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> Plinii Secundi: Historia Naturalis
post Oct 9 2003, 05:23 PM
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Pre-ban minutiae guy

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We'll I'm almost certainly the only one here who has ever worried about this, but the sloppy references to Pliny the Elder's writings on absinthe have always bugged me.

All modern references to Pliny and absinthe, derive not from the original, but to a few lines translated into French in a footnote in Edmond Couleru's 1908 book "Au Pays de l'Absinthe". Couleru incorrectly identifies his extract as coming from Book 37 (XXXVII) of the Historia Naturalis, wheras, as I found out after some tedious searching, the section devoted to absinthe in actually in Book 27 (XXVII). Couleru (or his printers) inserted an extra X. All modern authors, including Madame Delahaye, repeat Couleru's error.

Pliny in fact goes into far more detail than the brief note usually quoted indicates, so being an ex-classics scholar, and having far too much time on my hands at the moment, I thought it would be interesting to provide a translation of the full section.

Pliny begins:
"There are several kinds of absinthe: that called Santonic from a city of Gaul, the Pontic from Pontus, where cattle grow fat on it and because of it are found without gall; there is none finer than this: the Italian is far more bitter, while the pith of the Pontic is sweet. About its use all agree, for it is a plant very easy to find and among the most useful; moreover it is honoured uniquely in the rites of the Roman people in that at the Latin festival when four-horsed chariots race on the Capitol the victor drinks absinthe, because, I believe, our ancestors thought that it was an honourable reward to be given health...."

You can read my entire translation in Adobe PDF format, and see some pictures of a very early edition of the book, on my website:

Ave atque vale

-------------------- c’est l’absinthe enfin, la grande absinthe ou la petite, parure chaste des montagnes et des rivages marins, fille des grand vents purs, blé des espaces vierges, emblème de la liberté farouche.
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