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Sfalangion grece aranei species que apud arabes rutella vocatur. Plinius sfalangium est Italie ignotum et est plurium generum, unum formice simile sed multum maius rufo capite reliqua parte corporis nigra albis respersus guttis, acerbior huius quam vespe ictus; vivit maxime circa furnos et molas. sfalangion eque vocant greci sed distinguunt multi {lupi Pliny} nomine. aliud genus est eorum sfalangion nomine araneus .s. lanuginosus grandissimo capite. alius vocatur rhacino {rhox acino Pliny} nigro similis ore minuto subalbo {sub alvo Pliny} pedibus brevissimis tamquam imperfectis. dolor a morsu eius tamquam {qualis Pliny} a scorpione; urina morsi similis aranei texture. idem esset asertion {asterion Pliny} nisi distingueretur virgulis albis, huius morsu genua labefactantur; peior est utrorumque ceruleus lanugine nigra caliginem concitans et vomitus et cetera.


Sfalangion AC efp | Sfalagiõ B | Sfalangeon j
apud | aput p
rutella ABC p | rutela ms. e | ruceila or ruccila f | īteilla j
{rutela} vocatur | dicitur ms. e
sfalangium (-ũ fp) AC fp | sfalagiõ B | scalangiuʒ j | suntalangiuʒ? e | phalangium Pliny
italie ABC | ytalie efjp
simile formice | f. s. AC
maius (-us B) ABC p | magis efj
rufo AC e | ruffo B fjp
parte corporis om. j
nigra albis respersus guttis om. e
nigra | niger j
albis | albus jp
respersus | re aspersus C
acerbior B ef Pliny | ac'bior jp | acribrior AC
circa | iuxta f molas | mollas B
{multi} nomine om. f
eorum om. f
{eorum} sfalangion (-lãg- B) ABC ej | esfalangion f | om. p | phalangion Pliny
nomine om. p
.s. om. f
{lanuginosus} simul add. f
rhacino AC j | thacinon (-nõ B ef) B efp | rhox acino Pliny
{nigro similes} ē {= est} add. p
subalbo ABC efp | subalbido j | sub alvo Pliny
pedibus breuissimis | b. p.
{eius} tamquam | qualis Pliny
morsi ABC ep | mosi? j | mersi f
asertion (-tiõ B) B fj | asertion p | astertion ms. e | asiertino AC | asterion Pliny
{huius} morsu ABC ep | morsi f | morsus j
labefactantur | labefactatur j
concitans | cõtitinis? j
{concitans} et om. f
et cetera om. ef


Sfalangion denotes in Greek a kind of spider which is called rutella among the Arabs.

{§ 84} Pliny says: The sfalangium {phalangium Pliny} is unknown in Italy and of it there exist numerous kinds. One is similar to an ant but much bigger, it has a red head and the rest of the body is black and besprinkled with white specks; its sting is more severe than that of the wasp. It lives near ovens and mills.

{§85} The Greeks also call a certain spider phalangion but many people distinguish them {Pliny: one they call lupus "wolf"} by name. Yet another kind of spider they give the name sfalangion; it is downy and it has a very large head.

{§86} Another spider is called rhacinus {rhox Pliny}, {in appearance} it is similar to a grape {acino Pliny} and it has a very small mouth that is whitish {Pliny: sub alvo} "under its addomen"}, with very short legs that are not fully developed so to speak. The pain from its bite is like that of a scorpion and the urine of a stung person looks similar to cobwebs.

The asterion spider would look identical if it was not distinguished by white streaks. By its bite the knees become weak. But worse than either is the blue spider, with a dark hairy covering, {its bite} brings on dimsightedness and vomiting.


Simon's text is a near verbatim quote from Pliny, 29, 27, 84-6, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VIII). The text suffered a number of corruptions in the course of transmission.

For the Arabic lemma see Aranea.

φαλάγγιον /phalángion/:
Greek φαλάγγιον /phalángion/ is the diminutive of φάλαγξ /phálanx/ of which the original meaning is "round piece of wood, trunk, log". From there it developed into meanings like "line of battle", "bone connecting finger or toe joints", etc. φαλάγγιον /phalángion/ lit. "little log, beam" is still the word for a "log or roller under a ship" (LSJ), but it was further transferred to mean "venomous spider, esp. Lathrodectus or malmignatte" (LSJ) [[1]], - according to Frisk (1960-72: II.985) s.v. φάλαγξ /phálanx/ - because of the long joints in its legs. From there the word was used to name the plant that was supposed to cure this spider's bite, acc. to LSJ Lloydia graeca, syn. Gagea graeca (L.) Dandy "spider-wort" [[2]]. The Greek word was adopted into Latin as phlangion or phalangium and this is how it is written in Pliny or Celsus.

In later Antiquity phalangium became contaminated with the name for another animal, σπάλαξ /spálax/ or σφάλαξ /sphálax/, acc. to LSJ the "blind molerat, Spalax typhlus", a rodent nowadays confined to Russia and Ukraine. But Spalax graecus, the "Balkan molerat" and possibly Spalax nehringi "Nehring's blind molerat" may still occur in Greece. N.b. the genus Spalax is in the process of updating and many taxonomic changes can be expected [[3]]. Now molerats have very little in common with spiders except that - when cornered - they can bite too, and both species live underground and rarely come to the surface. Perhaps – apart from some phonetic similarity - it was the "log-like" round body that suggested to the folk-etymological mind a connection with φαλάγγιον /phalángion/ resulting in hybrid forms like spalangion, sphalangion or sfalangion, Latinised sphalangium, sfalangium. These hybrid forms occur – here only one occurrence is indicated - e.g. in Dioscorides Longobardus, the Herbarius of Pseudo-Apuleius, ed. Howald (1927: 30.24): spalangiones [[4]], De herbis femininis of Ps.-Dioscorides: spalangionum morsus curat, ed. Kästner (1896: 611.28) [5]] and Marcellus empiricus, eds. Niedermann & Liechtenhan (1968: 298.13): sfalangionis morsum [[6]], which the translators here translate as "Blindmaus" {i.e. "blind molerat"}. Simon's quote is however from Pliny and in the original only phalangium can be found, which Simon has changed into Sfalangion and Sfalangium.

Is a corruption of Pliny's: vocatur et rhos acino nigro similis "it is so named, i.e. rhos, because it is similar to {the colour of} a black grape". Rhos is derived from Greek ῥώξ /rhṓx/, also: ῥάξ /rháx/, which means "grape" and Nicander in his Theriaca, ed. Schneider (1856: 260), verses 715 ff. [[7]] concurs with Pliny saying that this spider has the colour of pitchy smoke and is therefore named "grape-spider". In Nicander its bite is reported to be particularly gruesome.

Greek ἀστέριον /astérion/ is a derivative of ἀστήρ /astḗr/ "star" and it means "starred, starry" {sc. spider} or "starlet" but according to Pliny it has virgulae "stripes". Pliny follows closely the account given by Nicander (1856: 260) lines 725-729 [[8]], which Gow & Scholfield (1953: 77) translate: "Learn of one different {sc. spider} from these – the STARLET, on whose back striped bands gleam radiant on the skin. When it has bitten, a shivering comes unexpectedly upon the victim, a torpor is in his head and breaks the bonds of his knees beneath him".

Pliny's caeruleus {lit. "sky-blue"} is a translation of a spider's name which Nicander (1856: 260) verses 729 ff. calls κυάνεον /kyáneon/ < κυάνεος /kyáneos/ "dark blue, the colour of κύανος /kýanos/ ('lapis lazuli; sea-water'}". This spider is supposed to cause vomiting in both authors' accounts.

It is interesting that Pliny and Nicander have the same sequence in which they list the different kinds of spider. It is likely that Pliny used Nicander as one of his sources.

Zoological remarks:

Phalangium has survived into modern zoological terminology as a genus name [[9]], of which there are 5 species native to Europe.

WilfGunther (talk) 11:41, 1 September 2015 (BST)

See also: Aranea, Sphalangion

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