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The mystery of melba

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Old Saturday 7th March 2015, 09:51   #1
Calalp
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The mystery of melba

Here´s a thread on a name that has remained unexplained for decades … so why not give it a go!

melba
● in the (African species!) Green-winged Pytilia Pytilia melba LINNAEUS 1758 (OD, here) as "Fringilla Melba" [claimed "Habitat in China" (from China), based on Edwards, who claimed it from Brazil!? Also note this link, regarding today's Pytilia melba citerior STRICKLAND 1853]
● and in the (Eurasian species) Alpine Swift (Apus) Tachymarptis melba LINNAEUS 1758 (OD, here) as "Hirundo Melba" ["Habitat ad fretum Herculeum" … from Gibraltar]

Today the HBW Alive Key gives us the following:
Quote:
melba
● No expl. (Linnaeus 1758); perhaps from a supposed Chinese word or place; ex “Carduelis affinis viridis. Green Goldfinch” of Edwards 1750 (Pytilia).
● No expl. (Linnaeus 1758); ex “Hirundo riparia maxima. Greatest Martin or Swift” of Edwards 1751. Coomans de Ruiter et al. 1947, write, “Melber is een Z.-Duitsch woord voor meel-handelaar, hetgeen te denken geeft, als men weet, dat de Huiszwaluw [Delichon] in Duitschland Mehlschwalbe heet.” Macleod 1954, mentions “Melba” as an Old German name for a gull Larus referred to in Albertus Magnus (De Avibus, 1478). I am unable to locate this name in Albertus Magnus, although there may be a tenuous connection between the Alpine Swift (long thought to be a kind of swallow Hirundo) and a gull (related to the terns or sea swallows Sterna). Eigenhuis & Swaab 1992, posit that ‘melba’ might be a short form for ‘melanoalba’ or ‘melalba’ (Gr. μελας melas, μελανος melanos black; L. albus, white). Linnaeus certainly referred to these two colours in his diagnosis (as he did also re Pytilia), but he tended not to be prone to such playful fancies (Tachymarptis).
Well, I cannot offer any better explanations [I did try to link them both to Mälby (somethimes written Maelby or Melby) and Sparrman's Museum Carlsonianum, but found nothing indicating either bird was found there, although they might have been present in those collections (!?), many specimens has since been lost or destroyed], however I noted that this Swift was later called "Cypselus melbus" (as here) or C. "Melbus" by Vieillot … the melbus is not listed in the HBW Alive Key!

This version is (for example) also used in the Wasp (Opius) Utetes "melbus" PAPP 1878 [syn. U. aemulus HALIDAY1837] and in the Fossil Crinoid (Sea Lily) Synbathocrinus melba STRIMPLE 1938, that was later changed to melbus!?) Why the latter was changed I do not know, but the change itself points at some sort of understanding, doesn´t it?

Without having the faintest idea of either meaning… maybe melbus can help interpret the obscure melba?

Just a thought!

Björn

PS. If a useless thread; if nothing else, at least yet another entry for James!
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Old Saturday 7th March 2015, 22:25   #2
l_raty
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Just trying to expand the sources a bit:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Calalp View Post
● in the (African species!) Green-winged Pytilia Pytilia melba LINNAEUS 1758 (OD, here) as "Fringilla Melba" [claimed "Habitat in China" (from China), based on Edwards, who claimed it from Brazil!?
"Melba. 10. F. facie caudaque rubris, abdomine albo nigroque undato, dorso viridi.
Cardueli affinis viridis Edw. av. 128. t. 128.
Habitat in China."

Diagnosis translation: "Finch, with red face and tail, white and black-barred belly, green back."

Edwards: page 128; plate 128; the Latin name cited by Linnaeus is taken from [here].
Edwards only saw this bird as a stuffed specimen, and did not know where it came from. But he illustrated it on a plate, together with a butterfly from China, which is presumably what led to the mistaken type locality given by Linneaus.
(Very much secondary, but note dative "Cardueli", not genitive "Carduelis", in both Edwards' original work and Linnaeus' citation: "a green relative to the Goldfinch"; both would have been acceptable grammatically, though.)

Quote:
● and in the (Eurasian species) Alpine Swift (Apus) Tachymarptis melba LINNAEUS 1758 (OD, here) as "Hirundo Melba" ["Habitat ad fretum Herculeum" … from Gibraltar]
"Melba. 8. H. fusca, gula abdomineque albis.
Hirundo riparia maxima. Edw. av. 27. t. 27. Klein. av. 83.
Habitat ad fretum Herculeum."

Diagnosis translation: "Swallow, dark-brown, with white throat and belly." (Nothing black here. Same thing in the cited references, by the way: only the bird's bill and toes are black.)
"fretus Herculeus" = the Herculean strait; indeed Gibraltar.

Edwards: page 27; plate 27; the Latin name cited by Linnaeus is taken from [here].
Klein: page 83.


I've no idea what the meaning is either, but I suspect that the explanation should be the same for both Melbae. (Thus, a Chinese locality in the first case, and an indirect reference to a German vernacular name of the House Martin in the second, seem unlikely to me--neither can be extended to the other case. The problem is that these two birds seem to have really little in common.) Linnaeus capitalized the word, which in his work usually indicates a noun, not an adjective: this makes the "contracted melanoalba" hypothesis still less likely. Besides, I doubt that Linnaeus would have regarded a mixed Greek and Latin derivation as even remotely acceptable. (In any case, he definitely rejected such "hybrid" words as unacceptable for plant genera in his Philosophia botanica.)


PS - Shouldn't Albertus Magnus' opus be "De Animalibus"? (The 1495 Venice edition is everywhere on the Web, eg. [here], [here], [here]; I can't find the 1478 Rome edition.)

Last edited by l_raty : Sunday 8th March 2015 at 12:00.
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Old Sunday 8th March 2015, 00:39   #3
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The 1478 Romae, de Luca, edition of opus de animalibus is rare. (No copy in British Museum or Bodleian) You might look for the 1479 Mantuae Butschbach edition?
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Old Sunday 8th March 2015, 20:02   #4
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On the internet the (cat, baby) name Melba is supposed to be Greek for slender and soft. But Malakos μαλακός does not seem close. Some of these lists says Melba is Latin for mallow flower. The Latin name milva genus of Mallow sounds similar. The two birds are not mauve. Just guessing now.
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Old Monday 9th March 2015, 12:57   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calalp View Post
based on Edwards, who claimed it from Brazil!?
Quote:
Originally Posted by l_raty View Post
Edwards only saw this bird as a stuffed specimen, and did not know where it came from. But he illustrated it on a plate, together with a butterfly from China, which is presumably what led to the mistaken type locality given by Linneaus.
Well, this was not a fully complete account.

As I noted above, Edwards originally had no idea of the origin of this bird, and this is what he explained on p. 128 of his work, which is what Linnaeus cited. However, in the introduction of the same volume (which was obviously published at a later date), he offered an "Addition to Page 128" [here], where he claimed that he had now seen another bird of the same species, this one alive, and (as Björn noted above) that it came from Brazil, having reached England via Lisbon. Presumably Lisbon was correct, but this bird actually came from a Portuguese colony in Africa, rather than one in South America.

Incidentally: In this addition, Edwards described the new live bird as differing slightly from the first one, i.a. in having the belly yellowish green with thin white bars (white with dusky bars in the first bird), and the shoulder or ridge of wing green but inclining to red (yellowish green in the first bird). He suggested that the new bird was a male, and the original one a female, but this was wrong: both birds had a red face, hence they were both males... What the descriptions suggest, is that they were actually not of the same species: the original one was a Green-winged Pytilia, Pytilia melba (Linnaeus, 1758); the new one must have been an Orange-winged Pytilia, P. afra (Gmelin, 1789).

(But I still cannot help on the main subject of this thread....)

---

Edit: I just now note that the "new" bird is the same individual as illustrated on Edwards' plate 272, which Strickland 1853 named Pytelia citerior...!? (Strickland description fit what is now called citerior, but Edwards' plate does not, and indeed shows reddish wings that are absent in all races of melba.)

Last edited by l_raty : Monday 9th March 2015 at 17:48.
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Old Tuesday 10th March 2015, 09:46   #6
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Thanks guys!

Well, I don´t think we can get any further.

Like so many before us we´re stuck.

The melba's will remain a mystery.

But it was sure worth a try!

Melba ... over and out!
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Old Tuesday 10th March 2015, 17:35   #7
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Before we are out, I just want to mention that the war of Spanish Succession and the Treaty of Utrecht had a hand in Hirundo Melba at least. George Edwards received his Greatest Martin from Mark Catesby's brother who was stationed at Gibraltar. And Linne got information about this swift from Rector John White brother of Gilbert White of Selborne. John White was rector for the British in Gibraltar. Also melba meaning soft and slender cannot have anything to do with Melba because Linne's Melba is a noun.
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Old Tuesday 10th March 2015, 20:55   #8
Calalp
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mb1848 View Post
Before we are out, ....
I didn´t mean to shut down this thread once and for all, any addition to this mystery is warmly welcomed, so please continue ... the only one out is me (I´ve tried it to my limits, and cannot find anything more).

Hopefully someone else can do better.

Good luck & Go for it!
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Old Tuesday 10th March 2015, 23:15   #9
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According to Google Books there is an article on this very topic in Dutch Birding vol 13-14 page 100. Not sure what it says but it may help.

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Old Tuesday 10th March 2015, 23:31   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PScofield View Post
According to Google Books there is an article on this very topic in Dutch Birding vol 13-14 page 100. ...
That´s the "Eigenhuis & Swaab 1992" covered in James Jobling's original post quoted in post No. 1.

But thanks anyway!
x

Last edited by Calalp : Tuesday 10th March 2015 at 23:42.
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Old Wednesday 11th March 2015, 07:21   #11
l_raty
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calalp View Post
That´s the "Eigenhuis & Swaab 1992"
I had just been asked by a non-member to mention this as well, but had no occasion to do it yet.
Eigenhuis & Swaab 1992 can be read [here] (p. 100, as written above--"34" of this issue on Issuu).
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Old Sunday 17th February 2019, 09:33   #12
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Albertus Magnus's (or possibly even Conrad Gesner/Gessner's) "melba"

Let´s return to this old topic, to the Origin of the Linnaean, and the even older, far pre-Linnaean name melba, as in "Hirundo Melba" [today's Alpine Swift (Apus) Tachymarptis melba LINNAEUS 1758 (OD, in post #1)] ...
Quote:
Originally Posted by l_raty View Post
... I can't find the 1478 Rome edition.)
Quote:
Originally Posted by mb1848 View Post
The 1478 Romae, de Luca, edition of opus de animalibus is rare. (No copy in British Museum or Bodleian) You might look for the 1479 Mantuae Butschbach edition?
Albertus Magnus's incunable De animalibus (Éd. par Fernandus Cordubensis), Roma, S. Cardella, 1478, is now found in Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, here. However, no melba (alt. "Melba") found in it. It could very well be in there, but I didn´t manage to find it (though I only scrolled through it, for an hour or so, simply looking, glaring, glancing ... not knowing Latin).

Either way, the Macleod, 1954, reference; "1478" as quoted in post #1, [since then altered in the HBW Alive Key; into "1479", which ought to be; the Paulus de Butzbach edition, Mantua (12 Jan. 1479)] is still waiting, for anyone keen, or keener, to be read here (however, as far as I can tell, not digitized in full) .

Apparently, at least according to the latter link, also found in the Bodleian collection.

"De animalibus, libri XXVI : nach der Cölner Urschrift" (from 1916-1920) is accessible online, here.

Also maybe worth a remark is Alexander Koenig's (1919) footnote here:
Quote:
Der Name melba ist barbarischen Ursprungs und soll von Albertus Magnus aus dem deutschen „Mew" gebildet sein. Gesner in de avibus schreibt: „Larus est avis marina, quam nos melbam vocamus".
Die Begriffe „Möwe" und „Melba" sind hier allerdings unbegreiflich zusammengebracht.
What does melbam mean? Or is this name simply incomprehensible (unbegreiflich)?

A similar sentence, like the quoted words by Gesner (alt. Gessner), is also found in Albertus Magnus's DE ANIMALIBUS ... here (an incunable/edition, from ... ?). If there written in the relevant context is even more unbegreiflich to me.

Also compare with the Index in Conrad Gesner's Historiae animalium, 1555 (here) and his; "melba pro laro" (p.562) and "melba magna" (p.566) ... which also deals with the etymology (Etymologo) of various Laridae (!),on pp. 560-562! Note the very last sentence on p.562, transcribed as "Laros est avis alba marina quam nos melbam (mevuam) vocamus, Albertus", here, from here (to me looking more like; "melbam (meuuam) uocamus" ...?)

Well, that´s it. I'm done. That´s as far as I can reach. I don´t know if we got any closer to/in understanding melba, but hopefully the above could give some tiny clues (to the Latin scholars, that is).

Either way; enjoy!

Björn
--

Last edited by Calalp : Sunday 17th February 2019 at 09:36. Reason: typo
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Old Sunday 17th February 2019, 09:45   #13
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Anything related to this?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peach_Melba
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Old Sunday 17th February 2019, 10:49   #14
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Björn, many thanks for locating Albertus Magnus' melba, the origin of Linnaeus's Tachymarptis binomen. I have adjusted the Key accordingly.
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Old Friday 22nd February 2019, 18:23   #15
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Nope. The dessert was named for the singer Nellie Melba (and so was the toast, and the sauce, and a chicken dish), who chose that stage name around 1884, long after the birds we're discussing were named.

The stage name was in honor of the city of Melbourne, Australia, which she considered her home town. The town does not seem likely a likely source of these birds' names (for one thing, it was founded in 1835), and neither does the original Melbourne, in England (though it's more than old enough).

The Australian city was actually named for a Viscount, so only indirectly in honor of the English town mentioned in his title, but still no connection to birds there.
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Old Saturday 16th March 2019, 15:20   #16
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Regardless of "nutcrackers" culinary (crackpot) side-track (in all likelihood jocular, as it's way, way off what´s conceivable), let's return to a more reasonable approach in trying to solve the riddle of the two bids named melba (alt. "Melba") ...
Quote:
Originally Posted by James Jobling View Post
Björn, many thanks for locating Albertus Magnus' melba, the origin of Linnaeus's Tachymarptis binomen. I have adjusted the Key accordingly.
Glad you found my finding useful, James!

But, ... just curious; what does the Latin melbam mean in those sentences by Albertus Magnus (or the dittos by Ges/sner)? Does it simply say that these birds was called melba in those days? Is that the proper understanding of; "... melbam vocamus" alt.; " ... nos melbam (meuvam) vocamus."

Anyone who understand Latin feel like explaining melba/melbum? Or the context of it?

Björn
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Old Saturday 16th March 2019, 23:42   #17
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melbam here would be the accusative of melba. In Latin when you say you call [this thing] [that name], both the thing and the name are interpreted as the object of the sentence, thus accusative is in principle used for both.
Larus est avis alba marina quam nos melbam vocamus.
Larus (the gull) is a/the white seabird that we call 'melba'.
The homologous text in the 1478 version (from your link above, p.296; second column, first sentence with its start marked in blue) has 'menuam' instead of 'melbam' or 'meuuam'.
In the very last sentence of the page from Gesner that you linked, this is further corrupted to 'meba':
Et talis est (addit Albertus de suo) auis quae meba Germanice vocatur.
And such is (adds Albertus from his part) the bird that is called meba in German.
'Melba' here is probably a corruption (which may have originated in a bad retranscription by someone who did not know the word) of 'meuua'/'mewa', itself a Latinization of Mew.


(Re. the use of v/u: all these texts date from a time before the distinction between these two letters became established. There was then only one letter, written 'V' in upper case, and 'u' is lower case, except (but not always) at the start of words, where 'v' was used. The absence of distinction persisted later in Latin texts than in living languages (in Latin, well into the 18th C; thus some texts in the very early times of Linnaean nomenclature still fail to distinguish between the two letters); but, in the 16th C, this was generalized -- i.e., English used the same conventions, see for ex. https://books.google.com/books?id=ax36vm1CW08C&pg=PA371 . It is frequent, in modern transcriptions of such texts, to make the distinction that is made today -- that is, use 'v' where the letter acts as a consonant, and 'u' where it acts as a vowel.)
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Old Sunday 17th March 2019, 09:02   #18
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Thanks Laurent, for yet another excellent explanation.

It confirmed how I interpred it (more like what I assumed/guessed it meant) ...

The Gull (Mew) [or even Tern, "Sea Swallow"] reason will be pretty hard to shoehorn in on the Pytilia ...

I'll give the latter one a second try later on, whenever time allows it.

For now; over and out!
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