More Pliny's "Guthalvs"

From: x99lynx@...
Message: 15869
Date: 2002-10-02

Piotr wrote:
<<I have no trouble whatsoever with a derivation that's consistent with the
known and independently established historical changes. Otherwise there
is trouble indeed. You can't derive ON elfr or Swedish älv from PGmc. *alw-
(Lat. alv-), but they derive regularly from *albiz without the slightest

But the changes at the time of ON elfr or Swedish a:lv are not what we are
talking about. Conceding for the moment *albiz was the proto-word, we see
the -iz dropped in both ON and Swedish.

So the question becomes what might have happened between the time of *albiz,
and the much later time of elfr and a:lv, in any languages or dialects of the
region. Is it possible that *albiz developed into -alw or -alws in any
dialect or language in that region between proto-times and the 13th Century?

There's really no DIRECT evidence at all for that time period.
Reconstructions based on two languages and a continental European river don't
support such forms. But quite honestly they don't eleiminate them either.

So naturally if we see a river name that might be read as containing -alvs,
we are historically entitled to consider this connection. Just as
importantly, Guthalvs is reported by a Latin writer with no apparent first
hand experience with the name. So an approximation of alvs or alv -- which
might include albs or elb or elf -- is good enough for us to consider
connecting the river name and a word for a river.

The sound laws may not support this, but there is too large a time and space
gap in the linguistic analysis for it to eliminate this possibility. And the
very uncertainty of Pliny as a source also probably means we can never be
sure the word was transmitted correctly.

Piotr also wrote:
<<I'm not defending Pliny's general credibility but just this particular
piece of geography. His sources seem to have been quite reliable here. By
"clari" he meant "distinguished", i.e. major rivers. As for such rivers,
the only surprising omission between the Vistula and the Rhine seems to be t
he Oder, but if George is right and Guthalus IS the Oder, then the list is
complete. No other name is garbled, so why should Guthalus be an exception?>>

What is actually odd about Guthalvs is that nobody else mentions it. If
Guthalvs was such a famous river, why did no one else mention it?

Pliny couldn't have garbled the Rhine or the Elbe, because those rivers were
all in Latin writing well before his time. And it is very possible that
Pliny is the source of the name of the Vistula -- did any one give the name
before him? So maybe, even if he did garble it, it became the name of the

The real problem here is why Guthalvs did not become the name of a river.
There are many possibilities, but here are two. Ptolemy did not use the name
so it was trash canned (except by Solinus) or later writers and redacting
scribes just did not know where to locate it and it was trash canned.

Pliny is not talking about whole rivers but about their emptying into the
"Ocean". Since I didn't get any kind of coherent answer to my suggestion
that Pliny's list is a mariner's list, I think it is easily the best approach
to understanding Pliny's list. The Oder's mouth may not have been important
and so its omission should NOT be surprising.

The Oder would still be a candidate (as Ptolemy's [Gut] Chalusus), but its
mouth may not have been important to those who came to the Baltic by sea.
There may have been better candidates when we take this approach. And the
modern Go:ta A:lv is certainly one of the best candidates for a by-sea
approach - also showing a striking similarity to the old name -- certainly
more similiar to Guthalvs than "Oder." Landlocked continental scribes, being
perhaps unaware of the Go:ta A:lv in heathen lands, but knowing that
the"Guthalus" was not the Oder, simply discontinued using the name.

Steve Long