Re: Pliny's "Guthalvs"

From: tgpedersen
Message: 15843
Date: 2002-10-01

--- In cybalist@..., x99lynx@... wrote:
> Piotr also wrote:
> <<Don't underestimate Pliny. The names that _can_ be verified
(those of the
> Elbe, the Vistula, the Weser, the Maas or the Rhein) were
transmitted very
> faithfully.>>
> Pliny is generally horrendous and naturalists and geographers have
> correcting him for the last 400 years. Getting the rivers west of
the Elbe
> right would be no big trick, nothing impressive at all. After all,
Pliny is
> writing after Caesar and Drusus as well as works of many
geographers we no
> longer have.
> As far as Pliny's list goes, he doesn't say much new and he's left
a lot of
> rivers out. Perhaps he was limiting his list to "clari" (clear?)
rivers as
> he says, but what is that supposed to mean? Is it a nautical
term? Did he
> even understand what he was describing with "clari?" Thia all also
> suggest he was reading from a list and not a map and had only the
> idea where these rivers were that "flowed into the Ocean." There's
is nothing
> in Pliny that tells us that Vistula or Guthalvs was anything but a
> piece of hearsay, perhaps many times removed and poorly transmitted.
> Piotr also wrote:
> <<Dear Steve, Pliny Latinised all those rivernames. <-us>, <-is>
and <-a> are
> _Latin_ endings, equivalent (roughly) to Germanic *-az (the usual
ending of
> Germanic masculines), *-iz and *-o: (strong feminine declension).>>
> I'm beginning to suspect that this may be wrong too. Pliny
probably never
> heard the words in the original and probably was reading most of
his sources
> - so the words were already "latinized" or otherwise bastardized
long before
> he got to them. What may actually have happened was that medieval
clerics --
> working to figure out how medieval Germanics fit in the writings of
> authorities like Pliny -- Germanized or otherwise "corrected" Latin
names and
> then attached them to whatever they seemed to fit or whomever they
> working for. It's not impossible that the Vistula is a Latin
corruption of a
> misread local name that became the official name for the river
because it
> appeared in Latin. In preliterate times there were probably many
> local names for the Vistula and perhaps even more than one river
that was
> called the Vistula. But as I pointed out above,
Pliny's "latinizing" did not
> necessarily have anything to do with "Guthalvs."
> Steve Long

Your idea of the relationship between "clerics" and the native
population of the Germanic-speaking areas, calqued on the
relationship between European settlers and native Americans, is
wrong. For one thing, the Germanic-speakers survived and couldn't
care less what what some cleric trhought their rivers should be
called. The struggle between church and state, really a power
struggle between Romance and native forces (in England the Thomas
Beckett affair) had exact parallels in at least Germany (Canossa) and
As for Pliny's knowledge of the pronunciation of Germanic, all he'd
have to do was ask a house slave.
As for the Göta Älv opening to a large navigable basin including Lake
Vänern: Göta Älv was not navigable past the falls at Trollhättan
until locks were built in connection with the construction of the
Göta Canal in the early 19th century.

You might as well have argued for the Guden å on the Jutland side,
navigable on a stretch of similar length.