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Yris Dyascorides yris illirica folia habet xilifio .i. gladiolo similia sed maiora et vastiora et pinguiora flores etiam habet superiores diversi coloris .i. albos aut mellinos aut purpureos aut venetos radices habet sub terra duriores et incurvatas odore bono plenas, he radices colligende sunt et filo inferende et cetera, pendentes sicande sunt melior est tamen macedonica yris an ylirica et maxime durior et colore ruffo et odore bono. Eligenda est gustu calidior que cum tunditur sternutamenta producit, libica etiam albidior est et gustu amarior hec in virtute ponitur in secundo loco: et cum inveteraverint utreque cavernas habent tunc melius olent sed virtutem inferius habent.


The Illyrian yris has leaves similar to those of silfion but bigger and wider and plumper. It has its flower on top (of the stems) and of different colour, either white, quince-yellow, purple or bluish. It has roots under ground that are very firm and articulated and full of excellent scent. These roots must be collected and threaded on a string of linen hanging out to dry. The best yris is the Macedonian or the Illyrian yris, and from these {i.e. their roots} are to be chosen the one that is firmest, shortest, with a reddish colour and a good scent, very pungent in taste and which - when it is crushed - produces sneezing. The Libyan yris is also very white and has a very bitter taste. As for medicinal strength it is only in second place. When these roots get older both kinds suffer from worm holing. But although they begin to smell better, their strength becomes inferior.


As for the spelling of yris with 'y' instead of etymologically correct 'i', it should be borne in mind that the two letters were largely interchangeable in late and medieval Latin.

Simon's ultimate source is Dioscorides Longobardus, 1, 1, ed. Mihăescu (1938: 3-4), De yris illirica, which he quotes near-verbatim, but leaving out – as usual – the passages describing any medical indications.

The Greek word ἶρις /îris/ is the name of the messenger of the gods, but it also denotes the "rainbow", and it is used as the name for a number of Iris species said to have been given this name, because their numerous flower colours rival the spectrum of the rainbow.

Botanical identification:

Dioscorides mentions four flower colours: white, quince-yellow, purple and bluish, which fit a great number of species, so botanical identification is difficult.

The leaves of the Illyrian iris are said to resemble those of a plant, which Simon names as xilifium and equates with gladiolus; in the Dioscorides Longobardus text the plant is named as silfium. This is the result of a confusion between two similar sounding plant names: σίλφιον /sílphion/, Latinised silphium: "the Giant Tangier Fennel, Ferula tingitana" and ξίφιον /xíphion/ or ξιφίον /xiphíon/, Latinised xiphion: "corn-flag, Gladiolus segetum". Xiphion literally means "little sword" and gladiolus is a Latin calque of it. It is needless to say that these are two very different plants. However Simon's mention of the synonym gladiolus clearly indicates that he is thinking of xiphion rather than silfium, so the name should read xifion or xiphion, which is borne out by Wellmann’s Greek text, 1, 1, (1906-14: I.5).

As was said before, Dioscorides mentions four flower colours, which fit a numerous Iris species, making botanical identification difficult, a situation reflected in the literature. Without claiming any firm grounds for identification except for the vague colour clue, here are some old-world irises with matching flower hues: λευκός /leukós/– "white": Iris germanica var. florentina, "white German iris"; μήλινος /mḗlinos/ – "quince-yellow": I. lutescens, "variable Bearded iris" - can be yellow, white and purple; πορφυροῦς /porphyroûs/ – "purple": I. unguicularis, "Algerian iris" and finally /kyanízōn/ κυανίζων – "dark blue": I. pallida, "Dalmatian or sweet iris", with typically sword-shaped leaves.

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