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Plumbum vocat Plinius quandam egritudinem oculi que curatur cum quadam herba que grece dicitur molebdina quod est dictu plumbago.


In ms. f this entry is seamlessly added on to the previous entry Plita: Plita paulus co de ydropisi plumbũ vocat plinius
Plinius om. e
{Plinius} quandam | q̄ndã B | quẽdam f
quadam herba AC e | q̄ndã herba B | herba quadam f
grece dicitur AC f | d. g. ms. e | uocat~ grece B | grece j
molebdina | molobdĩa f | melcodina ms. e | molybdaena Pliny
quod | que p
dictu ABC | dictum efjp
{plumbago} pueri add. e


Plumbum {"lead"} is what Pliny calls a certain eye disease that is cured with a certain herb, which in Greek is called molebdina, this is plumbago in Latin.


Simon refers to Pliny, 25, 92, 155, ed. W.H.S. Jones (1938-63: VII.246): Nascitur vulgo molybdaena, id est plumbago, etiam in arvo, … hac commanducata si oculus subinde lingatur, plumbum, quod est genus vitii, ex oculo tollitur - "The plant commonly referred to as molybaena, plumbago in Latin, grows also in cultivated places. … The plant is chewed thoroughly, and when the eye is repeatedly licked {sense uncertain, perhaps 'applied’}, the eye disease called plumbum is removed from the eye".

Simon's form molebdina comes from Greek μολύβδαινα /molýbdaina/. In the medieval pronunciation it is pronounced /molíbdena/, which with vowel metathesis becomes molebdina. The word is a derivation of μόλυβδος /mólybdos/, which means primarily "(the metal) lead", and then transferred "the plant plumbago, "leadwort".

Greek μολύβδαινα /molýbdaina/:
means "a piece of lead, e.g. in fishing lines, etc." but also the metallic substance "sulphuret of lead or lead sulphide, galena". Galena crystals have a characteristically dark bluish grey colour [[1]], which was compared to the colour of the diseased eye, and consequently the plant perceived to cure those diseases was also called μολύβδαινα /molýbdaina/.

Latin calqued its terminology on Greek, and since the metal is called plumbum, the disease was also called plumbum. The plant was named plumbago with the suffix -ago often found in plant names like plantago, trixago, etc.

Apart from Pliny, the disease plumbum is also mentioned in Serenus Sammonicus, Liber medicinalis, 14, 220, ed. Pépin (1950: 16): Si vero horrendum ducent glaucomata plumbum - "But if the 'glaucomata' expand their horrifying lead {over the eyes}". Pépin, the editor of the book, (1950: 66, adn. 13), comments that glaucoma(ta) in antiquity was a general term for eye diseases characterised by a bluish opacification of the cornea, including cataracts, leading to more or less complete blindness. Plumbum "lead", here meaning "lead-coloured", refers to the typical coloration, just as glaucoma does, derived from Greek γλαυκός /glaukós/ "bluish green, light blue, grey".

Botanical identification:

LSJ and Lewis & Short identify plumbago as Plumbago europaea L. [[2]], [[3]], with a distribution over Southern Europe and the Caucasus. The plant is characterised as acid, blistering and emetic. However André (1956: 211) and (1985: 163-4) s.v. molybdaena calls it a "plante non identifiée” since P. europaea’s blistering sap causes strong local irration and is therefore unlikely to be used as medication for eye diseases.

WilfGunther (talk) 11/01/2014

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