Amoniacum (2)

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Amoniacum. Dya.: Est quasi lachrymum herbe similis lilio albo. Nascitur autem in terra aminois quondam regis in ultra Cirenem. Herba unde lachrymum promanat, a Grecis asiaos appellatur. Huius radix inciditur et lachrymum fundit in terram, unde et sordes capit. Verum optimum est amoniacum quod est mundissimum et recens et colore candidum et quasi pingue ut thus, quod si frangatur spissum et splendidum apparet, odore subsimile castoreo, gustum amarum iactans et cetera.


Dya. ABC e | Dia. H

lachrymum A | lacrimum BCH

asimilis AC | similis BH

lilio albo AC | lilio albo aut ferule BH | ferule lilio albo e

aminois ABCH | ami nonis e

in ultra Cirenem A | in ultima Cirenem BH | in ultima Cinerem C | in boluta arena e

asiaos ABCH | asiaros e

huius AH e | huiusmodi B

subsimile AH | sublime subsimile B | subsimilem C e

gustum AC | gustu BH e

iactans ACH | om. B


Gum-ammoniacum. Dioscorides : "It is a sort of gum from a plant which looks like the white lily. It grows in the land which was in the past that of king Aminois {prob. "Amon"}, in the region beyond Cyrene. The plant from which it comes is called "asiaos" {in fact ἀγασυλλίς /agasyllís/} by the Greeks. When its root is tapped, the gum flows over the ground, and so it gathers dust. The best gum-ammoniacum is the one which is very pure, fresh, white in colour, somewhat greasy like frankincense and, if being broken, looking dense and bright, smelling slightly like castor, having a bitter taste, et cetera."


This is a quotation from the Alphabetical Latin Dioscorides, ed. Colle (1478: f. 11v), litt. A, cap. 40. It is different from translation-C of Dioscorides (see Stadler in his edition p. 419 for the interpolations from Galen. alfab. 4 and the Latin Oribasius) but must come from a distinct translation (probably translation-B). Similar chapter in Alphabetum Galieni ad Paternianum, ed. Galeni Septima Classis, Venice (1541: fol. 80), litt. A, chap. 4, which must be the immediate source of the Alphabetical Latin Dioscorides, now p. 144 in the edition (with translation) of Nicholas Everett, The Alphabet of Galen, Toronto 2012.

Original Greek chapter by Dioscorides: ἀμμωνιακόν /ammōniakón/ 3, 84, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: II.100-2). Cf. also Gal. simpl. 6,37 11.828 Kühn. The plant is to be identified with Ferula marmarica L. according to Jacques André, Les noms de plantes s.v. (h)ammoniacum.

The name ammoniacum is said to come from the place where the plant grows: the oasis of the Amon, in Egypt, where was the temple of the god Amun (Ἄμμων or Ἅμμων in Greek; remember Tut?) (cf. Pliny, Natural History, 12, 107).

Of course the plant is nothing like a white lily; it is, as both the Greek Dioscorides (mat. med. 3.84.1) and the Latin Galen. alfab. (4) say, the juice of a species of Ferula (narthex νάρθηξ in Greek) which grows in fine liuiae (as the Latin Dioscorides-C puts it), i.e. 'on the borders of Libya' (in ultima Cyrene, say Galen. alfab.), and Libya, alas, became, as we just saw, liuia, before turning 'white', with lily thrown in for good measure in some of the mss. 'White lily' was just one way of dealing with the textual problem; the other, chosen by Galen. alfab., was al(l)io 'garlic', a reading also present in The Herbal of Rufinus ed. Thorndike, p. 23. Libya and more specifically Cyrene was known, in antiquity, for another species of Ferula, σίλφιον (laser or laserpitium in Latin), also ὀπὸς Κυρηναικός 'juice coming from Cyrene', greatly in demand, so that the plant disappeared completely due to overharvesting.

--Marie Cronier 09:23, 29 March 2012 (BST)

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