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Donax secundum Plinium est quedam species ca<la>mi que non nisi in aquaticis nascitur.


Donax p Pliny | Dorax B f {'n' misread as 'r'} | Donas ms. e | Donai AC {'s' misread as 'i'?}
cami B fp | ca<la>mi scripsi (Wilf Gunther) | carui AC e {'mi' misread as 'rui'}
non nisi | nõ nõ n̍ {= nisi} p


Donax according to Pliny is some kind of calamus {"reed"} that only grows in watery places.


This is a short quote from Pliny, 16, 66, 165, ed. Rackham (1938-63: IV.492-4), where he talks about different calami {"reeds"} and he says: fructisosissimus qui vocatur donax, non nisi in aquaticis natus - "one is called donax and it has numerous shoots and it grows in watery places only".

Latin donax is loaned from Greek δόναξ /dónax/. As for its etymology Strömberg (1940: 76f) lists δόναξ /dónax/ under plant names that describe their seed head as "shaking" and he connects the word with δονέω /donéō/ "to shake", a view shared by Carnoy (1959: 111). Frisk (1960-72) calls it 'etymologisch undurchsichtig' {i.e. "etymologically opaque"}, but he sees Strömberg's etymology as 'annehmbar' {i.e. "thinkable"}.

The word donax occurs in the classical Latin literature only in Pliny, but is well attested in the Greek literature with a variety of meanings mostly to do with reeds, "pole-reed; bed of reeds; anything made of reed; shaft of an arrow; shepherd's pipe" etc. It is well attested in the Iliad and the Odyssey, Theophrastus and in the Greek Dioscorides, cf. 1, 85, ed. Wellman (1906-14: I.81) on κάλαμοι /kálamoi/ "reeds", where it says: ὁ δὲ τις παχὺς καὶ κοῖλος, παρὰ ποταμοῖς φυόμενος, ὃς καὶ δόναξ καλεῖται, ὑπό τινων δὲ Κύπριος /ho dé tis pakhỳs kaì koîlos, parà potamoîs phyómenos, hòs kaì dónax kaleîtai, hypó tinōn dè Kýprios/, which Beck (2005: 64) translates: "another {sc. reed} is thick and hollow, growing by river beds; it is called donax (annotation: "Pole-reed"), some, however, call it Cyprian".

This chapter also appears in Dioscorides Longobardus, 1, 95, ed. Hofmann & Auracher (1883: 89), De canna and ed. Mihăescu (1938: 50) De canna, where it says: Est vero quartum genus calami quod carax appellatur, quam plurimi ciprion vocant – "but there is also a fourth kind of calamus {"reed"} which is called carax, which many people call ciprion ("Cyprus grass"}. Here the original Greek δόναξ /dónax/ was probably contaminated with Latin carex {"reed-grass, rush, or sedge"}.

Pliny and Dioscorides may well have consulted Theophrastus in this case whose description reads like this: κοινότατον δὲ πως ὁ δόναξ, ὃν καὶ λοχμωδέστατόν γέ φασιν εἶναι καὶ μάλιστα φύεσθαι παρὰ τοὺς ποταμοὺς καὶ τὰς λίμνας /koinótaton dè pōs ho dónax, hòn kaì lokhmōdéstaton gé phasin eînai kaì málista phýesthai parà toùs potamoùs kaì tàs límnas/ {Theophrastus, 4, 11, 11, ed. Hort (1916: I.376)} Hort (1916: I.377) translates: "commonest perhaps is the pole-reed {i.e. δόναξ /dónax/}, which is said to be of very bushy habit, and to grow chiefly by rivers and lakes".

Botanical identification:

If we are to believe that δόναξ /dónax/ meant the same plant in all the Greek sources, which is by no means certain, then donax, if any identification was attempted at all, is usually identified with one plant. Starting with Sprengel (1807: 20) [[1]] who says: Arundo Donax [[2]], δόνακος /dónakos/ nomine obvenit. E culmis eius graminis heroës Homerici sagittas pararunt (Il.11, 584) quemadmodum nostrae aetatis Itali fistulas inde aliaque conficiunt utensilia – "Arundo Donax {"pole-reed"} comes from the name δόναξ /dónax/. Out of the stalks of this plant the Homeric heroes prepared their arrows, just as the Italians of our time take the canes from it and produce other utensils from them".

Sprengel – as he indicates - was thinking of the following verses in the Iliad, depicting skirmishes outside Troy where Paris wounds the Thessalian king Eurypylus with an arrow, book 11, 582, 583, 584:
... αὐτίκα τόξον
ἕλκετ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Εὐρυπύλῳ, καί μιν βάλε μηρὸν ὀϊστῷ
δεξιόν: ἐκλάσθη δὲ δόναξ, ἐβάρυνε δὲ μηρόν

/autíka tóxon//
hélket' ep' Eurypýlō, kaí min bále mēròn oïstô
//dexión: eklásthē dè dónax, ebáryne dè mērón/ -
"And forthwith he {i.e. Paris here called Ἀλέξανδρος θεοειδής /Aléxandros theoeidḗs/ "the godlike Alexandros"} drew his bow aiming at Eurypylus and hit him on his right thigh; the shaft {δόναξ /dónax/} was splintered and weighted down the thigh".

Berendes (1902: 104) as well as LSJ and André (1956: 120) agree with Sprengel's identification Arundo donax L. "pole-reed", but André (1985: 90) does no longer offer any clear identification.

The botanical identification must on the whole remain unresolved.

WilfGunther 14:42, 12 December 2014 (UTC)

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