L: Peter Apian, Cosmographia (1524); R: Schimmelbus Ether Mask courtesy of Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology
The word αἰθήρ (aithēr) in Homeric Greek means “pure, fresh air” or “clear sky”, imagined in Greek mythology to be the pure essence where the gods lived and which they breathed, analogous to the air breathed by mortals (also personified as a deity, Aether, the son of Erebus and Nyx). It is related to αἴθω ”to incinerate”, also intransitive “to burn, to shine” (related is the name Aithiopes (Ethiopians)), meaning “people with a burnt (black) visage”
Ether (from the Latin “aether” and the Greek “eithr,” or “the upper and purer air”) is believed to have been first synthesized about 1540 by German botanist and chemist Valerius Cordus (1515-1544), who called his discovery “sweet oil of vitriol” and praised its medicinal properties. Paracelsus (1493-1541), a contemporary of Valerius, noted that the “oil” induced sleep in chickens when added to their feed. Frobenius (Froben) named the liquid “ethereal spirits” or “ether” in 1730.