Lepton (2)

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Lepton Plinius capitulo de centaurea est inquit alterum centaureum cognomine lepton minutis foliiis quod antiqui libadeon vocant quoniam secundum fontes nascitur et infra hoc centaureum nostri fel terre vocant propter amaritudinem summam Galli vero etena dicunt et cetera.


cẽtaurea ABC e | cãtaurea f

{alterum} genus add. f

centaureũ (cẽ- AB) ABC e | centaurum f

{cognomine} lepton ABC e | lepthon f

antiqui AC | aliqui (-ui B f) B ef

libadeõ ABC | labadeon f | libadan ms. e

secundũ (-cũ- A) AC | secundum ef | supra B

summã C | sũmã AB e | sumã f

etena AC | ereaʒ (ereã B f) B ef

et cetera om. ef


Lepton, according to Pliny in his chapter De centaurea ("On centaury"} says: 'There is another centaureum which is given the added name lepton {"the tender one"}, it has tiny leaves. The people of old used to call it libadeon because it grows around wells and springs'. And a little further on Pliny says: 'This centaureum we Romans call fel terra {i.e. "gall of the earth"} because of its intense bitterness; but the Gauls call it etena, etc'.


Simon is referring to Pliny, 35, 31, 68, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.184-6), from which he offers near-verbatim excerpts.

Lepton: The epithet lepton is the neuter form λεπτόν /leptón/ of the Greek adjective λεπτός /leptós/ which LSJ gloss as "peeled, husked; fine, small; thin, delicate", and which Simon comments on in his previous entry Lepton (1) q.v.

Libadeon: libadeon or libadion < λιβάδιον /libádion/, which means "small spring; wet place", refers to the habitat of the plant.

Etena: In the Loeb edition of Pliny this Gaulish word appears as exacum. Pliny seems to associate it with exactum, the past participle of exigo "to force out" because he says: Galli exacum, quoniam omnia mala medicamenta potum e corpore exigat per alvum - "The Gauls call it exacum because when given in a potion it purges all bad medicine out of the body through the bowels". It is obviously not a Latin but a Gaulish word and is therefore liable to suffer extreme corruption in the transmission chain. One must assume that etena and exacum are ultimately derived from the same word for the plant.

The name centaureum, centaurium, centaurion and centaurea is taken from Greek κενταύρειον, κενταύριον /kentaúr(e)ion/ named after the Centaur Chiron, Greek Χείρων /Kheírōn/, who was renouned as a healer and who passed on his medical knowledge to many pupils, Asclepios being amongst them.

Botanical identification:

The botanical identification of this plant is widely agreed among most authors. It is thought that what Pliny calls alterum centaureum "the other centaury" is "the common or European centaury" [[1]], [[2]], [[3]], a plant with a European- wide distribution but also occurring in western Asia and northern Africa. It has had a checkered taxonomic history and appears in the literature under a number of synonyms, e.g. Centaurium erythraea Rafn., Erythraea centaurium L., Centaurium umbellatum Gilibert, Centaurium minus Moench . Berendes p. 268 expressly equates Dioscorides' κενταύριον τὸ μικρóν /kentaúrion tò mikrón/ {lit.} "the lesser centaury" with Pliny's lepton and identifies it as Erythraea centaurium L just as André (1956: 79) does, as does Font Quer (2002: 727) using the synonym Centaurium umbellatum Gilibert).

Unfortunately the common centaury's preferred habitat is, if we are to believe Polunin (1969: 313f.): "dry grasslands, open woods, fallow". This is in stark contrast to Pliny's statement: aliqui libadion vocant, quoniam secundum fontes nascitur – "Some people call it libadion {'little spring, fount'} because it grows around wells and springs", and Dioscorides Longobardus, 3, 7, ed. Stadler (1899) De centauria minore states: aquosis locis nascitur - "it grows in watery places".

Wilf Gunther 14/12/13

See also: Centaurea, Lepton (1), Narcha (2)

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