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Rapa Plinius medici masculum ex eis dixerunt rotunda latiora vero et concava femineum prestantiori suavitate et ad condiendum faciliora et cetera, rapa vocatur grece gongilion arabice vero selien vel scelgem.


Rapa vocatur . . . seliẽ is treated as a separate entry in B; in ef the section is marked as beginning a new paragraph.

rotunda (-tũ- A) ABC e | ro f

latiora ABC | laciora ef

vero om. f

femineum (-neũ A) AC | femẽinũ B | femininuɱ e | fe. f

suauitate AC ef | suauitae B {typesetting error}

condiendum C Pliny | condiẽdum A | cõterẽdũ B | conterendũ e | conterendum f

gongilion AC e | gõgiliõ B | gongilicon f

selien AC f | seliẽ B | salierj e

vel scelgem (-gẽ A) AC | om. B ef


The physicians call rapa {"turnip"} male if it is from the round ones, if it is from the more spread out and curved ones they call it female. These (i.e. female ones} are more outstanding in sweetness and easier to preserve.

Rapa is called gongilion in Greek, but in Arabic it is selien or scelgem.


Simon's quote - except for the mention of the Greek and Arabic words - is a short excerpt from Pliny, 19, 25, 75, ed. Rackham (1938-63: V.470). The fanciful idea of male and female turnips goes back to Theophrastus, who however was quite cautious about it, cf. [Loeb], Historia plantarum, 7, 4, 3, ed. Hort (1916: II.82):

γογγυλίδος δὲ οἱ μέν φασιν εἶναι οἱ δ' οὖ φασιν, αλλὰ τῷ ἄρρενι καὶ τῇ θηλείᾳ διαφέρειν, γίνεσθαι δὲ ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοῦ σπέρματος ἄμφω /allà tô árrheni kaì tê thēleía diaphérein, gínesthai dè ek toû autoû spérmatos ámphō/ – which Arthur Hort translates "Of the turnip … all do not agree that there are several kinds, but some say that the only difference is between the 'male' and the 'female', and that both forms come from the same seed." (1916: II.83).

Wehr (1976): ﺳﻠﺠﻢ /salğam/ "turnip, Brassica rapa L. (bot.); (eg.) rape (Brassica napus; bot."; Siggel (1950): ﺳﻠﻐﻢ ﺷﻠﺠﻢ ﺳﻠﺠﻢ /salğam, šalğam/ {and not transliterated: /salḡam/} Brassica … rapa (Crucif.) Raps {i.e. "rape"}. A further variant is found in Liber fundamentorum pharmacologiae, ed. Seligmann (1830: II.34) under ﺷﻠﺠﻢ scheldschem /salğam/ Brassica Rapa L: Dicitur quoque {"it is also called:"} ﺷﻠﻐﻢ /šalḡam/.

Botanical identification:

Latin rapum/ rapa and napus are similar sounding names for two closely related species, a recipe for confusion. And it is reasonable to assume that in many cases the ancient authors did indeed mix the two up. Rapum/ rapa is identified by most botanists as the "turnip", Brassica rapa L. (syn. B. rapa L. ssp. campestris (L.) Claph.) [[1]], [[2]], [[3]], and napus is identified with "rapeseed or navew", a type of turnip, Brassica napus L. [[4]], [[5]], [[6]], two species that often hybridise.

The wild form of B. rapa is found in most of Europe, and there it seems to have been taken into cultivation very early on, being domesticated directly from the wild form. The oldest archaeological records of the plant come from Neolithic sites in Switzerland. It is also a well-known vegetable in the entire Middle East, mentioned in Assyrian documents from ca. 1800 BC as laptu, a word obviously cognate with Arabic ﻟﻔﺕ /lift/; the Persian word being ﺳﻠﻐﻢ /salḡam/ (Reiner, Holzner & Ebermann, 1995: 1067) [[7]]; cf. also Siggel (1950). In antiquity and in the Byzantine era, where B. rapa was an important crop plant, it appears to have been grown mainly for its tubers, the swelled parts that form at the lower part of the stem. No doubt even then there were already a large number of cultivars in existence, some of them grown and harvested for their leaves.

All through the Middle Ages the turnip was a staple food plant.

The use of Brassica species for oil production is only a relatively late development.

Wilf Gunther 23/01/14

See also: Left, Salgen, Scelgen

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