō/ "to burn" and αἴθων /aíthōn/ "fiery" in their wider meanings, see above.

For further reading see Arnott (2007).

WilfGunther 11/11/2013

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