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Falangion sive falangitis Dyascorides multi et istam leucatemon dicunt virgas habet duas aut tres aut plures et flores albos similes lilio cum multa divisura semen est illi nigrum et crossum sicut lenticula radicem habet tenuem minutam et viridem et postquam de terra tracta fuerit alterum colorem facit nascitur locis cultis et cetera.


siue ABC e | l' {= vel} f

Dyascorides multi et istam leucatemon dicunt om. f

{multi} et om. B

leucatemon AC | leucacãtũ B | leucacancio e | leucacantum Diosc. Longob. | λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ Diosc. Graece

separant se a pari om. AC f | separãt se a pari ms. B | separant se apari e | separant<es> se a pare Diosc.Longob.

crossum AC | grossuʒ (-ssũ B e) B ef

{lenticula} et add. e

de terra om. e

cultis ABC f | occultis e

et cetera om. ef


Falangion or falangitis. According to Dyascorides many people also call it leucatemon; it has two or three or more sprigs growing at a distance from each other and it has flowers similar to Lilium {"lily"} with many slits; its seed is dark and coarse like lenticula {"lentil"}; it has a thin and tiny green root and after it has been pulled from the soil it turns a different colour. It grows in cultivated places, etc.


This is a near-verbatim excerpt from Dioscorides Longobardus, 3, 118, ed. Stadler (1901: 426), De falangio. The Greek original is in 3, 108, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: II.119-20), φαλάγγιον /phalángion/.

Falangion: Greek φαλάγγιον /phalángion/, according to LSJ is a kind of venomous spider, esp. of the genus Lathrodectus or in French malmignatte. The word is derived from the well-known military term φάλαγξ /phálagx/, whose original meaning is according to Frisk (1960-72: II.985), "round piece of wood, tree trunk, log"; also: "bone between the two joints of the fingers; line of eyelashes" and "venomous spider" (cf. also LSJ). Derived from φάλαγξ /phálagx/ is φαλάγγιον /phalángion/, so named according to Strömberg (1940: 70), because it is a herb that helps against the bite of poisonous spiders. The word was adopted into Latin as phalangion, phalangium and a late collateral form: phalangius.

falangitis: Similarly derived from φάλαγξ /phálagx/ is φαλαγγῖτις /phalangîtis/ "spider herb". Lewis & Short mention as the adopted form: phalangites "spider-root, Anthericum liliastrum, Linn." < φαλαγγίτης /phalangítes/ to which φαλαγγῖτις /phalangîtis/ is a feminine form.

leucatemon: Witnesses A and C have a synonym that differs from the other sources: λευκάνθεμον /leukánthemon/. It is a compound noun of λευκ- /leuk-/ (prevocalic compound form of λευκός /leukós/ "white"} + ἄνθεμον /ánthemon/ "flower" > "white-flower". The word was adopted into Latin as leucanthemon, leucanthemum.

leucacantum: But witnesses ef and Dioscorides, Latin or Greek, have leucacantha as this synonym. Even Pliny, who has a very similar text to Dioscorides on Phalangitis cites the two similar sounding synonyms: Pliny, 27, 48, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.466): Phalangitis a quibusdam phalangion vocatur, ab alii leucanthemum vel, ut in quibusdam exemplaribus invenio, leucantha. Jones (1938-63: VII.467) translates: "Phalanghitis is called by some phalangion, by others leucanthemum, or, as I find in some copies, leucacantha."

Greek λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ is a compound noun consisting of λευκ- /leuk-/ {"white"} + ἄκανθα /ákantha/ "thorn, prickle" > "white thorn". The word was adopted into Latin as leucacantha, leucacanthos.

Botanical identification:

Concerning φαλάγγιον /phalángion/. Most authors, e.g. Berendes (1902: 336) quoting Fraas; André (1985: 195) and Beck (2005: 230), name Lloydia graeca L., syn. Gagea graeca (L.) Dandy "Greek Lloydia" [[1]] as one possible candidate. It is a plant of the Eastern Mediterranean {Greece, Turkey}, with a white flower but no spines at all, which makes the synonym λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ lit. "white thorn" baffling.

Another plant sometimes mentioned is Phalangium ramosum Poir, syn. Anthericum ramosum L. "branching spider-wort" [[2]], [[3]] (e.g. Berendes op. cit. quotes Dodonaeus, André op. cit., with a wide European distribution but more common in the Southern regions. It has white flowers and again no spines.

Leucanthemon, lit. "white flower", is also the name given to a number of other plants esp. chamomile species. As a purely descriptive epithet it fits in well with the two previous identifications since their flowers are indeed white.

Leucacantha or leucacanthos, lit. "white thorn" is again a name reserved for other plants as well, esp. a number of thistles, where the apparent spiny character expressed in the name is to be expected, but it cannot be a name that was used for the previous two identifications, plants without any spines. However, of the two synonyms for φαλάγγιον /phalángion/ it is λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ that is the only one offered in the Greek Dioscorides but both leucanthemum and leucacantha are also mentioned in Pliny's chapter on Phalangitis. One can therefore safely assume that leucacantha is an ancient alternative name that occurred already in the very source Pliny and Dioscorides had used.

One possible explanation is that the plant the ancients had in mind was indeed spiny and these modern identifications are far off the mark. In the Juliana Anicia codex on f. 368v there is an illustration of ΦΑΛΑΓΓΙΟΝ {/PHALANGION/} that certainly bears very little resemblance to G. graeca or A. ramosum; in fact the stalks of a thistle-like plant are depicted as strongly hirsute with spines at the end of deeply toothed big leaves that form a basal rosette. The plant's flowers at the end of the smaller upper leaves are now coloured brown, perhaps due to the passage of time. But even here, half a millennium after Dioscorides, the identification is uncertain since many misunderstandings could have arisen.

Another possibility is that since λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ and λευκάνθεμον /leukánthemon/ are phonetically very similar some mix-up might have occurred very early on between the two names and that λευκάνθεμον /leukánthemon/ {"white flower"} was the right synonym.

In conclusion it must be said that the identification of φαλάγγιον /phalángion/ remains tentative and it is unlikely that Simon had any clearer picture of the plant than we have.

Wilf Gunther 11/11/13

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