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This entry and the subsequent entry Leucanton were possibly originally conceived as one by Simon, since they offer descriptions of the same plant, one by Pliny and one by Dioscorides. The entries represent only a small excerpt from the accounts by both authors and here contain little more than the same list of synonyms. The medical indications of the plant, here as usual not listed by Simon, are virtually identical, thereby confirming that the same unknown source was used by Pliny and Dioscorides.


Leucanta Plinius alii phimon, alii scada, alii poligonaton dicunt et cetera.


Whole entry missing in f
Leucanta (-cãta A) AC ejp {haplology} | Leucacanta B | Leucacantham Pliny
phimon (-mõ AB) ABC jp | fymon e | phyllon Pliny
scada AC ep | scãda ul' iscada B | sca/stada j | ischada Pliny
{scada} ul' iscada add. B
{scada} uel phymon add. e
poligonaton (-tõ B) B Pliny | poliganathan e | poligãthã p | paliganatan j | poligonacon (-cõ A) AC {'t' misread as 'c'}
et cetera om. B ejp


Leucanta according to Pliny is called by some phimon, others scada and others again poligonaton, et cetera.


The entry is taken from Pliny, 22, 18, 40, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VI.320): Leucacantham alii phyllon, alii ischada, alii polygonaton appellant, … - "Leucacantha, some people call it phyllon, some ischas and some polygonaton …".


Leucanton Dyascorides aut poligonaton aut filon aut scidam dicunt radix eius similis est quipero amara valde.


Whole entry missing in f
Leucanton AC | Leucacantum aut leucãtã B | Leucacantuʒ (-cãtum j) jp | Leucataʒ tamẽ ms. e
{Leucacantum} aut stiada add. j
poligonotõ B | poligonatõ j | poligonatio ep | poligonocon AC {'t' misread as 'c'}
{poligonatio} aut aut {written twice in p}
filon AC | filion B | filiaʒ ms. e | fikon j | om. p
sciada B ep | stiada j | scidam (-dã C) AC
etcetera add. ejp


Leucanton, according to Dyascorides they also call it poligonaton or filon or sciada; its root is similar to quiperus {"galingale"?} and very bitter.


Simon is referring to Dioscorides Longobardus, 3, 19, ed. Stadler (1899: 384) De leucacantu, where it says: Leucacantu aut poligonoton aut filon aut sciada dicunt. Radix ejus similis quipero est, amara est valde.

The Greek original is found in 3, 19, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: II.25): λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/.

The plant names in both entries:

As often with ancient plant names they are usually applied to several different plants by different authors and this can happen even within the same author. This is the case with all of the following names which is why the identifications debated below can only apply to the respective particular chapters in the authors under consideration.

  • Greek λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ is first documented in Theophrastus Historia Plantarum, 6, 4, 3, ed. Hort (1916: II.24). It is a compound name consisting of λευκ- /leuk-/ {"white"} + ἄκανθα /ákantha/ {"thorn"} > "whitethorn", Latinised in Pliny: leucacantha. But a form leucacanthos with a different ending and describing a different plant also occurs twice in Pliny. Perhaps the phonetic similarity between the two names may have cause some confusion and could be the source for the changed ending of the name found in Dioscorides Longobardus, who has the heading De leucacantu with a likely nominative *leucacantus.
  • Greek φύλλον /phýllon/, in medieval pronunciation /fílon/ means "leaf", plural φύλλα /phýlla/ "leaves" but the word expands its meaning to "herbs in general" and "medicinal herbs". The misreading of 'll' as 'm' in all of Simon's witnesses of the Plinian text points to a very early misreading from possibly a Greek source, where Greek "ΛΛ" {= "LL" in Roman letters} was misread as Greek "M" (= same shape in Roman letters}, i.e. ΦΥΛΛΟΝ misread as ΦΥΜΟΝ.
  • Greek ἰσχιάδα /iskhiáda/, accusative of ἰσχιάς /iskhiás/, originally means "hip-gout, sciatica" and is ultimately derived from ἰσχίον /iskhíon/ "hip-joint". The name was later transferred onto the herb thought to be good for hip afflictions. The word was Latinised as ischias but underwent a number of changes in late Latin, e.g. scias, ciasis, sciatica, largely as a result of a wrong analysis of the initial 'i' being seen as the prosthetic vowel that was commonly put before the word-initial consonant cluster /sk-/, e.g. "correct" Latin sc(h)ola > Vulgar Latin /iskola/, in the speech of the uneducated people.

N.b. Pliny's form ischada instead of the expected ischiada is probably due to a copying error. Dioscorides in his text uses ἰσχιάδα /iskhiáda/. Confusingly a Greek form ἰσχάδα /iskháda/, accusative of ἰσχάς /iskhás/, does however exist, occurring in Theophrastus and also in a different chapter in Dioscorides but describing a very different plant, probably a spurge.

  • Greek πολυγόνατον /polygónaton/, in medieval pronunciation /poligónaton/ is a compound of πολυ- /poly-/ {"many"} + γóν- /gón-/ {root for "knee; knot; joint"} > "much-knotted", Latinised: polygonatum. Again this is a name that can be and is applied to quite a number of plants whose stalk shows some "knotting", but here it is of course a synonym to λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/.

Botanical identification:

  • Greek λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ means "white-thorn". Concerning Dioscorides' entry Berendes, based on Sprengel, quotes Cnicus tuberosus (L.) Roth, nowadays better known as Cirsium tuberosum (L.) All., an identification also found in André (1985: 142) for both Pliny's and Dioscorides' leucacantha [[1]], [[2]], [[3]]. Most authors agree with this identification, e.g. LSJ and Beck (2005: 186). But e.g. W.H.S. Jones - editor and translator of Pliny [Loeb] - thinks it likely to be Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn., "(Mediterranean) milk thistle" [[4]].

However it must not be forgotten that leucacantha occurs twice more in Pliny and on each occasion he seems to describe a different plant again, and a similar situation holds with Dioscorides' Materia medica, where the same name appears to be used for different plants.

  • Naturally since Greek φύλλον /phýllon/ is here mentioned as a synonym it must mean the same as λευκάκανθα /leukákantha/ above. However a plant name of this generality, i.e. "leaf", can naturally be applied to many plants. André (1985: 198-9) mentions three altogether, one of which is C. tuberosus.
  • Greek πολυγόνατον /polygónaton/ "the "much knotted plant" can of course be the naming motive for a multitude of plants. André (1985: 203-4) mentions three altogether, one of which is C. tuberosus.
  • Greek ἰσχιάς /iskhiás/ is the only name that seems to be unambiguous, at least according to André (1985) s.v. I ischas, who only mentions C. tuberosus as a candidate.

Leucacanthus as a specific and Polygonatum as a genus name for "Solomon's seal" species have survived into modern botanical Latin.

WilfGunther 11:33, 5 February 2015 (UTC)

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