I’m already halfway through Privy Seal – His Last Venture (see this post)—old Fordie does know how to keep you reading—and I’ve run across one of those etymologies that make me goggle in wonderment. (As always these days, I must add the proviso that I’ve probably seen it before and forgotten all about it.) One of the bombastic characters (there was a lot of bombast in the sixteenth century) says, “No pothicary had done it better nor Hercules that was a stall groom and cleaned stables in antick days.” Surely he means “antique,” thought I, and then it came to me: antic must be derived, somehow, from antique. I looked it up, and so it was; here’s the (still unrevised) OED explaining how:
Etymology: apparently < Italian antico, but used as equivalent to Italian grottesco, < grotta, ‘a cauerne or hole vnder grounde’ (Florio), originally applied to fantastic representations of human, animal, and floral forms, incongruously running into one another, found in exhuming some ancient remains (as the Baths of Titus) in Rome, whence extended to anything similarly incongruous or bizarre: see grotesque n. and adj. Compare Serlio Architettura (Venice 1551) iv. lf. 70 a: ‘seguitare le uestigie de gli antiqui Romani, li quali costumarono di far..diuerse bizarrie, che si dicono grottesche.’ Apparently, from this ascription of grotesque work to the ancients, it was in English at first called antike, anticke, the name grotesco, grotesque, not being adopted till a century later. Antic was thus not developed in English < antique adj. and n., but was a distinct use of the word from its first introduction. Yet in 17th cent. it was occas. written antique, a spelling proper to the other word.