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Ectacos {= Et cactos} Plinius in sicilia tantum nascitur in terra serpunt caules eius e radice emissi lato folio et spinoso caules vocant cactos nec fastidiunt in cibos veteratosque unum caulem rectum habens quam vocant cautem et cetera.


Ectacos ABC e | Eccacos f | Et cactos Pliny

sicilia AC f | cicilia B | scicilia e

e radice AC | eradice B f | ex radice ms.e

emissi AC f | emissa B | emisce ms.e

vocant (uocãt B) cactos ABC e | uo cancios f

veteratosque vnum AC | veteratos qʒ vnũ ms.e | veteratosqʒ pmũ f | ueteratos unumque B | inveteratos quoque. Unum Pliny

cautem (-teʒ ms.e) ABC e | caucem f | pternica Pliny


Ectacos {= Et cactos}, says Pliny, grows only in Sicily; its stems crawl along the ground shooting from the root; the leaf is broad and spinous; and they call the stems cacti, and they are not unpleasant to the taste in meals, even when kept for a long time.

It has one upright stem which they call cautem

or: One {= another?} kind has an upright stem which they call cautem, etc. {See end of Commentary below}.


Greek κάκτος /káktos/ denotes a prickly edible plant, often identified as cardoon or artichoke {see Botanical identification below}. The word itself is of unknown origin, its etymology unexplained. From Greek it was loaned into Latin as cactus with the same meaning. This is also the meaning Simon would have attached to this word since the association of this name with specimens of the almost exclusively American plant family of Cactaceae only occurred post Columbus.

Simon is quoting from Pliny, 21, 57, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VI: 232): Et cactos quoque in Sicilia tantum nascitur, ... . In terra serpunt caules a radice emissi, lato folio et spinoso. Caules vocant cactos, nec fastidiunt in cibis inveteratos quoque. Unum autem caulem rectum habet (annotation 1) quem vocant pternica.

1 habet Schneider, Detlefsen, Mayhoff {i.e. previous editors of Pliny's work}: habent codd.

W.H.S. Jones (1938-63: VI: 233) translates: "And cactos also grows only in Sicily; ... . Its stems, shooting out from the root, trail on the ground; the leaves are broad and prickly. The stems are called cacti, which make, even when preserved, a palatable food. One (annotation b) kind, however, has an upright stem called pternix".

Comparing the two texts it is obvious that Simon's entry has suffered a number of corruptions.

- To begin with the entry name Ectacos is the result of misreading Et cactos, an error that must have occurred very early on since the lemma is listed under 'E' rather than 'C' for Cactus.

- Similarly Pliny's pternix, accusative pternica, was replaced in Simon by cautem/caucem, presumably a nonsensical repetition of caulem {"stem"}. Greek nτέρνιξ /ptérnix/, accusative sg. nτέρνικα /ptérnika/, is glossed in LSJ as "stem of the κάκτος {/káktos/}". The word occurs only in Theophrastus' Historia plantarum, see below. Frisk (1960-72: II.611), in his etymological dictionary of ancient Greek, connects it to nτέρνη /ptérnē/ "heel" and nτερνίς /pternís/ "bottom of a dish", but admits that it is difficult to see how it could have developed its special meaning ("mit unklarer Bed.entwicklung"). Another Greek word with the same meaning is τέρνακα /térnaka/ mentioned only in Hesychius and defined as: τῆς κάκτου τοῦ φυτοῦ καυλόν /tês káktou toû phytoû kaulόn/ (LSJ) "the stem of the kaktos plant". Although there is some phonetic similarity between the two words, Frisk does not assume them to be cognates.

- Pliny's text, which is Simon's source, also suffers itself from some misinterpretation. Pliny took his information from Theophrastus, Historia plantarum, 6, 4, 10-1, ed. Hort (1916: II.30).

§ 10: Ἠ δὲ κάκτος καλουμένη περὶ Σικελίαν μόνον, ἐν τᾖ Ἑλλάδι δὲ οὐκ ἔστν. ... ἀφίησι γὰρ εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τῆς ῥίζης καυλοὺς ἐπιγείους, τὸ δὲ φύλλον ἔχει πλατὺ καὶ ἀκανθῶδες• καλοῦσι δὲ τοὺς καυλοὺς τούτους κάκτους• ἐδώδιμοι δὲ εἰσι περιπλεπόμενοι μικρὸν ἐπίπικροι, καὶ θησαυρίζουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν ἅλμη. Which Arthur Hort (1916: II.31) translates: "But the plant called kaktos (cardoon) grows only in Sicily, and not in Hellas. ... for it sends up straight from the root stems which creep on the ground, and its leaf is broad … and spinous: these stems are called kaktoi; they are edible, if peeled, and are slightly bitter, and men preserve them in brine."

Theophrast continues: § 11: Ἕτερον δὲ καυλὸν ὀρθὸν ἀφίησιν, ὅν καλοῦσι nτέρνικα• /Héteron dè kaulòn orthòn aphíēsin, hón kaloûsi ptérnika/. Hort (1916: II.31): "There is another kind which sends up an erect stem, called the pternix".

This last sentence Pliny translates as: Unum autem caulem rectum habet (habent in the codd.) … quem vocant pternica. W.H.S. Spencer (1938-61: VI.232), the editor and translator of Pliny's text, comments, annotaton b: "If the habent of the MSS. be correct, Pliny has constructed Theophrastus' sentence, ἕτερον δὲ καυλὸν ὀρθὸν ἀφίησιν {/héteron dè kaulòn orthòn aphíēsin/} so as to make ἕτερον /héteron/ agree with καυλὸν /kaulòn/. Unum is certainly odd, and Pliny very likely mistranslated, writing habent: 'they have one stem which is upright, etc'." And this is how Simon would have (mis-)understood this sentence, too.

Botanical identification:

It is not possible to positively identify Greek κάκτος /káktos/, Latin cactus, but most authors agree that it is either the "cardoon", Cynara cardunculus L., syn. Cynara scolymus L. [[1]], or the artichoke Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus L. [[2]]. The wild cardoon is nowadays generally seen as the ancestor of the modern cultivated cardoon as well as of the artichoke.

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