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Oniscũte grece Cassius felix capitulo de dolore aurium tasellos inquit quos greci oniscunte vocant vermiculi sunt qui nascuntur in humectis locis humidum tamen fugientes qui tacti in sperulas plicando convertuntur et cetera, nos vero porcelliones vocamus.


tasellos AC | taxellos e | taselos B | caselos f {'t' misread as 'c'} | asellos Cassius

oniscunte (-cũte AC) AC f | õiscũte B | oniscinite e {'un' misread as 'ini'} | oniscos Cassius

sunt om. f

humectis f | hũectis ABC | hũidis e

hũidum f | hũidũ ABC e | hominum Cassius

tamen f | tamen e | tñ ABC | tantum Cassius {tamen and tantum have very similar abbreviations, cf. e.g. Capelli p. 376}

plicando e | -cãdo ABC | policando f

et cetera om. e

porcelliones (-lliões C) AC e | porceliones B f


Oniscũte is a Greek word found in Cassius Felix, in his chapter "On ear-ache", where he says: "woodlice, which the Greeks call oniscũte, are vermin/pests that live in damp corners, only fleeing the damp when touched and by folding they roll up into little balls, etc. and we call them porcelliones."


This is a passage from Cassius Felix, De medicina, 28, 3, ed. Fraisse (2001: 54): Ad dolorem aurium. Gesentera id est vermiculos de arrugia aut araneas aut asellos quos Graeci oniscos dicunt – nascuntur in humectis locis hominum tactum fugientes ita ut se in spaerulas plicando convertant. "For Ear-ache. Gesentera, these are little earth-worms or spiders or wood-lice which the Greeks call oniscos, the latter live in damp places, fleeing the touch of/contact with humans in that they change shape by folding up into little balls".

The original passage clears up a number of misreadings that must have happened to Simon or his transmitters: The animal he speaks of is in Greek ὀνίσκος /onískos/, diminutive of "donkey, ass" ὅνος /ónos/. The basic meaning is therefore "little donkey", but the word is only used metaphorically denoting a variety of things spanning from the name of a fish to a windlass, but also to some small crustaceans, probably the woodlouse. The peculiar distortion of oniscos to oniscũte is unexplained.

A direct loan translation of "little donkey" into Latin results in asellus < asinus "donkey", here also taking on i.a. the meaning "wood-louse".

Simon's form tasellus is probably the outcome of a wrong word separation, cf. the original text says: "you shall cook in oil: spiders or wood-lice, which the Greeks call oniscos" - [araneas au]t asellos quos Graeci oniscos dicunt.

Fraisse in her apparatus criticus of Cassius Felix mentions a variant reading: humidum tamen/tantum instead of hominum tactum, which was obviously the wording in Simon's source. But this alters the meaning only slightly.

zoological identification:

All the names of animals that Simon mentions have survived into zoological Latin in the name of woodlouse genera and species, e.g. Oniscus asellus L. the "common woodlouse" [[1]], but probably not the one Cassius Felix or Simon had in mind since it is absent from the Mediterranean Basin. More likely is Porcellio scaber Latreille "rough woodlouse" [[2]], which is ubiquitous in the Mediterranean Biome. Be also aware that just like today Cassius and Simon were unlikely to distinguish greatly between any species or even genera of woodlice, clumping together anything from the suborder Oniscidea, which has over 3,000 known species.

Wilf Gunther 02/01/14

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