It is well known that the way animals "speak" is amusingly different in different languages. (See lion below.) This makes it hard to guess what kinds of words the Romans would have put in the mouths of various animals. Are there attested animal sounds in classical Latin literature?

I am interested in all animals, but if you think this is too broad (if numerous animal sounds are known and scattered all over the extant literature), I can narrow it down.

Notice that I am not looking for verbs corresponding to animal sounds (barking, hissing, roaring and so on), but for "direct quotes from animals". A collection of relevant verbs can be found here, and online dictionaries can probably be used to compile more thorough ones.

Lion roaring in various languages.

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    @Rafael, the same happens in every language I guess. That is why I wanted to make it clear that I'm looking for the actual animal sounds (like mur, grr and räyh for a lion in Finnish) instead of verbs.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 13:27
  • Norwegian: Brøl! (or if you like: Brøøøl!). It's also the verb: "Løven brøler." (The lion roars) Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 23:28
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    On pages 3 and 4 (= folio 2) of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus by Comenius, he gives sounds for animals that appear to be Latin (because the English sounds that we know are quite different), though not classical. Unless they're Czech. archive.org/stream/johamoscommeniio00come#page/2/mode/2up
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


Unfortunately, the verbs have survived much better in writing than the actual onomatopoeia. A few of these are fairly clearly based on the sound: baubor "bark", hinnio "whinny", ululo "howl" (and ulula "owl"), mugio "moo", crocio "croak". See Suetonius, De Naturis Animantium for a long list of these.

As far as directly transcribing animal sounds, only a few examples are listed in the dictionaries I've found:

  • cocococo — rooster crowing
  • bee — sheep bleating
  • hinni — horse whinnying (also listed here) debatable

A few more for Greek are listed in the LSJ:

These were likely similar between Latin and Greek, but I can't find solid evidence of them being used in Latin.

There is also the famous brekekekèx koàx koáx from Aristophanes' Frogs (translations), which is still occasionally used in English nowadays. But I've only heard it as a reference to the Frogs, not because it sounds much like an actual frog.

  • Would you mind giving a better idea of the sources you use for this? Definitely sounds plausible.
    – brianpck
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 16:45
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    Is it true that βῆ was the only/main clue to tell which e (eta, epsilon) was long and short in classic Greek?
    – Rafael
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 17:19
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    @Rafael I haven't heard that one; I believe the pronunciations were guessed at first based on poetic meters and Attic vowel contractions (ε+ε=ει, ε+α=η). However, βῆ was important in tracing the history of β: in later Greek beta was (and is) pronounced more like English "v", but Aristophanes uses βῆ βῆ extensively for the sound of sheep. So we know that when Aristophanes' plays were being transcribed, β was more like a "b" than a "v".
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 17:27
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    Came just for Βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ and was not disappointed.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 17:05
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    Da hell! brekekeke is what a frog says when it speaks Czech! I had no idea our frogs learnt it in Greece! Now, my life is complete.
    – Eleshar
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 10:41

Three examples I have just now come across (edit make that four examples - see "owl" below):


Lucius, having been turned into a donkey tries to draw attention to his plight, by calling upon the name of Caesar:

Et “O” quidem tantum disertum ac validum clamitavi, reliquum autem Caesaris nomen enuntiare non potui.

And indeed I shouted “O” by itself eloquently and vigorously, but I could not pronounce the rest of Caesar’s name.

Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 3.29

Later (7.3), wanting to clear his name for some crime committed while still a human, he tries to call out again:

... volui dicere: “Non feci.” Et verbum quidem praecedens semel ac saepius immodice clamitavi, sequens vero nullo pacto disserere potui, sed in prima remansi voce et identidem boavi “Non non” ...

I wanted to say: "I didn't do it." And although I shouted the first word over and over again, without restraint, I simply could not pronounce the second word, but I was stuck on that first word and brayed again and again, “Non . . . non . . ."

Which I can't help pronouncing the French, nasally way, to imitate what I (an English speaker) think a donkey sounds like.


... cum dicit - ‘r’; non multum est hoc cacosyntheton atque canina si lingua dico; nihil ad me; nomen enim illi est.

... when he says - "r"; it does not make much difference if I speak this in an incorrect connection of words and in dog-language; it's nothing to me; because that's its name.

Lucilius, Satires, 9:389–9

To be honest, I'm not sure what this is about but clearly "rrrrr" sounds like a dog to the writer (an angry one, I imagine!).


Varro gives the following onomatopoeic etymology for the "night owl", noctua:

quod noctu canit et vigilat

because it sings 'noctu' ('at night') and stays up overnight

On the Latin Language, 5.11.76

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