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Erifitium Dyascorides est herba que in summis montibus invenitur folia habet similia apio et tirsum oblongum habens in summitate sua violaceum florem intrinsecus retinentem semen radicem vero maiorem et vastam in modum cepe tenuem in initio circa se radiculas emittens nigro cortice clausas et cetera.


Erifitium (-tiũ AC) AC f | Erificiuʒ (-ciũ B) B e

ē herba AC | herba est (ē B) B e f

tirsuʒ (-sũ B) ABC | tyrsum (-suʒ e) e f

sũmitate AC e | sũitate B f

vero om. f

vastã AC | uastaʒ (-stã B) B f | astam e

initio ABC | inicio e f

circa C f | circũ B e | c̃c̃ A

et cetera om. e f


Erifitium according to Dyascorides is a herb that is found on the highest mountains. It has leaves similar to apium {"celery"} and an oblong stalk. At its top it has a violet-cloloured flower. And inside it keeps the seeds. But it has a root that is very big and immense like cepa {"an onion"}. It is delicate where the plant comes out of the soil, and it sends out little roots around itself that are sheathed with a black skin, etc.


Erifitium, written in some witnesses Erificium, only occurs in the Alphabetum Galieni. According to Meyer, see below in Botanical identification, erificium is a corruption of the Greek word ἠριγένειον /ērigéneion/, which means plant sacred to ἠριγένεια /ērigéneia/, i.e. "the early born", an epithet of Ἠώς /Ēṓs/, the goddess of dawn. But this explanation is no longer accepted and the word's origin remains unexplained

The text of this entry is not taken from Dioscorides but is an extensive near verbatim quote from the Alphabetum Galieni. The mix-up in source attribution must have occurred early on since it is present in all witnesses. It can easily be imagined that a capital 'G' was misread as 'D', abbreviations often used by scribes for Galen and Dioscorides respectively.

The original text in the Alphabetum Galieni as offered by Everett (2012: 220, 98) is: Wolfsbane (Aconitum napellus L.) Erificium herba est quae in summis montibus invenitur, quae folia habet similia apio et thyrsulum oblongum in cuius summo flosculum quasi violaceum habet et semen in medio. Radicem quoque ad magnitudinem et valetudinem in specie cepae oblongae et veluti ad imum extenuatae habetque radices alias, quae sic radiculas minutas et lateribus emittunt nigro cortice clausas. Which he translates: (2012: 221): "Wolfsbane … is a plant which is found on top of mountains. It has leaves similar to garden celery … and an oblong stalk, at the top of which is a small violet-coloured flower, with seed in the middle. Its root is about the same size and width as the type of onion that is oblong, and has at the bottom more roots that thin out, and which themselves sprout from the sides tiny roots that are encased in a black bark".

Botanical identification:

Meyer (1856: III.493-4), 9, 4, 67, comments on the Alphabetum Galieni entry Erificium that it consists of a longish description, divergent in many points, caused without a doubt through misunderstandings. And he believes it to be taken from the chapter on Περιστερεὼν ὕπτιος /Peristereṑn hýptios/ in {Pseudo-} Dioscorides, and the name erificium is supposedly a corruption of erigenion, which is a synonym of the same plant, i.e. Verbena supina.

Obviously Meyer is alluding to Wellmann, 4, 60, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: II.214-5): ἱερὰ βοτáνη /hierà botánē/, and in the RV version: περιστερεὼν ὕπτιος, /peristereṑn hýptios/, …

Greek περιστερεών /peristereṓn/ or περιστέριον /peristérion/ are collateral forms often identified with the plant vervain, and ὕπτιος /hýptios/ means "lying on its back". The identification of περιστερεὼν ὕπτιος /peristereṑn hýptios/ with Verbena supina L. is also shared by LSJ. Its vernacular name is supine or procumbent vervain, a plant of Central and Southern Europe, North and East Africa and Asia. Concerning περιστερεὼν ὕπτιος /peristereṑn hýptios/ Berendes (1902: 396), says that this identification was common amongst the "older botanists"; and he quotes Fraas who preferred Verbena officinalis L. "common vervain", a plant with a wider European distribution. His reasons for rejecting V. supina being that it is far too rare a plant to get so many synonyms, neither does it produce shoots that are long enough.

More recently André (1985: 96), argues that the description: mountainous region, leaves like wild celery, violet flowers, oblong bulb and being toxic conform well enough with Aconitum napellus L., i.e. "common monkshood, aconite, wolfsbane". The plant is also distributed over much of Europe. The toxicity of the plant, which André mentions, is alluded to in a sentence of the original text not excerpted by Simon:: Haec ipsa viribus est aconito similis et thapsiae – "The plant itself in its medicinal properties is similar to aconitum and thapsia", which are indeed two highly poisonous plants. Cf. Achonitum and Tapsia (1).

Cf. N. Everett's (2012) comment.

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