Herodotus's Scythians and Ptolemy's Central Asia: Semasiological and Onomasiological Studies. By Helmut Humbach and Klaus Faiss. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2012. Pp. xii + 91.
Helmut Humbach (b. 1921) is not only one of the great names of Iranian studies; he is also a well-known specialist in the field of Ptolemaic geography. His first articles on the eastern place-names of Ptolemy appeared more than fifty years ago (e.g., "Ptolemaios-Studien," WZKS 5 : 68-74), and he has regularly returned to the subject since. The monograph of Italo Ronca (Ptolemy, Geographic 6, 9-21, pt. 1: Ostiran und Zentralasie. Centro Studi e Scavi Archeologici in Asia. Reports and Memoirs, vol. 15:1. Rome: IsMEO, 1971) is based on his dissertation (Mainz 1967) written under Humbach's supervision. In recent years Humbach has published several volumes on Ptolemy in collaboration with younger scholars (with Susanne Ziegler Ptolemy, Geography, Book 6. Middle East, Central and North Asia, China, vol. 1: Text and English/German Translations. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1998; with Klaus Faiss Ptolemy, Geography, Book 6. Middle East, Central and North Asia, China, vol. 2: Maps in Simplified Reconstruction, Notes and Indexes with a Supplement: NorthWest and West India. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2002). Also produced in collaboration with Klaus Faiss, the present volume also includes, besides Ptolemy's book six, the Herodotean material and many notes on other classical sources (e.g., Isidore of Charax). In fact, many details from Humbach's early studies are changed or corrected here.
The book deals with Iranian place-names and their history in classical Greek (and Latin) sources. In this way it can be put alongside the great project of Iranian onomastics initiated by the late, much lamented Manfred Mayrhofer (1926-2011), where Rudiger Schmitt has dealt with Greek sources.
The short preface does not discuss the methodology adopted in the work; instead the reader must discover it. Reading through the book shows that the authors want to offer all possible reasonable Iranian etymologies for further consideration. Not every one can, nor apparently should, be taken as more than a possibility. From other parts of the world we know that very many place-names defy all etymologies and that names for which ancient sources offer quite a different form may treacherously resemble words in a modern language. The same certainly holds true with ancient names.
Thus there are many cases...