Pliny the Elder, Natural History

LCL 393: 164-165

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Pliny: Natural History


XVIII. Linozostis sive parthenion Mercurii inventum est. ideo apud Graecos Hermu poan multi vocant eam, apud nos omnes mercurialem. duo eius genera: masculus et femina, quae efficacior. caule est1 cubitali, interdum ramoso in cacumine, ocimo angustioribus foliis, geniculis densis, alarum cavis multis, semine in geniculis dependente feminae copioso, mari iuxta genicula stante rariore ac brevi 39contortoque, feminae soluto et candido. folia maribus nigriora, feminis candidiora, radix supervacua, praetenuis. nascuntur in campestribus cultis. mirumque est quod de utroque eorum genere proditur: ut mares gignantur hunc facere, ut feminae illam. hoc contingere, si a conceptu protinus bibatur sucus in passo edanturve folia decocta ex oleo et sale, vel cruda ex aceto. quidam decocunt eam in novo fictili cum heliotropio et duabus vel tribus spicis, 40donec cogatur. decoctum dari iubent et herbam ipsam in cibo altero die purgationis mulieribus per triduum, quarto die a balineo coire eas. Hippocrates miris laudibus in mulierum usum praedicavit has;

  • 1est Detlefsen: et unus cod. et Mayhoff, qui aliter dist. et lacunam post geniculis indicat. Ego Detlefsen sequor. Desunt §§ 38–41 in codd. VRdT.

Book XXV

XVIII. Linozostis or parthenion was discoveredLinozostis or parthenion. by Mercury, and so many among the Greeks call it “Hermes’ grass”, but all we Romans agree in calling it mercurialis. There are two kinds of it, the male and the female, the latter having the more powerful properties. It has a stem which is a cubit high and sometimes branchy at the top, leaves narrower than those of ocimum, joints close together and many hollow axils. The seed of the female hangs down in great quantity at the joints; while that of the male stands up near the joints, less plentiful, short and twisted; the female seed is loose and white.a The leaves of the male plant are darker, those of the female lighter; the root is quite useless and very slender. It grows in flat, cultivated country. A remarkable thing is recorded of both kinds: that the male plant causes the generation of males and the female plant the generation of females. This is effected if immediately after conceiving the woman drinks the juice in raisin wine, or eats the leaves decocted in oil and salt, or raw in vinegar. Some again decoct it in a new earthen vessel with heliotropium and two or three ears of corn until the contents become thick. They recommend the decoction to be given to women in food, with the plant itself, on the second day of menstruation for three successive days; on the fourth day after a bath intercourse is to take place. Hippocratesb has bestowed very high praise on these plants for the diseases of women; no medical man

  • aDioscorides has (IV. 189): ἔχει δὲ φύλλον ὅμοιον ὠκίμῳ πρὸς τὸ τῆς ἑλξίνης, ἔλαττον δέ, κλωνία διγόνατα, μασχάλας πολλάς, πυκνὰς ἔχοντα· τὸν δὲ καρπὸν ἡ μὲν θήλεια βοτρυοειδῆ καὶ πολὺν ἡ δὲ ἄρρην πρὸς τοῖς πετάλοις μικρόν, στρογγύλον, ὥσπερ ὀρχίδια κατὰ δύο προσκείμενα. This is so unlike the Pliny passage in details, although parts are very similar (particularly densis, alarum cavis multis and μασχάλας πολλάς, πυκνάς), that I hesitate to emend Pliny so as to harmonize his account with Dioscorides.
  • bSee Littré’s vol. X. pp. 690, 691 for references to the herb mercury in the Hippocratic Corpus.
DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.pliny_elder-natural_history.1938