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Hetigonon Plinius herba ab aliis scorpion vocatur propter similitudinem radicis cuius tactu moriuntur scorpiones.


Hetigonon AC fp | Hethigonon ms. e | Hetigonũ B | Hetegonon j
herba om. j
cuius ABC | eius (-us fp) efp | om. j
{cuius} etiã add. B
moriuntur | moriõt~ B


Hetigonon according to Pliny is a herb some people call scorpion because of the similarity of its root {sc. to a scorpion's tail} and whose touch kills scorpions.


Simon's text is a short excerpt from Pliny, 25, 75, 122, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.224): Thelyphonon herba ab aliis scorpion vocatur propter similitudinem radicis. Cuius tactu moriuntur scorpiones. Jones (1938-63: VII.225) translates: "Thelyphonon is a plant called scorpion by some because its root has the shape of one. A mere touch of it kills scorpions".

Hetigonon = thelyphonon:
This Greek plant name has suffered more than the usual corruption inflicted by scribes with no apparent knowledge of Greek. The Plinian text quite clearly shows that the intended name is thelyphonon < Greek θηλυφόνον /thelyphónon/, a compound of θηλυ- /thely-/ {"female"} + a derivative of φονεύω /phoneúō/ {"to kill"} alluding to the belief that its touch can kill female or according to some authors: most animals. The expected transcription would have been *t(h)elifonon or itacist *t(h)ilifonon.

θηλυφόνον /thelyphónon/:
Greek θηλυφόνον /thelyphónon/, in Theophrastus θηλύφονον /thelýphonon/, is also mentioned in the Greek Dioscorides, Wellmann, 4, 76, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: II.237), as a synonym of ἀκόνιτον /akóniton/, with a variant mentioned: θηρόφονον /thēróphonon/, a compound of θηρ- /thēr-/ {"wild animal"} + a derivative of φονεύω /phoneúō/ {"to kill"}, i.e. "animal killer".

The chapter on ἀκόνιτον /akóniton/ {"aconite"} was translated in the Latin Dioscorides Longobardus, 4, 73, ed. Stadler (1901: 42-3) De aconiton, but here θηλυφόνον /thelyphónon/ is transcribed elifonon, which is easily misread as *etifonon; see Elifonon.

In a further step θηλυφόνον /thelyphónon/ was confused with θηλυγόνον /thelygónon/, the name of a different plant, cf. Telegonon, leading to a very corrupted (H)etigonon. The initial "H" may well be the remainder of an original *"TH".

But interestingly in his entry Achonitum q.v., Simon mentions correctly that Achonitum: vocatur a Dyascoride elifonon, et a Plinio thelifonon – "{Achonitum} is called elifonon by Dyascorides and thelifonon by Pliny".

André (1985: 258), s.v. thēlyphonon explains the name as meaning «tue-femelles», i.e. "killer of females"; the name is given, he states, because of the belief that if the plant was rubbed on the genital of a beast of burden the animal would die. A similar story is told by Berendes (1902: 411), this time widening the danger to any female animal, and he quotes "the scholiasts" for spreading this belief but without giving any further references.

The naming motive for the plant is also discussed in Pliny, 27, 2, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.4), where he says: Constat omnium venenorum ocissimum esse aconitum et tactis quoque genitalibus feminini sexus animalium eodem die inferred mortem – Jones (1938-63: VII.391), translates: "It is established that of all poisons the quickest to act is aconite, and that death occurs on the same day if the genitals of a female creature are but touched by it".

Botanical identification:

Berendes (1902: 412) and André (1985) identify the plant as Doronicum pardalianches Jacq., "great leopard's bane" [[1]], [[2]], [[3]].

WilfGunther (talk) 22:01, 11 August 2015 (BST)

See also: Achonitum, Elifonon

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