Why do many languages have both grammatical genders and declensions?

Your insight is correct, Riccardo: declensions and genders are both classes of nominals. The difference in Indo-European is that gender, not declension, is what governs the agreement of non-nouns with nouns, while declension is how the morphology of nouns themselves works.

So in Ancient Greek, gender only affects the ending of the noun in patches—a couple of cases differ by gender in each declension. But a third declension noun will agree in gender with a 1st/2nd declension adjective or pronoun, without any problem.

You wouldn’t design things like that; it’s kind of a happenstance. Gender is slightly (only slightly) more predictable than an arbitrary declension, which makes it a better candidate for agreement. But it’s an accident of how Indo-European developed. And recall that the feminine is a late development in Indo-European anyway, originating in a collective suffix.

Many languages outside Indo-European have noun classes, and the term “noun classes” is used precisely because in those languages, there is not much of a distinction between declension and gender to be made. Swahili has 18 noun classes; that number sounds more like a declension count than a gender count, but there is a strong semantic component to them (as there is in noun classes in general), and animacy takes over as a factor in agreement anyway.

What is the etymology of the ancient Greek word “Otis”?

Frisk’s etymological dictionary concurs with Frank Dauenhauer’s answer, that the bustard was called ōtis ‘one with ears’ (“from its cheek tufts or head? See Thompson, Birds”); thus also ōtos ‘scops owl’, from its ear tufts.

If you go to A glossary of Greek birds : Thompson, D’Arcy Wentworth, 1860-1948 Sir, p. 200, you’ll find he says the etymology is doubtful, as well as whether the bird is the Great bustard (Otis tarda) or the Houbara bustard. But I don’t see what else it would be.

What cultural factors caused the ecstatic, almost religious reaction to Wagner’s operas in the second half of the nineteenth century?

This isn’t the answer, and I hope it will trigger an answer from the more knowledgeable.

Notions of human-crafted art as an expression of the sublime are not particularly new. But in the 19th century, art inspired not merely “almost” religious reactions; it actually came to occupy the place of a surrogate religion. This was dispelled with World War I, and the various forms of art retreated from the Sublime in different ways. The visual arts did it with dadaism, and they’re still going on about it to this day.

I got the fullest articulation of this from looking over the shoulder of someone doing his PhD on the Italian philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter; you can see a reflection of this in the Wikipedia page, where Man overpowers malign Nature through capital-R Rhetoric. Poor naive bastard, I thought. Just as well he killed himself before WWI.

Wagner was the most full-throated expression of this notion of a surrogate religion. He was a prolific writer despite being a composer; he architected his operas as Total works of art, combining the visual, the musical, and the literary; he ladled mysticism heavily both in the librettos and the staging of the operas; and he had a lot of loyal acolytes.

Why would Wagner think that up? There was a change in how music was produced, from court entertainment to subscriptions and paying customers. There was a change in how the artist was regarded, from decorator to conduit of the sublime to expressor of emotions. Both are wound up in where Romanticism comes from. But the extent to which Wagner took it must have come, in at least some part, from the diminishing of power that religion had over the intelligentsia.

Wagner comes before Nietzsche, but to many Wagnerians, God was already if not dead, sickly: in a rationalist, enlightenment worldview, religion just didn’t hold the same mystique. And since this worldview was still quite recent, the deist and atheist intelligentsia went looking for their recently lost experience of the transcendental elsewhere.

Is there a quote similar to “man is defined by himself”?

Maybe Protagoras’ “Man is the measure of all things” (πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἄνθρωπος)?

He also is believed to have created a major controversy during ancient times through his statement that, “Man is the measure of all things”, interpreted by Plato to mean that there is no absolute truth, but that which individuals deem to be the truth. Although there is reason to question the extent of the interpretation of his arguments that has followed, that concept of individual relativity was revolutionary for the time, and contrasted with other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside of human influence or perceptions.

How did old linguists in a pre medical screening world manage to figure out phonologies so perfectly?

Articulatory phonetics was indeed done before Palatography. And not just by the Ottomans: the Korean script Hangul originated in articulatory phonetics, and for that matter both the Sanskrit grammarians and the later Graeco-Roman grammarians had pretty much had it figured out.

And they could just as my students in first year were able to learn phonetics from me, by watching my mouth and thinking about their tongue positioning. Yes, we used diagrams like that too, but people do know what the roof of their mouth is, or their hard palate, or that bumpy thing just behind their teeth; they know when they are rounding their lips, and when their tongue moves to the front or back of their mouth. For the phonemically distinct places and manners of articulation of any language—just half a dozen each—you don’t need any more detail in location than what you can introspect by being aware of what your mouth muscles are doing.

Phonetic detail needs more than that. And phonetic detail is the domain of the palatograph and the spectrogram.