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Odonchitis Plinius inter feni genera est cauliculis densis ab eadem radice geniculatis triangulis nigris geniculis folia parva habet longiora tamen quam poligonium semen in malis {Pliny: in alis} ordeo simile florem purpureum pusillum nascitur in pratis et cetera.


Odonchitis | odontitis Pliny

densis (dẽ- A) AC e | dẽsus B | donsis f {'e' misread as 'o'}

ab eadem (-deӡ C; -dẽ A) AC Pliny | aduersus (-uer- f) B ef

nigris (-gris f) B ef Pliny | in nigris AC

longiora AC Pliny | et longa ef | & lũga B

poligonium (-niũ B f) ABC f | puligonũ e | polygonium Pliny

in malis ABC ef | in alis Pliny

pusillũ AC ef | pusilũ B

et cetera om. B ef


Odonchitis according to Pliny belongs to the types of hay. It is a plant with closely spaced stalks sprouting from the same root, with joints, triangular in shape and dark. In the joints it has small leaves, but they are longer than those of poligonium {"knot-grass"}; its seeds in the axils {i.e. the hollow where the branch unites with the stem; see also Commentary} are similar to ordeum {"barley"}, and it has a very small purple flower. It grows in meadows, et cetera.


The word odontitis is found only in Pliny with this meaning. It is a Greek word formation, cf. ὀδοντῖτις /odontîtis/, a derivation of ὀδούς /odoús/, ὀδόντ- /odónt-/ {"tooth"} resulting in a meaning like "tooth herb", and as Pliny explains later in the text "a plant that heals toothache". In the above witnesses the form odonchitis is used, most likely the result of a very early misreading of a variant form *odonthitis with "th" being unetymological and 't' misread as 'c', an extremely common misreading in medieval mss.

Simon's entry is a near verbatim quote from Pliny, 27, 84, 109, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.454). The text is very close to the original but a copying error has occurred in the sentence: semen in alis ordeo simile "its seeds in the axils are similar to ordeum {'barley'}". Here Pliny's in alis < ala {ala - with its basic meaning "bird's wing", but transferred meaning "plant axil"} was misunderstood early on to be in malis, possibly understood as: "in its fruit".

Nb. Odontitis in modern dentistry is an abnormal enlargement of a tooth pulp, usually resulting from inflammation of the cells responsible for dentin formation {i.e. odontoblasts}.

Botanical identification:

Odontitis is often translated as 'tooth-wort', e.g. Lewis & Short (1879), a name that is notoriously ambiguous in English. Jones in Pliny ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.526-7) tentatively and André (1985: 176), s.v. odontītis suggest Euphrasia odontites L., {syn. Odontites vulgaris MOENCH and many other synonyms [[1]]}. See the genus Euphrasia [[2]], and E. odontites [[3]], [[4]], [[5]].

Wilf Gunther 06/05/2014

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