Amma

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Amma avis nocturna que strix dicitur grecum est.


Apparatus:

Amma B f | Amma est e | Ama AC | Mma H

strix ABC ef | stryx H

que ABC ef | que etiam H

grecum est ABCH | et est grecũ e | om. f


Translation:

Amma is a nocturnal bird, also called strix, which is Greek.


Commentary and Zoological identification:

This lemma is based on Isidore’s Etymologiae, 12, 7, 42, Oxford edition (1911) de avibus {"On birds"}: Strix nocturna avis …. Haec avis vulgo amma dicitur... - "Strix is a nocturnal bird … In folk-language this bird is called amma".

Latin amma is a word of the universal child-language, like "mum", and according to Walde & Hofmann (1930-56) it is a "scherzhaft-vulgäre Bezeichnung als 'Mutter, Säugerin’” {i.e. a "jocular-vulgar term – the bird being here depicted - as 'mother, (wet) nurse’”}.Cf. also German 'Amme', and Spanish/Portuguese 'ama'". As a bird-name it must reflect the myth that the bird suckles its young with milk, cf. Isidore op. cit.: Haec avis vulgo amma dicitur, ab amando parvulos; unde et lac praebere fertur nascentibus - "this bird is called amma, derived from amare {'loving'} its young because it is said to provide milk for its hatchlings", a story that even Pliny thought was a fabrication: volucrum vespertilioni tantum; fabulosum enim arbitror de strigibus ubera eas infantium labris inmulgere - "Only a bat {has milk} amongst the birds, but I judge it pure phantasy when they say that striges feed milk from their teats onto the lips of their young".

Greek στρίξ /stríx/ was adopted into Latin as strix. Its identification - according to Lewis and Short (1879) a "screech-owl" - is however uncertain due to the conflicting reports from different ancient authors concerning the bird’s features and habits. Latin writing authors describe strix as a nocturnal bird of bad omen that shrieks in the dark, strix/ trix being onomatopoeic, cf. Greek τρίζω /trízō/ "to utter a shrill cry". It is reputed to feed on the intestines of humans. Cf. Pliny op. cit.: esse in maledictis iam antiquis strigem convenit, sed quae sit avium constare non arbitror - "it was generally agreed even as far back as in times of old that strix was among the cursed creatures, but as to which particular bird it is I cannot say".

As for the zoological identification the discussion vacillates between it being an owl or a bat.

For more details cf. Arnott (2007: 328-9), s.v. Strix, Stlix, Striglos, Strinx, Trinx, ?Styx, Phix.

Wilf Gunther 04/09/13


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