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Trichachis Plinius trinum inquit est centaurium in cognomine trichachis succum sanguineum mittit Theophrastus a trachate accipitrum genere nomen accepisse dicit et cetera.


Trichachis ABCD | Tricacharis e | triorchis Pliny | τριόρχης /triórkhēs/ Theophrastus.

trinum ACD | tercium B e

inquit ABCD | inquid e

centantium ACD | centaurium B e | centauris Pliny | κενταυρίς /kentaurís/ Theophrastus

in cognomine ACD | cognomine B e

succum ABCD | sucum e

a trachate AC | trachare D | a criorche e | a criorche vel cricace B | a triorche Pliny | τριόρχης /triórkhēs/ Theophrastus


Trichachis: Pliny says that there are three kinds of centaurium and this one is given the byname trichachis, and it emits a blood-red juice. Theophrastus says that it has taken this name from trachate, a kind of bird of prey {of the same name}, etc.


This quote by Simon, where the Greek words have been particularly badly copied, goes back to Pliny, 25, 32, 69, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII)

Tertia est centauris cognomine triorchis. qui eam secat, rarum est ut non vulneret sese. haec sucum sanguineum mittit. Theophrastus defendi eam inpugnarique colligentes tradit a triorche accipitrum genere, unde et nomen accepit. inperiti confundunt haec omnia et primo generi adsignant - "The third centauris {'centaury'} is given the byname triorchis. He who cuts this root will rarely avoid not being hurt. The root emits a blood-red juice. Theophrastus says that it is defended and collectors attacked by triorchis, a kind of bird of prey, hence the plant’s name. Those without experience tend to confuse all this and identify this plant centauris with the first centauris".

Pliny has obviously misunderstood the Theophrastian text. Theophrastus only speaks of the superstitions amongst the ῥιζοτόμοι /rhizotómoi/, i.e. "the root gatherers", who think that the plant κενταυρίς /kentaurís/ is under the protection of τριόρχης /triórkhēs/, a bird of prey often identified with a kind of buzzard:

Cf. Theophrastus in his Historia Plantarum - "Enquiry into Plants", 9, 8, 7, ed. Hort (1916: II.258) says: Φυλάττεσται δὲ καὶ τὴν κενταυρίδα τέμνοντα τριόρχην, ὅπως ἂν ἄτρωτος ἀπέλθῃ ...

This is how Hort translates (1916: II.259): "It is also said that, while cutting feverwort one must beware of the buzzard-hawk, if one wishes to come off unhurt".

τριόρχης /triórkhēs/ literally means "having three testicles", metaphorically "be very lecherous", but it is also the name for "a kind of hawk, perh. buzzard, Buteo vulgaris" (LSJ). Apparently the bird was thought to show some form of triorchidism or was perceived to be very lascivious.

It is only Pliny, who concludes that the bird as the plant's protector has passed on its name to the plant.

Generally only two centaurea were distinguished in antiquity:

κενταύριον τὸ μέγα /kentaúrion tò méga/ - Latin centaurium maius {"greater centaury"},

κενταύριον τὸ μικρóν /kentaúrion tò mikrόn/ - Latin centaurium minus {"lesser centaury"}

For more information see Centaurea.

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