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Carp

(224 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (Family of the Cyprinidae). (1.) The carp that lives in rivers and ponds (Ath. 7,309a) ( Cyprinus carpio L.; κυπρῖνος/ kyprînos, Latin cyprinus or carpa) was a popular edible fish (Cassiod. Var. 12,4,1; cf. Nep. Themistocles 10,3). Aristotle describes its fleshy palate, οὐρανός/ uranós, that simulates a tongue (Hist. an. 4,8,533a 28-30), and mentions that thunderstorms drive it into a daze (Hist. an. 7(8),20,602b 23f.; Plin. HN 9,58). Supposedly it spawns five to six times a year (Aristot. Hist. an. 6,14,568a 16f.; Plin. H…

Precious stones

(236 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] In the Greek world, archaeological excavations have yielded jewellery but not PS, detectable only from the 5th cent. on. Mineralogical knowledge was almost absent in Antiquity. Plato (Plt. 303e) considers diamonds, for example, as a constituent of gold. The names of PS, such as ἀδάμας ( adámas, 'the invincible'), ἀμέθυστος ( améthystos, 'that which does not make one drunk') and ὀφίτης ( ophítēs, 'that which wards off snakes') reveal the magical effect ascribed to them. Theophrastus is the author of the first scholarly treatment, Περὶ λίθων ( Perì líthōn, 'On Stones' …

Far

(373 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] Originally probably ‘corn’ in the sense of grain [1]. In the historical period, however, the name applied especially to spelt as opposed to common wheat ( triticum). Synonyms are ador and alicastrum; evidently a short form of far adoreum. Plin. HN 18,82 maintains that the zones of cultivation for far (emmer) and ζειά/ zeiá (ζέα/ zéa) are mutually exclusive. According to Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 2,25,2, however, these two kinds of grain, along with arinca (ὄλυρα; ólyra) as grown in Gaul, Italy and elsewhere, are identical. 3 kinds of the highly cold-resistant …

Orache

(229 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (ἀδράφαξυς/ adráphaxys: Theophrastus, ἀνδράφαξυς/ andráphaxys: Dioscorides, ἀνδράφαξις/ andráphaxis: Hippocr.; Latin atriplex), a spinach-like vegetable of the goose-foot family ( Chenopodiaceae), of which only one species (Theophr. H. plant. 7,4,1 = Plin. HN 19,123), i.e. Atriplex rosea L., is cultivated in Greece. According to Theophr. H. plant. 1,14,2 and 7,3,4 it formed its broad leaf-like seeds, which were viable for only two to three years, (Theophr. H. plant. 7,5,5 = Plin. HN 19,181) inside a pericarp (Theop…

Rhododendron

(260 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (ῥοδοδένδρον/ rhododéndron or ῥοδοδάφνη/ rhododáphnē, in Latin for the first time in Ps.-Verg. Culex 402, νήριον/ nḗrion e.g. in Dioscorides 4,81 Wellmann = 4,82 Berendes, Latin nerium, rododafne in Pall. Agric. 1,35,9), the rosebay, the oleander ( Nerium oleander) or the alpenrose ( R. ferrugineum and hirsutum L.), appears only in the 1st cent. AD in Plin. HN 16,79 (and Dioscorides, see below) with all three names ( rhododendron, rhododaphne and nerium) and hence is presumably of Greek origin. This evergreen plant with rose-like flowers,  which grow…

Asbestos

(136 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (ἄσβεστος; ásbestos), according to [1. 171] in Dioscorides 5,115 [2. 85f.] = 5,132 [3. 539] the name for burnt lime, also λίθος ἀμίαντος, or, according to the main site of discovery, Καρύστιος, is the well known fibrous variety of the hornblende that, being fire-resistant, was made into fabrics and lamp-wicks. According to Plin. HN 19,19f. this supposed species of flax from India was very precious; according to Dioscorides 5,138 [2. 99] = 5,155 [3. 550] the amiantus stone from Cypr…

Jay

(213 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (κίσσα/ kíssa or κίττα/ kítta, Garrulus glandarius). It was often confused in Greek with the  Magpie [1. 146] and, as garrulus, in the Middle Ages (among others in Isid. Orig. 12,7,45) with either the graculus, the Alpine chough ( Jackdaw), or the rook (e.g. in Thomas of Cantimpré 5,62; [2. 209]). The colourful crow shows characteristic coloration and behaviour. Plin. HN 10,119 already admires the talkativeness of the related magpies and of the acorn eaters ( earum quae glande vescantur). Aristot. Hist. an. 9(8),13,615b 19-23 describes the changeability o…

Argestes

(123 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (Ἀργεστής; Argestḗs). The north-west wind, e.g. in Aristot. Mete. 2,6,364a 14, that is set on the astronomical wind rose as the middle wind between the north and west (ζέφυρος; zéphyros) winds at the sunset point of the summer solstice. It was considered to be strong, cool, clearing and dry. Other names: Skiron in Attica, among the Greeks sailing to Sicily Iapyx and on the Italian west coast Κερκίας ( Kerkías). In Plin. HN 2,119, Vitr. De arch. 1,6,1 and Sen. Q. Nat. 5,16,5 it is called Corus. Aristot. Ανέμων θέσεις ( Anémōn théseis), 973b 13-15 cites for the Ἰάπυξ ( Iápyx) the …

Bulrush

(101 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] The ancient term σχοῖνος ( schoînos), Latin iuncus covers today's false grasses of the Juncaceae (especially Juncus) and Cyperaceae ( Schoenus and Scirpus among others) families -- the bulrushes and club-rushes, as well as sedges. In antiquity, bulrushes were commonly used for making mats and, in the case of papyrus Cyperus papyrus ( book,  papyrus), as writing materials. The bulbous root of the Mediterranean species C. esculentus provided edible oil [1. 18]. Sweet-tasting leaves were boiled in beer and eaten (μαλιναθάλλη in Theophr. Hist. pl. 4,8,12; cf. anthaliu…

Mint

(299 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] There were several names for the pleasantly smelling members of the genus Mentha of the family Labiatae not precisely described by the Greeks: μίνθη/ mínthē (Theophr. H. plant. 2,4,1), καλαμίνθη/ kalamínthē, σισύμβριον/ sisýmbrion, ἡδύσμον/ hēdýsmon (e.g. in Theophr. ibid. 7,7,1), βλήχων/ blḗchōn or γλήχων/ glḗchōn and among the Romans as menta, mentastrum, pule(g)ium and nepeta. Watermint, horsemint, pennyroyal and catmint were cultivated in antiquity, but peppermint ( Mentha Piperita), which apparently arose spontaneously from watermint ( Mentha Aquatic…

Bedbug

(240 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (ὁ, ἡ κόρις/ kóris, Lat. cimex; especially Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug, a troublesome bloodsucking parasite). Aristophanes was the first to refer to the bedbug as a typical inhabitant of the bedsteads of poor people in a work of literature (Nub. 634, Ra. 115, and Plut. 541). That is the origin of the expression ‘not even to own a bedbug’ ( nec tritus cimice lectus, Mart. 11,32,1; cf. Catull. 23,2). As a bad parasite, the bedbug was also used synonymously for a matchmaker or literary critic (Plaut. Curc. 500; Anth. Pal. 11,322,6; Hor. …

Sesame

(217 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (Greek τὸ σήσαμον/ tò sḗsamon, from Semitic, Latin sesamum). The oleiferous seeds of Sesamum indicum L. of the Pedaliaceae family, which grows around the Mediterranean, in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, according to Plin. HN 18,96 originally introduced from  India (Greek σησάμη/ sēsámē or σησαμίς/ sēsamís). Solon 40 West and Aristoph. Vesp. 676 record its early use in Greece. Theophrastus (Hist. pl. 8,3,1-4) describes the leaves, the stem, the (white) foxglove-like flowers and the seeds in the elongated bilocular capsules (ibid.…

Byssos

(105 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (βύσσος; býssos). Plant and animal fibres that were made into mainly see-through garments (βύσσινος, βύσσινον πέπλωμα). These are probably especially linum (λίνον, linen, flax), later (obviously already in Hdt. 2,86) seed hairs of  cotton, perhaps of the Asclepiadacea Gomphocarpus fruticosus introduced from Africa, as well as fibres of mushrooms and lichens. Still called byssus today, the adhesive fibers of seashells clinging to the bottom of the sea, such as the large Mediterranean Pinna nobilis, also supplied 3-8 cm long fibres used for making ropes,…

Ranunculus

(157 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (βατράχιον/ batráchion = σέλινον ἄγριον/ sélinon ágrion in Dioscorides), buttercup, crowfoot. The widespread family of the Ranunculaceae has more than 100 species in Greece and Italy. The Greek and Latin names for the plant seem to be derived from' frog' (βάτραχος/ bátrachos, Lat. rana), owing to its preference for damp locations. Dioscorides (2,175 Wellmann = 2,206 Berendes) and Pliny (HN 25,172 f.) describe the appearance of four species; it is impossible today to determine exactly which. The leaves and stems in poultice…

Water nut

(152 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] The only representative of the Trapaceae (formerly Hydrocaryaceae) family is called, from the shape of the nut, ὁ τρίβολος/ tríbolos sc. ἔνυδρος/ énhydros ('tricorn'), βουκέφαλος/ boképhalos ('ox's head'), ταυροκέρας/ taurokéras ('bull's horn') in Greek, and tribulus sc. aquaticus in Latin. The plant grows primarily in marshy places in soft-water rivers in the climatically favourable zones of Europe and Asia, with all but the leather-like serrated floating leaves under water (good description in  Theophr. Hist. pl. 4…

Dove/Pigeon

(1,215 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] I. Species The pigeon and dove family, περιστεροειδῆ/ peristeroeidê (Aristot. Hist. an. 5,13,544a 33-b 11 and also 6,4, 562b 3-563a 4), includes several species: 1) Wild pigeons: a) Πέλεια/ péleia (derived from πολιός/ poliós = ‘dark, blueish grey’), the rock dove ( Columba livia L.), the wild progenitor of the domestic pigeon. Homer only speaks of this species, which he labels ‘fearful’ because of its shyness towards people (τρήρων/ trḗrōn; e.g., Hom. Il. 5,778; Hom. Od. 12,62). Its enemies are birds of prey (Hom. Od. 15,525-527 and passim). Aristot. Hist. an. 5,13…

Asphodelos

(204 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] ἀσφόδελος ( asphódelos) is said to refer to that of the seven white- and pink-flowering species of the Liliaceae genus Asphodelus most frequent around the Mediterranean, Asphodelos microcarpus, which has been mentioned since Homer (Od. 11,539. 573; 24,13) and Hesiod (Op. 41) among others as native to the meadows of the earth and the underworld [1. 68 and fig. 108-111]. With reference to Greek authors, Dioscorides 2,169 ([2. 1. 234ff.] = 2,199 [3. 245f.]) and Plin. HN 22,67-72 praise it as a medicinal plant of manifold use. The albucus of Plin. HN 21,109 has been…

Shrew

(449 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (Greek μυγαλῆ/ mygal, Lat. sorex or Old Latin saurex and mus araneus, 'spider mouse'). Due to its secretive habit, this insectivore family of mammals with various species was hardly known in Antiquity. It was often confused with the ordinary mouse. Pliny describes the ears of the sorex as hairy (HN 11,136) and the tip of the tail as similar to that of the cow or lion (ibid. 11,265). Their hibernation is correctly mentioned by Plin. HN 8,223 (referring only to the garden shrew [1. 175]). Much superstition and magic was reported: supposedly, egrets ( ardeola) and shrews pre…

Ereike

(137 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] (ἐρείκη; ereíkē is first mentioned in Aesch. Ag. 295 and Theophr. Hist. pl. 1,14,2). The genus Erica comprises c. 500 species, most of all African shrubs and trees. In the maquis of Greece, however, only three species of the Ericaceae family are represented, amongst them the brier Erica arborea l. which grows like a tree and flowers in spring; in contrast, the popular honey flora, mentioned by Pliny (HN 11,42) and Dioscorides (1,88 [1. 82] and 1,117 [2. 106]), belongs to the autumn flowering ones. In Italy, on the other hand, el…

Peas

(200 words)

Author(s): Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg)
[German version] The seeds of several legumes of the Vicieae group of genera of the order Leguminosae are called peas (Old High German arawiz, related to ὄροβος, órobos, and ἐρέβινθος, erébinthos). They have been cultivated for food in the Near East since the Mesolithic and in southern and central Europe since the Neolithic. Primarily they are Pisum sativum L. (also elatius and arvense, πίσ(σ)ον/ pís(s)on or πίσος/ písos, from which proper names such as Pisa and Piso derive), and also several varieties of chickpea, Cicer arietinum L., common in the East, named after the similarit…
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