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Proserpinata poligonia Plinius herba vulgaris supra in poligonia.


All medieval witnesses have proserpinata {'c' misread as 't'} | the antique witnesses have proserpinaca.

Plinius herba vulgaris supra in poligonia om. e

vulgaris (-is f) AC f | uulgari. B


Proserpinata is poligonia. Pliny calls it a common herb. See the entry Poligonia above.


Simon alludes to Pliny, 27, 104, 127, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.468), which says: Proserpinaca herba vulgaris est – "Proserpinaca is a common herb". And Pliny continues to describe the medicinal virtues of the plant, i.a. its use in a recipe for curing quinsy. It is further mentioned briefly 26, 11, 23 (1938-63: VII.282), outlining the same recipe for quinsy.

Although Pliny, 27, (1938-63: VII.458, 460) mentions a number of synonyms for polygonum, proserpinaca is not among them, and the question remains open whether he did or did not consider proserpinaca and polygonum to be two different plants.

However, the synonymy is clearly established in Dioscorides Graece, 4, 4, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: II.171)[[1]], in the RV version it says: πολύγονον ἄρρεν: … οἱ δὲ πολύκαρπον, ... Ῥωμαῖοι … οἱ δὲ προσερπίνακα /polýgonon árrhen, … hoi dè polýkarpon, … Rhōmaîoi, … hoi dè proserpínaka "the male polygonon is also called polykarpon, .. the Romans call it also proserpinaka".

It is also confirmed in the Pseudo-Apuleian Herbarius, 18, ed. Howald (1927: 54-5). HERBA PROSERPINACA [[2]]: Nomina herbae. {sc. proserpinaca} A Graecis dicitur poligonos, … alii poligonatos, alii policarpon, … Romani {v.l. Itali} sanguinaria {v.l. sanguinalis}, Itali proserpinaca - "Synonyms for proserpinaca are: the Greeks call it poligonos, others poligonatos, others policarpon, ... The Romans {v.l. Italians} call it sanguinaria {v.l. sanguinalis}, and the Italians call it proserpinaca".

The etymology of this name is either seen as deriving from proserpere "to creep forward or along", alluding to the snake-like sprawl of the plant's wirey branched stems. Others see a reference to the goddess Proserpina, Greek Περσεφόνη /Persephónē/. Cf. Genaust (1996: 508), Proserpináca.

The word has survived into botanical Latin as the genus name Proserpinaca given by Linnaeus to a group of American marsh and water plants.

For further information see Poligonia, Policarpos.

Wilf Gunther 15/01/14

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