Song of the Nightingale
Member Since May 16, 1999
417 Images, Last upload Feb 19, 2015
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Nightingales are named so because they frequently sing at night as well as during the day. The name has been used for well over 1,000 years, being highly recognizable even in its Anglo-Saxon form - 'nihtingale'. It means 'night songstress'. Early writers assumed the female sang when it is in fact the male. The song is loud, with an impressive range of whistles, trills and gurgles. Its song is particularly noticeable at night because few other birds are singing. This is why its name includes "night" in several languages.
Only unpaired males sing regularly at night, and nocturnal song is likely to serve attracting a mate. Singing at dawn, during the hour before sunrise, is assumed to be important in defending the bird's territory. Nightingales sing even more loudly in urban or near-urban environments, in order to overcome the background noise. The most characteristic feature of the song is a loud whistling crescendo.
Common Nightingales are found throughout Eurasia; they are a migratory species breeding in the forests in Europe and Asia. It winters in southern Africa as far as Uganda and summers as far as Southern England.
In Greek mythology, Aedon, daughter of Pandareus, was the wife of Zethus. The pair had one daughter, Itylus. Aedon accidentally killed her and was stricken with grief and guilt. In pity, the gods turned her into a nightingale, which cries with sadness every night. Alternatively, she was the queen of Thebes, who attempted to kill the son of her rival, Niobe, also her sister-in-law, and accidentally killed her own daughter instead and so the gods again changed her into a nightingale.
Homer evokes the Nightingale in the Odyssey, suggesting the myth of Philomela and Procne (one of whom, depending on the myth's version, is turned into a nightingale.). This myth is the focus of Sophocles' tragedy, Tereus.
Ovid in his 'Metamorphoses', includes the most popular version of this myth, imitated and altered by later poets, including Chrétien de Troyes, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and George Gascoigne. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land also evokes the Nightingale's song (and the myth of Philomela and Procne). Because of the violence associated with the myth, the nightingale's song was long interpreted as a lament.
The beauty of the nightingale's song is also the theme in Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Nightingale" from 1843.
Model credits: Stonemason's Village Courtyard with Dreamlight's VC lights, M4, V4 and of course, my Nightingale from "Songbird Remix Birds of Legend"
- November 15, 2010
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