I didn’t choose quail just because nothing else came to my mind for the letter q, but also because quails have a fairly interesting role mythically. First, I would like to make an observation that one when it comes to rustic imagery the images I find the most plentiful are those of quail (along with those of hunting dogs, ducks, pheasants, and deer). As a bird that is often hunted, this is perhaps not a huge surprise. Though I do find it interesting that, as theoi.com indicates, from the writing of Servius, that Delos was called Ortygia (from ortux which means quail) because Leto arrived on the island in the form of a quail. This of course parallels another myth in which Leto’s sister Asteria, transformed into a quail, and thus plunging into the sea, to escape the affections of Zeus. In both cases we have something of a hunting theme going on….in the case of Leto, Zeus transforms her into such a creature as she is hunted, so to speak, by Hera. In the case of Asteria, she becomes a quail herself, to flee from the pursuit of Zeus. In the case of Asteria, the starry, it is not unlikely that the quail is also related to her due to its speckled breast in a fashion not unlike the relating of the speckled breast of the falcon to Heru-wer in Egyptian mythology as being like stars.
The book, Zoological Mythology by Angelo De Gubernatis, also has a fastincating section devoted the representation of the lark and the quail in mythology, which he aligns with the summer sun and moon (which seems quite appropriate for the quail in some instance to be associated with Leto, the mother of Apollon and Artemis,who have numerous festivals from spring to autumn in common with the spring arrival of the quail and his absence in the autumn which certainly aligns with the Hyperborean cycle of Apollon, the son of Leto). Though the author begins with vedic myth associating the quail with the sun, he then proceeds with a fairly lengthy discussion of the quail in Hellenic and Roman myth. He gives as an example of Roman thought, that because the moon takes sleep away from the quail, and the quail thus cries out and becomes excited and aggitated with the rise of the moon, that the quail was associated with Latona, it was in this form that Iupiter laid with her. It was also believed that during the night that the quail ate the poisonous hellebore, and was itself poisonous, as well as being a bird that would announce evils to come to its feeders, and being used as a fighting bird in games. In many these ways he begins to relate the quail to similar characteristics as the cock.
The result is that the image of the quail that is a solar animal, though one who is active during the night when its cries can be heard, and of such a ferious nature that we can see perhaps that the quail is a kind of solar bird guardian during the night, one that is aware of evils. It is logical then why this bird would have been associated with the mother of Apollon, as lord of light and averter of evils. Leto,whom Aristophanes,in his Birds,calls the mother of quails.
Anyone who has ever seen a quail would note the beauty of its feathers, the blue neck,its gold breast, its red cap, and its ruddy wings speckled golds, white and black. They are truly beautiful rustic birds. I once had quail feathers, when I lived in eastern washington state,and the feathers could be found everywhere one set foot, and the callof the birds an eerie sound in the night), upon my household altar.
My shrine for Leto is in need of a quail!