18 Jun 2008

Etruscan araχ: a falcon, a hawk, both?

Ever since I've cracked the significance of the epithet of the goddess Vanth, Sal Aracuneta, I've been trying to do some research on the etymology of the underlying word *araχ. I noticed that both Larissa Bonfante and Massimo Pallottino were translating it liberally as either 'falcon' or 'hawk'. I figured out why.

The Greek word hierax (ἱέραξ) was equated with an Etruscan gloss, which was Hellenized in the text as arakos, by Hesychius. Since the word hierax can refer to a 'hawk', a 'falcon' or pretty much any bird of prey according to some, it's difficult to ascertain the limit of usage of this word in Etruscan. The apparent etymology gives us no clue either since if this is a native word, it would divide into ar 'to lift up' and -aχ, a derivational suffix with a patientive meaning. Presumably, the word would literally mean '(that which) is lifted up (by the wind)', which naturally could be descriptive of pretty much any bird. However, I noticed too that if you compare the Greek root hierak- with the Etruscan word, they are vaguely similar. They are even more similar, it seems, in the Doric dialect where we find hiarax (ἱάραξ) although the Perseus database entry tells us that this word which is found in Epaenet. ap. Ath.7.329a was referring to a type of fish rather than to the bird in question. Hmm.

Oh well. All in all, I think it's simpler to presume that the word is native and that the phonetic similarity between the Greek and Etruscan words is coincidental, but I still can't be sure whether it's a 'falcon' or a 'hawk'. Maybe it doesn't matter and I'm stressing out for nothing. It's a good stress though and that's the important thing.


  1. According to Hesychius's Lexicon of the 5th/6th century, the fish is named after the bird. Here's the entry:

    ἱάραξ· ἰχθὺς ποιός, Δωρικώτερον· διὰ τὸ ἐοικέναι τῷ πτηνῷ. καὶ λύχνος ὁ πρὸς τὰ ἱερά.

    This means, "iarax: a kind of fish, in Doric; on account of (its) resemblance to the winged (creature). Also a lantern(fish?) which is with the sacred (offerings)."

  2. Yes. I'm still hesitant about attributing the Etruscan word to the Greek word, simply because it requires me to assume a lot. That is, the initial /h-/ would have to be unheard by the Etruscans (which is indeed possible in light of the Greek borrowing Aita "Hades") and there would have to be an omission of the remaining initial semivowel /j-/ as would be typical of Etruscan (and Aegean) phonotactics. It sure is a tempting etymology though but it's messier than attributing it to the attested verb ar plus derivational -ax.