The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Notes on Gavia and Mergvs in Latin Authors

W. G. Arnotta1

a1 University of Newcastle upon Tyne

There is a touch of foolhardiness in the attempts to establish a precise identification for the great majority of birds mentioned by the authors of classical antiquity. Only a small minority of the ancient references and descriptions contains features which are indisputably diagnostic, while a probably not much bigger minority of the Mediterranean avifauna possesses characteristics of appearance, behaviour, or voice that would have enabled an ordinary Greek or Roman immediately to distinguish a member of one species from absolutely all others, using the sole aids of his eyes, ears, and the largely inaccurate medley of lore handed down from one generation to the next. Thus any modern attempt to pin down the identity of this or that bird in an ancient author is fraught with many dangers and difficulties which must be recognized at the outset