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Re: Prediction time...

Dear Nick,

With regards to silphium, it is my understanding that this herb (which is
thought to have been a species of fennel) has been extinct since the
classical period (so popular did it become as an abortifacient in the
Mediterranean world!) so it would be very curious if it were to appear in
an early Renaissance gynaecological text (except as an item of historical
interest, or something copied blindly from ancient sources). Hence Dennis'
joke (?).

In my own forays into the botany of the VMS (much less extensive than
Dana's I will admit) I have not seen any of the abortifacient herbs you
list. I'm sure they would have jumped out at me had I seen them, because
they are all such obvious candidates for inclusion in an herbal. I would
have been overjoyed to spot one of them, because what is so frustrating
about the VMS is that it features so little of what one would *expect* to
find in such a work (whatever it may actually be) and so much of what one
would never expect.

[Can someone tell me what Viola tricolor (f9v), coltsfoot (Tussilago
-- f8r), two unrelated and morphologically dissimilar plants (Rumex
acetosa and Oxalis sp.) both known in English as "sorrel" (f42r), and the
fern Botrychium lunaria (f35v) have to do with each other? There is no
obvious theme except confusion ... and in the case of the "sorrels",
perhaps some clever wordplay (?).]

Rue for one is a very distinctive plant with strong-scented bluish-green
compound foliage and interesting green fruits which resemble tiny limes.
(The various species and cultivars of Citrus are all members of the rue
family, the Rutaceae.) It would be easy to spot if it were in the VMS.

Which Artemisia was it that was used? (There are many species of
Artemisia.) I would assume it was either wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
or mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), as they are two of the most common.

I don't mean this to be a direct challenge to your gynaecological theory,
Nick, but I don't see how the botanical images can support it (or any
other theory, as yet). I have been a great (if silent) fan of your work
for some time, and enjoy reading your messages to the group.


Philip Marshall

On Wed, 2 Jan 2002, Nick Pelling wrote:

> Hi Dana,
> Thanks for the links! It seems like the best source of information arising
> from those should be the book "Sex In History" by Reay Tannahill, ISBN
> 0812885406, Scarborough House Publishers, May 1992 (this is the revised
> edition, but there's also an earlier 1980 edition).
> One link listed abortifacients used in late antiquity:-
> 	silphium
> 	pennyroyal
> 	artemisia
> 	myrrh
> 	rue
> Have any of these appeared as candidates in your botanical searching?
> Aside, that is, from the vague resemblance between silphium and f55r, which
> Dennis insisted was a joke on his part... sort of. :-)
> Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....

Philip Marshall
Yale University
School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

tel: +1(203)436-2137
email: philip.marshall@xxxxxxxx or pmm8@xxxxxxxxxxx

"The pig was not merely a pig but a creature bound among other things to
the fence, the dandelion, and a very special definition of property."
					-William Cronon