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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Theodore Gaza's neologisms in -cilla/-cula and the role of sixteenth-century reference books in the formation of ornithological nomenclature

P. 794-818.

This article continues a series of papers on Latin bird names coined by
Theodore Gaza in his translation of Aristotle’s Historia animalium.
Varro explains the etymology of the bird name motacilla as follows:
“quod semper movet caudam” (LL 5, 76). Following this explanation,
Theodore Gaza, the author of the Latin translation of Aristotle’s Historia
animalium printed in 1476 and extremely authoritative in the sixteenth
century, inferred the existence of the word cilla ‘bird tail, rump’. Perhaps
he drew this idea from a medieval glossary. In any case, it was only for
rendering Greek bird names with the component ‘rump’ or ‘tail’ that he
coined neologisms in -cilla, namely πύγαργος (< πυγή+ἀργός, 618b9) —
albicilla, πυρρουράς (< πυρρός+οὐρά, 592b22) — rubicilla, φοινίκουρος
(< φοῖνιξ+οὐρά, 632b28–29) — ruticilla. At line 593b3, he rendered
πύγαργος with a different neologism, albicula, which is to be considered,
given the clear etymology of the Greek word, a compound formed from
cūlus ‘the posteriors, fundament’ rather than a diminutive. Therefore, the
word rubecula that Gaza coined translating the bird name ἐρίθακος should
be, apparently, interpreted as a similar formation, from ἐρυθρός ‘red’ and
θᾶκος ‘seat’.

The proposed etymology of these bird names sheds light upon Gaza’s
method of treating variant readings in the Greek text. It turns out that, at
least twice, he translated two variae lectiones of the same word and put
both in his Latin text, one after another. Certainly, this could be explained
by the presence of an incorporated gloss in one of Gaza’s Greek Vorlagen,
not attested in manuscripts extant today, but it could also indicate a
contaminative tendency in Gaza’s way of translating.
In the second part of the article, early modern reception of the
aforementioned Greek and Latin bird names is traced. Namely, it is shown
how William Turner’s 1544 Avium praecipuarum, quarum apud Plinium et
Aristotelem mentio est, brevis et succincta historia influenced the
formation of modern ornithological nomenclature. The studied cases show
that Turner’s identifications of Aristotle’s bird names with contemporary
vernacular ones defined the fate of the Greek words and their Neo-Latin
equivalents. Together with the 1555 ornithological volume of Conrad
Gessner’s Historia animalium where those identifications were taken over,
Turner’s book launched the process of reassigning meanings, a process
crucial for the establishment of modern animal nomenclature.