Larix

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Larix species pini de qua Plinius omnia inquit genera pini accensa fuliginem immodicam carbonemque repente expuunt cum eruptionis crepitu iaculanturque longe excepta larice que nec ardet nec carbonem efficit nec alio modo ignis vi consumitur quam lapides et cetera hec idem dicit Vitruvius in libro de architectura et alibi Plinius larix inquit feminam habet quam greci vocant aesida mellei coloris et cetera.


Apparatus:

de qua AC ef | de quo B

immodicã (ĩmo- A) AC | in modica B | inmo͞ic͞aʒ e | vino dicam f

carboneʒ que e | carbonẽqʒ (-qʒ om. B) ABC f

expuunt (-puũt A e) AC ef | expuit B

eruptionis (-õis AB) ABC | erupco͡is f | erupco͞nis e

crepitu AC e | trepitu uel crepitu B | trepitu f

iaculanturqʒ (-t~qʒ B f) AB f | iaculãt~qʒ C | iaculant~ (om. qʒ) e

{longe} qʒ add. e

larice B ef Pliny | radice AC

carbonem (-nẽ ABC) ABC f | carbonũ e

efficit AC | facit B ef

modo om. f

ignis vi (ui B) ABC e | v.i. f

et cetera om. e

hec idẽ AC | hˀ (ho e) idem ef | hoc ibidẽ B

Vitruuius A | Vitiruuius C | victurinus f | uicturinus B | viatirus e

in (ĩ BC) libro ABC e | lo f

architectura ABC e | architecta f

larix om. f

aesida ABC | acsida f | acfida e | aegida Pliny

mellei AC ef | melei B

et cetera om. ef


Translation:

Larix {the "larch tree"} is a kind of pinus {"pine"}, of which Pliny says: {all} kinds of pine when burnt spit out quickly a surprising amount of soot and throw out bits of charcoal over a distance with a crackling noise, except for the larch which does not burn nor produce charcoal nor is it consumed in any other way by the power of fire, it reacts just like stones, et cetera, Vitruvius says the same in his book de architectura and in other places. Pliny also says, that the larch has a female variety which the Greeks call aesida, and it is honey-coloured, et cetera.


Commentary:

The first part of Simon's entry is a near-verbatim excerpt from Pliny, 16, 19, 45, ed. Rackham (1938-63: IV.416). Pliny mentions amongst other things an idea that was apparently common in antiquity, i.e. that larix timber can withstand fire. Vitruvius, in his De architectura, book II, where he discusses building materials, offers a detailed account of the properties of larix in chapter 9, §§ 14, 15, 16. And he tells the story that divus Caesar wanted to conquer a town that had refused to supply him with provisions. His soldiers tried to burn down the town gate but without success and they had to resort to other practices to enter the town. Caesar was then told that the wood the gate was made of was larix. Perhaps it is the property that larix does withstand rotting longer than other woods that might have led to this erroneous belief.

Simon concludes his entry by returning to Pliny, 73, ed. Rackham (1938-63: IV.508). Here Pliny mentions a certain aegis, which he calls the female variety of larix.

However, αἰγίς /aegis/, gen. αἰγίδος /aigídos/ < αἴξ /aíx/ "goat", is essentially a goatskin worn as a dress, and it also means heartwood. In [Loeb] Theophrastus, Historia plantarum, 3, 9, 3, ed. Hort (1916: I.212-4), where he speaks of pine trees in general and πευκή /peukḗ/ in particular, he says:

ἐπεὶ καὶ τὴν αἰγίδα τὴν καλουμένην ἡ θήλεια τῆς πεύκης ἔχει• τοῦτο δ' ἐστὶ τὸ ἐγκάρδιον αὐτῆς• /epeì kaì tḕn aigìda tḕn kalouménēn hē tês peúkēs ékhei: toûto d'estì tò enkárdion autês/, which Hort translates (1916: I.213): "For it is the female fir which contains what is called aegis…; this is the heart of the tree, …". Hort continues, (1916: I.213-5): "… the reason being that it is less resinous, less soaked with pitch, smoother, and of straighter grain… This aegis is found in the larger trees, when, as they have fallen down, the white outside part … has decayed; when this has been stripped off and the core left, it is cut out of this with the axe; and it is of good colour with fine fibre".

Greek πευκή /peukḗ/ is usually identified as pine in general or Pinus pinea L. "stone pine" or Pinus laricio Poir. "European black pine" or "Corsican pine". Pliny, however, who often consults Theophrastus, translates πευκή /peukḗ/ as larix, and he misinterprets aegis as being the Greek name of the female larix.


Botanical identification:

Pliny seems to be vacillating in his descriptions between pine and larch. In Rackham (1938-63: IV.416) he speaks of larix being: materies praestantior longe, incorrupta aevis…, umori contumax, rubens praeterea et odore acrior – "its timber is by far the best, it does not rot with age and it is unyielding to dampness; it is red and has a very pungent smell". These are properties associated with larch, which is to this day considered an excellent building material. The tree Pliny had in mind was most likely Larix decidua L, "the common European larch" [[1]].

However in the passages above, where he is copying material from Theophrastus, larix probably stands for Pinus pinea L, the "stone pine" [[2]]; and the female larix would be Pinus laricio Poir. [[3]]. Cf. also André (1985: 139).

WilfGunther 11/12/13

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