Magonia #5: What’s In A Name? June 8, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback
One significant part of the Magonia puzzle that Beach has not yet troubled with is the name. Surely there should be a clue in those four syllables as to what Magonia really was? Well, there have been, suitably enough, four theories that have been put forward, over the years, to explain what the word ‘Magonia’ means.
Look to the West! The first suggestion offers up a Celtic etymology, which is just (perhaps?) within the bounds of reason in ninth-century Gaul. According to this theory Magonia is the land of Magounos or the Celtic god of the sky. The only problem with this theory is that there is not much evidence for said god – a German statue is about it – which would be equated, by a very unlikely etymology, with the British god, Mapponus (Mabinogi etc).
Look to the South! Magonia was the Latin term for Port-Mahon in Minorca in the warm Mediterranean. Is it possible that the sky Magonia was then just a transposition of sea Magonia. A marvelous place where lots of oranges grew? Well, of course, anything is possible….
Look in your Latin dictionaries: The obvious etymology for Magonia (and the one that occurred to this blogger as soon as he saw the word) is that it derives from magus or magician. Magonia would, travelling down this road, be something like Magic Land or even the Great Magic Land.
Look at Agobard: If we accept that Magonia is, indeed, Magic Land then there is another possibility. What if Agobard just coined the name there and then, in his sermon or later while writing up his sermon as in ‘they come from a magic land’ or even ‘they come from Great Magic Land’. There was presumably a name for Magonia in popular tradition, but Agobard chose not to dignify a place which he hated with a proper name.
So what is the correct answer? Well, the easy answer is the third, Magus > Magonia, both in terms of etymology and in terms of meaning: after all this place really was a magic land and everything we know about it connects it to the magic of folklore. The awkward bugger answer is Agobard, of course: it certainly has the potential to piss off a lot of bearded philologists. And if you want to spend a long time trawling through Germanic and Celtic and Indo-European monographs from the late nineteenth century then perhaps a Celtic sky god or a Catalan port or, why not, a rare Germanic word meaning ‘hail’. Beach made the last one up, but somewhere, someone will have suggested it via a Danish dialect noun that was only ever recorded by a drunk pastor on an island whose name does not appear on any map.
Other Magonias? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
30 June 2013: Doug writes: Intriguing bit there on the origin of the word “Magonia.” A couple of other possibilities: the “Orbis Latinus” gives “Magontia” as one of the names for Mainz [[Tacitus also made this point]]. Also, “Magona” is an old Italian word (I don’t know how old) for an ironworks, and figuratively, “a place of great abundance” — probably derived from “mago,” according to my dictionary.’ Thanks Doug and Tacitus, love the idea of Magonia being German Mainz!!!