Natural History (Rackham, Jones, & Eichholz)/Book 15
I. ONE of the most celebrated Greek authors, Theophrastus, who flourished about 314 B.C., stated that the olive only grows at places within forty miles of the sea, while Fenestella says that in 581 BC., during the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, it was not found at all in Italy and Spain or in Africa; whereas at the present day it has penetrated even across the Alps and into the middle of the Gallic and Spanish provinces. Indeed in 249 BC., the year in which Appius Claudius the grandson of Appius Claudius Caecus and Lucius Junius were the consuls, olive-oil cost 10 asses for 12 lbs. and somewhat later, in 74 BC., the curule aedile Marcus Scius, son of Lucius, throughout the whole of his year of office supplied the Roman public with oil at the rate of an as for 10 lbs. These facts will seem less surprising to a person who knows that 22 years later in the third consulship of Gnaeus Pompeius Italy exported oil to the provinces. Also Hesiod, who thought that instruction in agriculture was a prime necessity of life, declared that no one had ever gathered fruit from an olive-tree of his own plantingso slow a business it was in those days, whereas now olive-trees bear even in the nursery-gardens, and after they have been transplanted olives are picked from them the next year.
II. Fabianus says that the olive will not grow in extremely cold places nor yet in extremely hot ones. Virgil said that there are three kinds of olive, the orchites, the shuttle-olive and the posia; he also stated that the olive-tree does not require raking or pruning or any attention. There is no doubt that even in the case of olives the soil and the climate are of very great importance; but nevertheless they are also pruned at the same time as the vine, and they like the ground to be raked between them as well. Olive-picking follows the vintage, and making olive-oil requires even more science than making wine, as the same olive-tree produces a variety of oils. The first oil of all is obtained from the raw olive and when it has not yet begun to ripenthis has the best flavour; moreover its first issue from the press is the richest, and so on by diminishing stages, whether the olives are crushed in wicker sieves or by enclosing the spray in narrow-meshed strainers, a method recently invented. The riper the berry is, the greasier and less agreeable in flavour is the juice. The best age for picking olives, as between quantity and flavour, is when the berry is beginning to turn black, at the stage when they are called druppae with us and drypetides by the Greeks. For the rest, it makes a difference at that stage whether the maturing of the berry takes place in the presses or on the boughs, and whether the tree has been watered or the berry has only been moistened by its own juice and has drunk nothing else but the dews of heaven.
III. It is not the same with olive-oil as with wineage gives it an unpleasant flavour, and at the end of a year it is already old. Herein, if one chooses to understand it, Nature shows her forethought, inasmuch as there is no necessity to use up wine, which is produced for the purpose of intoxicationrather indeed the attractive over-ripeness which it acquires with age tempts us to keep it; but she did not desire us to be sparing in the use of oil, she has made it universal even among common people because of the necessity of using it quickly. In the matter of this blessing also Italy has won the highest rank of all the world, particularly in the district of Venafro and the part of it which produces the Licinian oil, which causes the Licinian olive to be exceptionally famous. It is unguents that have given it this eminence, because its scent is so well adapted to them, but it has also been awarded to it by the palate with its more delicate judgement. Moreover no bird will touch the berries of the Licinian olive. The remainder of the competition is maintained between the territory of Istria and that of Baetica on equal terms, while for the rest the provinces have an approximately equal rank, with the exception of Africa, whose soil is adapted for grain. This territory Nature has yielded entirely to the Corn-goddess, having all but entirely grudged it oil and wine, and having given it a sufficiency of glory in its harvests. The remaining statements prevalent concerning the olive are full of error, which shall prove to be more prevalent in no other department of life.
IV. An olive consists of a stone, oil, flesh and lees; the latter constituent is a bitter fluid, which forms out of water and consequently there is very little of it in dry situations but a large amount in wet ones. The oil is indeed a juice peculiar to the olive, and this can be specially learnt from olives in an unripe state, as we have shown when treating of unripe olive-juice and grape-juice. The oil continues to increase until the rising of the Bear-ward, that is till September 16; afterwards the increase is in the sire of the stones and the flesh. At this stage if rain follows in actually large quantities, the oil is spoiled and turns into lees. The colour of these lees makes the olive-oil turn black, and consequently when there is only a tinge of black beginning it contains very little lees, and before any blackness shows none at all. People are quite mistaken in supposing what is really the near approach of decay to be the beginning of ripening, and it is also a mistake to imagine that the amount of oil is increased by the growth of the flesh of the olive, since all the juice is then going into a solid form and the woody interior is getting bigger. It is on this account that olive-trees are watered most plentifully at this period, but watering, whether done intentionally or occurring from repeated falls of rain, uses up the oil, unless fine weather follows to diminish the solid part of the berry. For, as Theophrastus holds, the cause of oil as of other things is entirely warmth, and this is why steps are taken to produce warmth even in the presses and the cellars by lighting large fires. A third mistake is in over-economy, as owing to the cost of picking people wait for the olives to fall. Those who compromise on a middle course in this matter knock the fruit down with poles, so injuring the trees and causing loss in the following year; in fact there was a very old regulation for the olive harvest: 'Neither strip nor beat an olive-tree.' Those who proceed most carefully use a reed and strike the branches with a light sideway blow; but even this method causes the tree to produce fruit only every other year, as the buds get knocked off, and this is no less the case if people quantity of lees, to discover how much larger an amount is found in the same kind of olive with every day that is added. There is an entirely unconquerable and widely prevalent mistake which supposes that the swelling of the olive increases the amount of the oil, in spite of the fact that the absence of connexion between the size of the berry and its yield of oil is proved by the olives called 'royal olives,' and by some people 'large-size olives,' and by others 'babbiae'but anyhow a very large olive with very little juice, and also that the very fleshy olives in Egypt produce a scanty amount of oil, while the extremely small olives at Decapolis in Syria, not larger than a caper, nevertheless have an attractive flesh. It is on this account that imported olives are preferred for the table to those grown in Italy, in spite of their being inferior for making oil, and in Italy itself the olives of Picenum and the Sidicini are preferred to all the other kinds. Those olives are kept separate and steeped in salt, as well as in lees or boiled must like the rest, and also some of them are left floating in their own oil and clean, without any adventitious attractionthe kind called in Greek 'swimmers'; these olives are also crushed and then seasoned with a flavouring of green herbs. Olives however unripe are actually made to ripen early by pouring boiling water on them; and it is surprising how olives suck up a sweet juice and take on a flavour that does not belong to them. As with grapes, so also among olives there are purple varieties, the posia almost shading off into black. Beside the kinds already mentioned there is also the 'proud olive,' as well as the very sweet variety, which is merely dried by itself and is sweeter than a raisin; this last kind of olive is rather rare, and is grown in Africa and in the vicinity of Merida in Lusitania.
The actual oil can be guarded against the defect of thickening by the addition of salt. An aromatic scent can be given to the oil by making an incision in the bark of the tree; but any other mode of seasoning, like those used for wine, is no gratification to the palate. Nor are there so many varieties of olive-oil as there are of wine, there being at most three different grades of excellence. In fine oil the odour is more penetrating, though this is short-lived even in the best kind.
V. Olive-oil has the property of imparting warmth to the body and protecting it against cold, and also that of cooling the head when heated. Those parents of all the vices, the Greeks, have diverted the use of olive-oil to serve the purpose of luxury by making it a regular practice in their gymnasiums; the governors of those institutions a have been known to sell the scrapings of the oil for 80,000 sesterces. The majesty of Rome has bestowed great honour on the olive-tree by decorating our cavalry squadrons with wreaths of olive on July, and also when they are celebrating a minor triumph. Athens also crowns victorious athletes with olive wreaths, and Greece the victors at Olympia with wreaths of wild olive.
VI. We will now state the rules given by Cato in respect of olives. In a warm and rich soil he recommends planting the larger radius olive, the Sallentine, the orchites, the posia, the Sergian, the Corninian and the wax-white, and he adds with remarkable wisdom that the one among these pronounced in the particular localities to be the best should be used; while he recommends planting the Licinian olive in a cold and thin soil, for the reason that rich or warm earth ruins its oil and the tree gets exhausted by its mere fertility, and moreover is attacked by moss and red rust. He advises that olive-yards should be in a position exposed to the sun and facing west, and he does not approve of any other arrangement. He says that the best way of preserving orchites and posia olives is either to put them in brine when they are green or to crush them and store them in mastic oil; the best olive-oil is made from the bitterest olive obtainable; for the rest the olives should be collected off the ground as soon as possible, and washed if they are dirty; it is enough to leave them to dry for three days, and if the weather is cold and frosty they must be pressed on the fourth day, and when pressed they should be sprinkled with salt. Olives kept on a boarded floor lose oil and it deteriorates in quality, and the same happens if the oil is left on the lees and the groundsthese are the flesh of the olive and produce the dregs; consequently it should be ladled several times a day, and moreover this must be done with a shell and into leaden caldrons, as copper spoils it. All these operations, he says, must be carried on with presses that have been heated and tightly closed, admitting as little air as possible, and therefore also no wood should be cut there (and consequently the most suitable fire is made with the stones of the olives themselves); the oil must be poured out of the caldrons into vats, so as to leave behind the grounds and the lees: for this purpose the vessels must be changed fairly frequently and the osier baskets wiped with a sponge, so that so far as possible complete cleanliness may be produced. It was a later discovery, he says, to wash the olives in absolutely boiling water, and at once put them whole into the pressfor that method crushes out the leesand then to crush them in oil-mills and put them under the press a second time. People do not approve of pressing more than a hundred pecks of olives at a time: this is called a 'batch,' and what is squeezed out first after the millstone is called the 'flower.' It is a fair amount for three batches to be pressed in twenty-four hours by gangs of four men using a double holder.
VII. At that time there was no artificial oil, and that I take to be the reason why Cato says nothing about it. At the present time there are several varieties of it; and we will treat first of those kinds which are produced from trees, and among them before all from the wild olive. It is a thin oil, and has a much more bitter flavour than the oil obtained from the cultivated olive, and it is only useful for medicines. Very closely resembling this oil is the oil obtained from the ground-olive, a rock shrub not more than three inches high, with leaves and fruit like those of the wild olive. The next class of oil is that obtained from the cici, a tree growing in great abundance in Egyptothers call it the croton, others sibi, others wild sesamumand there, as well as not long ago in Spain also, it grows wild, shooting up as high as an olive-tree, with a stalk like that of the fennel, the leaf of a vine, and a seed-pod like a slender grape of a pale colour: our countrymen call it the tick, from the resemblance of the seed-pod to that insect. It is boiled in water and the oil floating on the surface is skimmed off. But in Egypt, where it abounds, fire and water are not employed, but salt is sprinkled on the pod and the oil is pressed out; for food it is disgusting, and it is of thin quality for burning in lamps. Amygdalinum, which some people call neopum, is pressed out of bitter almonds, dried and pounded into a cake that is sprinkled with water and then pounded again. An oil is also made from the bay-tree with an admixture of the oil of overripe olives; some people merely press the oil out of the berries, others use only the leaves, and some the leaf and the outer skin of the berries, and also add styrax gum and other scents. The best kind of bay-tree for this is the broad-leaved wild laurel with black berries. A similar oil also comes from the black myrtle, and the broad-leaved variety of this is the best. The berries are sprinkled with hot water and pounded, and then boiled down. Other people boil down the softest of the leaves in oil and press out the liquid, and others steep them in oil and allow them to mature in the sun before putting them in the press. The same method is also used in the ease of the cultivated myrtle, but the wild variety with a smaller pod is preferred, the kind which certain people call oxymyrsine, others ground-myrsine, and some aeorum because of its resemblance to that plant, as it grows low and bushy.
Oil is also made from the citrus and the cypress, from walnutsthis is called caryinum, from apples and from the cedar called pisselaeon; also from grain of Cnidus by cleaning and pounding the seed, and likewise from mastich. As for the method of making cypros-oil and also oil from an Egyptian berry for the purpose of scents, we have spoken of it already. The Indians are said to make oils from chestnuts and gingelly and rice, and the Fish-eater tribes from fish. Scarcity sometimes compels people to make oil for lamps even out of the berries of the plane-tree by steeping them in water and salt. There is also an oil made from the wild vinewe have spoken about the plant itself while dealing with perfumes. For gleucinum must is boiled in oil with a slow heat, but other makers do not use fire but leave the jar packed round with grape-skins for three weeks, stirring up the mixture twice a day, and the must becomes absorbed by the oil. Some people mix in not only marjoram but also more expensive scents, just as the oil used in the gymnastic schools is also perfumed with scents, though of a very poor quality. Oil is also made from aspalathus, reed, balsam, iris, cardamomum, melilot, Gallic nard, all-heal, marjoram, helenium, and cinnamomum root, by steeping all these plants in oil and then pressing out the juices. Similarly also rose-oil is made from roses, and rush-oil, which is very similar to oil of roses, from the sweet rush, and likewise oils are extracted from henbane and from lupins and narcissus. A very large amount is obtained in Egypt from radish seed or from the blade of the grass called chortinon, and likewise from gingelly and from the nettle called cnidinum. In other places also an oil is made from lilies, which is left in the open air to steep in the sunlight and moonlight and frost. On the border of Cappadocia and Galatia they make from native herbs an oil called Selgitic oil, of considerable value for the tendons; and the same oil is made in Italy by the people of Gubbio. From pitch is made an oil called pitch-oil; while the pitch is kept on the boil, fleeces are stretched above the steam rising from it and then wrung out. The most approved kind comes from the Bruttian land; the pitch there is very rich and full of resin.
The colour of pitch-oil is reddish yellow. There is an oil that grows of its own accord in the coastal parts of Syria called elaeomeli. It is a rich oil that trickles from trees, of a substance thicker than honey but thinner than resin, and having a sweet flavour; this also is used by the doctors. There is also a use of old olive-oil for certain kinds of diseases, and it is also deemed to be serviceable for preserving ivory from decay: at all events, the inside of the statue of Saturn at Rome has been filled with oil.
VIII. But it is above all to the lees of olive-oil that Cato has devoted his praises: he tells how vats and casks to hold oil are steeped in lees to prevent their soaking up the oil; how threshing-floors are given a dressing of lees to keep away ants and to prevent cracks; and moreover how the clay of the walls and the plaster and flooring of granaries, and even cupboards for clothes, are sprinkled with lees, and how seed-corn is steeped in them, as a protection against wood-worms and injurious insects. He speaks of its use as a remedy for diseases of animals and also of trees, and also as a specific against ulceration of the mouth in human beings. He says that reins and all leather articles, and shoes and the axles of wheels are greased with boiled lees, and so are copper vessels to keep off verdigris and to give them a more attractive colour, and all wooden utensils and earthenware jars used for keeping dried figs in, or it may be sprays of myrtle with their leaves and berries on them or anything else of a similar kind. Finally he states that logs of wood steeped in olive-lees will burn without any annoying smoke.
According to Marcus Varro an olive-tree which has been merely licked by the tongue of a she-goat or which she has nibbled when it was first budding goes barren.
So far in regard to the olive and olive-oil.
IX. The rest of the fruits produced by trees can scarcely be enumerated by their appearance or shape, let alone by their flavours and juices, which have been so frequently modified by crossing and grafting.
The largest fruit and the one that hangs highest is that of pine-cones, which encloses inside it small kernels lying in fretted beds and clothed in another coat of rusty colour, showing the marvellous care that Nature takes to provide seeds with a soft place to lie in. A second class of pine-cones is that of the Taranto pine, which has a shell that can be broken in the fingers and which is rifled by the birds while on the tree. A third kind is that of the sappinia-cone which grows on the cultivated pitch-pine, the kernels of which have such a soft husk, or rather skin, that it is eaten with them. A fourth kind is called pityis, growing on wild pines, which provides an exceptionally good remedy against a cough when the kernels are boiled in honey; the people of Turin call them raviceli. The winners in the games at the Isthmus are crowned with a wreath of pine leaves.
X. The fruit next to these in size is the one that we call the quince and the Greeks cydoneum, which was introduced from the island of Crete. This fruit drags down the boughs in a curve and checks the growth of the parent tree. There are several kinds of quinces: the 'golden apple' is cleft with incisions and has a colour verging on gold, a brighter tinge of which gives a name to our native quince, and has an exquisite scent. The Naples quince is also highly esteemed. The smaller variety of the same kind, the sparrow-apple, gives out a rather pungent smell, and ripens late, whereas the must-quince ripens very early. Grafting the ordinary quince on the sparrow-apple has produced a special kind, the Mulvian quince, which is the only one of the quinces that is eaten even raw; these at the present day are kept shut up in gentlemen's reception-rooms, and are placed on the statues that share our nights with us. There is also a small wild quince, the scent of which is the most powerful next to that of the sparrow-apple and which grows in the hedges.
XI. We give the name of apples, although they really belong to a different kind, to peaches and to pomegranates, of which we have specified nine kinds among the trees of Carthage. Pomegranates contain a kernel enclosed in a skin, but peaches have a hard stone inside them. Moreover one variety of pear called the pound pear asserts by its name the largeness of its weight. But the palm among peaches belongs to the nectarine: the Gallic and the Asiatic varieties are named after their nationalities. The Asiatic peach ripens at the end of autumn, though an early variety ripens in summerthese were discovered within the last thirty years, and were at first sold for a denarius apiece. The Adriatic peach comes from Samnium, but the common peach grows everywhere. It is a harmless fruit, in demand for invalids, and peaches have before now fetched thirty sesterees each, a price exceeded by no other fruitwhich may surprise us, because there is none which keeps worse: the longest time that it will last after being plucked is two days, and it compels you to put it on the market.
XII. Afterwards comes a vast crowd of plums. There is the parti-coloured plum, partly black and partly white in colour, which is called the barley-plum because it ripens at barley harvest; and another plum of the same colour, which is later and is larger in size, called the donkey-plum from its inferior value. The wax-plum and the purple plum are smaller in size but more esteemed; and there is also the Armenian plum, imported from foreign parts, the only plum that recommends itself even by its scent. Plums grafted on a nut-tree show a remarkable effrontery, displaying the appearance of the parent tree and the juice of the adopted stock; they take their name from each, being called nut-plums. But both the nut-plum and the peach and the wax-plum and the wild plum, if stored in casks like grapes, will prolong their life till another crop begins to come into existence, but the remaining varieties, ripening quickly, speedily pass off. Recently in Boetica the name of apple-plum has begun to be given to plums grafted on apple-trees, and that of almond-plum to others grafted on almonds: the latter have the kernel of an almond inside their stone; and indeed no other fruit has been more ingeniously crossed. Among our foreign trees, we have already spoken of the damson, named from Damascus in Syria; it has been grown in Italy for a long time, though it has a larger stone and less flesh here than in its country of origin, and here it never dries into wrinkles, because it lacks its native sunshine. With it can be mentioned its fellow-countryman the myxa, which also has now begun to be grown at Rome by being grafted on the service-tree.
XIII. The Persian plum or peach, it is true, is shown by its very name to be an exotic even in Asia Minor and in Greece, and to have been introduced from Persia. But the wild plum is known to grow everywhere, which makes it more surprising that this fruit is not mentioned by Cato, especially as he pointed out the way of storing some wild fruits also. As for the peach-tree, it was only introduced lately, and that with difficulty, inasmuch as in Rhodes, which was its first place of sojourn after leaving Egypt, it does not bear at all. It is not true that the peach grown in Persia is poisonous and causes torturing pain, and that, when it had been transplanted into Egypt by the kings to use as a punishment, the nature of the soil caused it to lose its dangerous properties; for the more careful writers relate this of the persea, which is an entirely different tree, resembling the red myxa, and which has refused to grow anywhere but in the east. The sebesten also, according to the more learned authorities, was not introduced from Persia for punitive purposes, but was planted at Memphis by Perseus, and it was for that reason that Alexander, in order to do honour to his ancestor, established the custom of using wreaths of it for crowning victors in the games at Memphis. It always has leaves and fruit upon it, fresh ones sprouting immediately after the others. But it will be obvious that all our plums also have been introduced since the time of Cato.
XIV. Of the apple class there are a number varieties. We have spoken of citrons when describing the citron-tree; the Greeks, however, call them 'Medic apples,' after their native country. Equally foreign are the jujube-tree and the tuber-apple, which themselves also have only recently come into Italy, the former from Africa and the latter from Syria. Sextus Papinius, who was consul in our own day [AD 23], introduced each of them in the last years of the principate of his late Majesty Augustus, having grown them in his camp from slips; the fruit is more like a berry than an apple, but the trees make a particularly good decoration for terracesas nowadays we have whole forests of vegetation growing even over the roofs of our houses. There are two kinds of tuber-apple, the white and the red Syrian, so called from its colour. The fruit called wool-fruit, growing in the district of Verona but nowhere else in Italy, is virtually an exotic; it is covered with a woolly down, which grows also in very large quantities on the sparrow-quince and the peach, but which has given its name to this fruit in particular as it has no other remarkable property to recommend it.
XV. Why should I hesitate to indicate by name the remaining varieties of fruit, seeing that they have prolonged the memory of those who established them for all time, as though on account of some outstanding achievement in life? Unless I am mistaken, the recital will reveal the ingenuity exercised in grafting, and will show that nothing is so trifling as to be incapable of producing celebrity. Well then, there are kinds of fruit that have their origin from Matius and Cestius, from Mallius, and likewise from Scaudius; and on the last a member of the Claudian family named Appius grafted the quince, producing the fruit called Appian; this has the smell of a quince, the size of a Scaudian apple, and a ruddy colour. And in order that nobody may imagine that it has gained its position by influence due to distinction and family, there is also a Sceptian apple named from a freedman who discovered it, which is remarkable for its round shape. Cato also mentions a Quirinian apple, and a Scantian which he says is stored in casks. But the apple naturalized here most recently of all is a small one with a most agreeable flavour named the Petisian. The Amerian and the Little Greek apples have advertised their places of origin, but all the rest have derived their name from definite reasons'twin' apples from their attachment of relationship, as they never grow singly, the 'Syrian red' from its colour, the pear-apple from its affinity; the must-apple was named from its quickness in ripening, but is now called the honey-apple from its honey flavour; the round apple from its shape, which forms an exact spherethe Greeks, who call this apple the Epirotic apple, prove that it was first produced in Epirns; the orthomastium is so called from its resemblance to a teat, and the eunuch-apple of the Belgians is named from its having no pips. The leaf-apple has a single leaf, or occasionally a pair of leaves, sprouting out from the middle of its side; the ragged-apple very quickly shrivels up into wrinkles; the lung-apple swells in a solid lump. Some apples are of the colour of blood, because they derive their origin from a graft of the mulberry; but all apples are red in the parts that have been turned towards the sun. There are also wild apples with little attraction of flavour and an even sharper scent; their special fault is that of horrible sourness, and it is so powerful that it will blunt the edge of a sword. Another apple is named 'flour-apple,' a very bad kind, although it is the earliest to come on and hastens to be picked.
XVI. The same charge in the case of pears is censured by the name of pride; this is a small pear, but ripens very quickly. Of all the varieties of pear, however, the Grustumian is the nicest. Next to this are Falernian pears, used for perry, as they contain such a large quantity of juicethis is called being 'milky'and among these are some others of a very dark colour, given us by Syria. The names of the remaining varieties are designated differently in various different localities; but pears that have advertised their producers by the accepted designations of Rome are the Decimian, and the offshoot from it called the Sham Decimian, the very long-stalked one called the Dolabellian, the kind of Pomponian called breast-shaped, the Licerian, the Sevian, and the Turranian, a variety sprung from the Sevian but differing in length of stalk, the Favonian, a red pear a little larger than the 'proud' pear, the Laterian and the Anician, which comes when autumn is over and has an agreeably acid flavour. One pear is called the Tiberian, which was a special favourite of the Emperor Tiberius; it is more coloured by the sun and grows to a larger size, but otherwise would be the same as the Licerian. Pears having the name of their place of origin are the Amerian, the latest of all kinds, the Picentine, the Numantine, the Alexandrian, the Numidian, the Greek, a variety of which is the Tarentine, and the Signine, which some people call the tile-pear from its colour, like the onyx-pear and the purple pear; while named from their scent are the myrrh-pear, the bay-leaf pear and the nardpear; named from its season the barley-pear; from its long neck, the bottle-pear; and the Coriolan and Bruttian pears are so-called because of their connexion with certain races, and the gourd-pear and the sourish pear because of their juice. Pears the reason for the names of which is uncertain are the barbarian, the variety of Venus pear called the coloured Venus, the royal pear called the squat pear because of its very short stalk, the patrician pear, and the vocimum, a green kind of an oblong shape. Virgil has also mentioned a warden pear, which he gets from Cato, who also specifies a 'seed-time pear' and a 'must-pear.'
XVII. This department of life has long ago arrived at its highest point, mankind having explored every possibility, inasmuch as Virgil speaks of grafting nuts on an arbutus, apples on a plane and cherries on an elm. And nothing further can be devisedat all events it is now a long time since any new kind of fruit has been discovered. Moreover, religious scruples do not permit us to cross all varieties by grafting; for instance, we must not graft upon a thorn, inasmuch as it is not easy to expiate thunderbolts when they have struck them, and it is declared that the same number of bolts will strike it in a single flash as the kinds of trees that have been grafted on it.
Pears have a more tapering shape than apples. The late kinds among them hang on the mother tree till winter and ripen with the frostthe Greek pear, the bottle pear, the bay-leaf pear; as also among apples do the Amerian and Scaudian varieties. Pears are put in storage like grapes, and in as many different ways, and are the only fruit kept in casks except plums. Of all the apple kind pears have the quality of wines, and like wine they are avoided by doctors in the treatment of the sick. Boiled in wine and water they make a sort of jam, as does no other fruit except the quince and the sparrow-apple.
XVIII. In regard to keeping fruit it is universally recommended that fruit-lofts should be constructed in a cool and dry place, with boarded floors and windows facing north that are left open on a fine day, and with glazed windows to keep out south winds, the draught from a north-east wind also spoiling the appearance of the fruit by making it shrivelled; that apples should be gathered after the autumn equinox, and not before the 16th day of the moon nor later than the 28th, nor on a rainy day, nor till an hour after sunrise; that windfalls should be kept separate; that the fruit should have a bed of close-packed straw or of chaff underneath, and should be placed far apart so that the spaces between the rows may admit a uniform draught. It is said that the Ameria apple is the best keeper and the honey-apple the worst. It is recommended that quinces should be stored in a place kept shut up, from which all draughts are excluded, or else that they should be boiled or soaked in honey. Pomegranates should be hardened in boiling seawater and then dried in the sun for three days and hung up in such a way as to be protected from the dew at night, and when wanted for use they should be thoroughly washed in fresh water. Marcus Varro recommends keeping them in large jars of sand, and also while they are unripe covering them with earth in pots with the bottom broken out but with all air shut out from them and with their stalk smeared with pitch, as so kept they grow to an even larger size than they could possibly attain on the tree. He says that all other fruit of the apple kind should also be wrapped up separately in fig-leaves (but not leaves that have fallen off) and stored in wicker baskets or else smeared over with potters' earth. He says that pears should be stored in earthenware jars which should be covered with pitch and placed bottom upwards in a hole in the ground with earth heaped over them. He recommends gathering the Taranto pear very late; and keeping the Anician and also sorb-apples in raisin wine, and putting them in holes dug in the ground in a sunny place, with the lid of the jar plastered up and two feet of earth heaped on top of it, the vessels being placed bottom upward; and he also recommends hanging them together with their branches, like grapes, in large jars.
Some of the most recent writers examine deeper into the matter, and recommend that fruit and grapes should be picked early for the purpose of storage, when the moon is waning, after nine o'clock in the morning, in fine weather or with a dry wind blowing. Likewise they say that the fruit ought to be chosen from dry places and also before it is completely ripe, with the further condition that the moon must be below the horizon; and that the grapes with their hard hammer-shoot of stalk, after the rather rotten berries have been removed with a pair of scissors, should be hung up inside a fresh-tarred cask, with all air shut out by the lid and by plaster. They recommend the same method for storing sorb-apples and pears, the stalks of all having been smeared with pitch. They say that the casks must not be kept anywhere near water. Some people store them in this way together with the branch itself, with each of its ends stuck into a squill; others hang them in casks still containing wine, but taking care that the grapes do not touch the wine; some store apples floating in wine in earthenware dishes, by which method they think a scent is given to them by the wine. Some prefer to preserve all fruit of this kind in millet, but most people think it is best kept in a hole in the ground two feet deep with a layer of sand under the fruit and covered with an earthenware lid and then with soil. Some even smear grapes with potters' clay, dry them in the sun and hang them up, washing off the clay when they are required for use. In the case of fruits, they get rid of the clay by means of wine. By the same method they coat the finest kind of apples with plaster or wax, but if the fruit is not already ripe it breaks the coating by growing in size; but they always store the apples with their stalks downward. Other people pluck the apples together with the branches, the ends of which they thrust into elder pith and then bury, as described above. Others assign a separate clay vessel to each apple and pear, and after sealing up the opening of the vessels with pitch enclose them again in a cask; also some store the fruit, packed in flocks of wool, in cases which they smear with clay mixed with chaff; others follow the same plan using earthenware pans to put them in; and also some store them in a hole on a layer of sand, and so later cover them up with dry earth. There are some who give quinces a coat of Pontic wax and then dip them in honey. Columella recommends storing grapes in earthenware vessels that have been very carefully smeared with a coating of pitch, and sinking them into wells or cisterns. The part of seaboard Liguria nearest to the Alps dries its grapes in the sun, and wraps the raisins in bundles of rush and stores them in casks sealed np with plastered lime. The Greeks do the same, employing plane-tree leaves, the leaves of the vine itself or fig-leaves that have been dried for one day in a shady place, and putting grape-skins in the cask between the grapes; this is the method used for storing the grapes of Cos and of Beyrout, which are inferior to none in sweetness. Some people to make raisins dip the grapes in lye-ashes as soon as they have plucked them from the vines, and afterwards dry them in the sun and plunge the raisins into hot water and again dry them in the sun, and then wrap them up in leaves, making them into a tight bundle with grape-husks as described above. There are those who prefer to keep grapes in sawdust or in shavings of pine or poplar or ash wood; and there are some who advise hanging them in a granary, not near any apples, as soon as they are picked, because they say that the dust of the corn dries them best. A protection against wasps for bunches of grapes hung up is to sprinkle them with oil squirted out of the mouth. About palm-dates we have already spoken.
XIX. Of the rest of the apple class the fig is the largest, and some figs rival even pears in size. We have spoken about the marvels of the Egyptian and Cypriote fig among the figs of foreign countries.
That of Mount Ida is red, and is the size of an olive, only rounder in shape; it has the taste of a medlar. The local name of this tree is the Alexandrian fig; the trunk is eighteen inches thick and it spreads out in branches; it has a tough pliant wood, containing no juice, a green bark and a leaf like that of a lime but soft to the feel. Onesicritus reports that the figs in Hyrcania are much sweeter than ours and the trees more prolific, a single tree bearing 270 pecks of fruit. Figs have been introduced among us from other countries, for instance, Chalcis and Chiosof the latter there are several varieties, inasmuch as Lydian figs, which are purple, and breast-shaped figs have a resemblance to the Chian; also the 'pretty-sparrow' figs, which are superior in the flavour of their flesh and are the coolest of all figs. For in regard to the African fig, as many people prefer it to the whole of the other kinds, there is a great question, inasmuch as this kind has only quite recently crossed over into Africa. Also among black figs the Alexandrian is named from its country of originit has a cleft of a whitish colour, and it is called the luxury fig; among figs that ripen early those of Rhodes and of Tivoli are also black. Early figs also have the names of the persons who introduced themLivia, Pompey: the latter is the best for a fig to be dried in the sun for use throughout the year, together with the marsh fig and the fig with marks all over it shaped like a reed leaf. There are also the Herculaneum fig, the white-wax fig, and the white plough fig, with a very small stalk, a very flat-shaped kind. But the earliest fig is the purple fig, which has a very long stalk; it is accompanied by the worst of the very small kinds, called the people's fig. On the other hand the kind that ripens latest, just before winter, is the swallow fig. There are moreover figs that bear both late and early, yielding two crops, one white and one black, ripening with the harvest and with the vintage. There is also a late fig named from the hardness of its skin; some of the Chalcidic varieties of this kind bear three times a year. The extremely sweet fig called the ona grows only at Taranto. Cato makes the following remark about figs: 'Plant the marisca fig in a chalky or open place, but the African, Herculanean and Saguntine kinds, the winter fig and the black long-stalked Telanian in a richer soil or in one well manured.' Since his day so many names and varieties have arisen that a consideration of this alone is enough to show how our way of life has been transformed. Some provinces also have winter figs, for instance Moesia, but these are a product of art and not of nature. There is a small kind of fig-tree which is banked up with manure at the end of autumn and the figs on it are overtaken by winter while still unripe; and when milder weather comes the figs, together with the tree, are dug up again and restored to light; and just as if born again they greedily imbibe the warmth of the new sun, a different one from the sun through which they lived before, and begin to ripen along with the blossom of the coming crop, maturing in a year that does not belong to them; the region is an extremely cold one.
XX. But the variety which even in his day Cato termed the African fig reminds us of his having employed that fruit for a remarkable demonstration. Burning with a mortal hatred of Carthage and anxious in regard to the safety of his descendants, at every meeting of the senate he used to vociferate 'Down with Carthage!' and so on a certain occasion he brought into the house an early ripe fig from that province, and displaying it to the Fathers he said, 'I put it to you, when do you think this fruit was plucked from the tree?' Everybody agreed that it was quite fresh; so he said, 'O well, it was picked the day before yesterday at Carthageso near is the enemy to our walls!' And they promptly embarked on the third Punic war, in which Carthage was brought down, although Cato had been taken from us the year after the incident narrated. What should we chiefly wonder at in this? ingenuity or chance coincidence? rapidity of transit or manly force of character? The crowning marvel, which I for my part think wonderful beyond parallel, is that so mighty a city, which for one hundred and twenty years had competed for the sovereignty of the world, was overthrown by the evidence of a single fruitan achievement which not Trebbia or Trasimene, not Cannae with the tomb of Rome's glory, not the Carthaginian camp pitched three miles from the city and Hannibal in person riding up to the Colline gate were able to achieve: so much nearer did Cato bring Carthage to us by means of a single fruit!
A fig-tree growing in the actual forum and meeting-place of Rome is worshipped as sacred because things struck by lightning are buried there, and still more as a memorial of the fig-tree under which the nurse of Romulus and Remus first sheltered those founders of the empire on the Lupercal Hillthe tree that has been given the name of Ruminalis, because it was beneath it that the wolf was discovered giving her rumis (that was the old word for breast) to the infantsa marvellous occurrence commemorated in bronze close by, as though the wolf had of her own accord passed across the meeting-place while Attus Naevius was taking the omens. And it is also a portent of some future event when it withers away and then by the good offices of the priests is replanted. There was also a fig-tree in front of the temple of Saturn, which in 404 BC., after a sacrifice had been offered by the Vestal Virgins, was removed, because it was upsetting a statue of Silvanus. A tree of the same kind that was self-sown lives in the middle of the forum, at the spot where, when the foundations of the Empire were collapsing in portent of disaster, Curtius had filled up the gulfs with the greatest of treasures, I mean virtue and piety and a glorious death. Likewise self-sown is a vine in the same locality, and there is an olive planted by the care of the populace for the sake of the shade; an altar in the forum was removed on the occasion of the gladiatorial show given by his late Majesty Julius, the most recent one that fought in the forum.
XXI. A remarkable fact about the fig is that this alone among all the fruits hastens to ripen with a rapidity due to the skill of nature. There is a wild variety of fig called the goat-fig which never ripens, but bestows on another tree what it has not got itself, since it is a natural sequence of causation, just as from things that decay something is generated. Consequently this fig engenders gnats which, being cheated out of nutriment in their mother tree, fly away from its decaying rottenness to the kindred tree and by repeatedly nibbling at the figsthat is by feeding on them too greedily they open their orifices and so make a way into them, bringing with them the sun into the fruit for the first time and introducing the fertilizing air through the passages thus opened. Then they consume the milky juicethis is the symptom of the fruit's infancywhich also dries up of its own accord; and because of this in fig-orchards a goat-fig is allowed to grow on the windward side, so that when a wind blows the gnats may fly off and be carried to the fig-trees. Then a plan was discovered of also bringing branches of the wild fig from somewhere else and throwing them tied together in bundles on to the fig-orcharda treatment which orchard figs do not require when planted in a thin soil with a northerly aspect, since they dry of their own accord owing to the situation of the place, and this cause by making them split open produces the same results as the action of the gnats; nor yet do they need screening where there is much dust, which occurs chiefly when a much frequented high road is adjacent, for dust also has the effect of drying them up and absorbing the milky juice. This method by means of the dust and the employment of the wild fig also serves the purpose of preventing the figs from falling off, by removing the juice which is soft and heavy, involving a certain liability to break. All figs are soft to the touch, and when ripe have grains inside them; also while in process of ripening they contain a milky juice, which when they are quite ripe is of the nature of honey. When left on the tree they grow old, and when quite aged they drip tears of gum. The figs that are highly approved arc given the distinction of being dried and kept in boxes, the best and largest growing in the island of Iviza and the next best in the district of Chicti; but in places where there is a very large supply of them, they are packed for storage in large jars in Asia, but in casks in the city of Ruspina in Africa, and when dry they serve the purpose of bread and other viands at the same time, inasmuch as Cato, as if laying down a law as to the proper rations for agricultural labourers, prescribes that they are to be reduced in quantity during the time when the figs are ripe. A plan has lately been devised to use a ftesh fig iustead of salt when eating cheese. To this class, as we have said, belong the Syrian and the Carian figs and the Caunean figs that, when Marcus Crassus was embarking to sail against the Parthians, gave him an omen by the voice of a man crying them for sale. All these varieties of fruit were imported from Syria to his country place at Alba by Lucius Vitellius, afterwards censor, when he was lieutenantgovernor in that province, in the latter part of the principate of the emperor Tiberius.
XXII. Fruits that must be included in the class of apples and pears are the medlar and the service-berry. There are three sorts of medlar, the anthedon, the setania, and the third an inferior kind yet rather like the anthedon, which is called the Gallic medlar. The fruit of the setania is larger and of a paler colour, with a softer pip; the others have smaller fruit but with a superior scent and keeping longer. The tree itself is one of the most widely spreading; its leaves turn red before they fall off; it has a great many roots, which go deep into the ground and consequently it is impossible to grub them up. In Cato's time this tree did not exist in Italy.
XXIII. There are four varieties of service-berry, some of them round like an apple, and others of conical shape like a pear, while others look like an egg, as do some kinds of apple. This last variety are liable to be sour, but the round ones excel in scent and sweetness, and the rest have a flavour of wine; the best varieties are those which have their stalks surrounded with tender leaves. The fourth kind is called the colic apple and is only valued as a medicine; it is a steady bearer and has a very small fruit; the tree differs in appearance from the other kind, and the leaves are almost the same as those of the plane. None of the sorbs bear before their third year. Cato records that even sorbs can be preserved in must.
XXIV. The walnut has won from the service-berry in point of size the place that it has yielded to it in popularity, although the walnut also accompanies the Fescennine songs sung at weddings. The whole nut is considerably smaller than a pine-cone, but the kernel is larger in the same proportion. Moreover the walnut has a distinction of structure that is peculiar to it, in that it is protected by a double covering, consisting first of a cushion-shaped cup and then of a woody shell. This is the reason why walnuts have become emblems consecrated to weddings [possibly as a fertility charm; these were thrown by the bridegroom to the boys carrying the torches], because their progeny is protected in so many waysa more likely explanation of the custom than that it is due to the rattling rebound which it makes when it falls on the floor. The Greek names for the walnut prove that it also was sent us from Persia by the kings, the best kind of walnut being called in Greek the Persian and the 'royal,' and these were their original names. It is generally agreed that the caryon walnut gets its name from the headache that it causes because of its oppressive scent. The shell of the walnut is used for dyeing wool, and the young nuts while just forming supply a red hair-dyethis was discovered from their staining the hands when handled. Age makes them oily. The only difference between the various kinds of walnuts consists in the hardness or brittleness of the shell and in its being thin or thick and full of recesses or uniform. It is the only fruit which nature has enclosed in a covering made of pieces fitted together; for the shell is divided into two boat-shaped pieces, and the kernel is further separated into four sections with a woody membrane running between them in all the other kinds of nut the whole is in one solid piece, as for instance in the hazel, itself also a sort of nut, the previous form of its name having been Abellina, after the name of its place of origin; but it came into Asia and Greece from Pontus and is consequently also called the Pontic nut. This nut also is protected by a soft beard, but the shell and the kernel are formed of one solid round piece. It also is roasted. The kernel has a navel in its centre. A third variety of the nut class is the almond, which has an outer integument like that of the walnut but thinner, and also a second covering consisting of a shell; but the kernel is unlike a walnut's in its breadth and its hard part is more bitter. It is doubtful whether this tree existed in Italy in the time of Cato, as he calls almonds 'Greek nuts,' a name which some people also retain in the class of walnuts. Beside these Cato adds a smooth, hard kind of hazel-nut, the Palestrina nut, which he praises very highly and says can be kept fresh and green by being potted and buried in the ground. At the present day the almonds of Thasos and Alba are famous, and two kinds grown at Taranto, one with a brittle shell and the other with a hard shell, which are very large in size and very little rounded in shape; also famous is the 'soft nut,' which breaks through its shell. Some interpret the word for walnut as honorific and say it means 'Jove's acorn.' I lately heard a man of consular rank declare that he owned some walnut trees that actually bore two crops a year. We have already spoken in the proper place of the pistachio, which is also a sort of nut. This also was likewise first brought into Italy by Vitellius at the same time, and it was simultaneously introduced into Spain by Pompeius Flaccus, Knight of Rome, who was serving with Vitellius.
XXV. We give the name of nut to the chestnut, also, although it seems to fit better into the acorn class. The chestnut has its armed rampart in its bristling shell, which in the acorn is only partly developed, and it is surprising that what nature has taken such pains to conceal should be the least valuable of things. Some chestnuts produce three nuts from one shell; and the skin is tough, but next to the body of the nut there is a membrane which both in the chestnut and the walnut spoils the taste if it is not peeled off. It is more agreeable as a food when roasted, provided it is ground up, and it supplies a sort of imitation bread for women when they are keeping a fast. They came first from Sardis, and consequently they are called nuts of Sardis among the Greeks, for the name of Zeus's nut was given them later, after they had been improved by cultivation. There are now several varieties of them. The Taranto chestnut is light and digestible to eat; it has a flat shape. The chestnut called the acorn-chestnut is rounder; it is very easy to peel, and jumps out of the shell quite clean of its own accord. The Salarian chestnut also has a flat shape, but that of Taranto is less easy to handle. The Corellian is more highly spoken of, and so is the variety produced from it by the method which we shall speak of in dealing with grafting, the Etereian, which its red skin renders more popular than the three-cornered chestnut and the common black ones called cooking chestnuts. The most highly commended chestnuts come from Taranto, and in Campania from Naples; all the other kinds are grown for pig-food; the pigs carefully chew up the shells as well, together with the kernels.
XXVI. Also the extremely sweet carob may be thought to be not far remote from the chestnut, except that in the case of the carob the husk itself is eaten. It is not longer than a man's finger, and occasionally curved like a sickle, and it has the thickness of a man's thumb. Acorns cannot be counted among fruits, and consequently they will be dealt with among trees of their own kind.
XXVII. The remaining fruits belong to the fleshy class, and they differ in their shape and in their flesh. Berries one kind of flesh, the mulberry another, the strawberry-tree another; and the grape, etc., have a substance between skin and juice different from that of the myxa plum and from that of berries such as the olive. The flesh of the mulberry contains a vinous juice, and the fruit has three successive colours, first white, then red, and when ripe black.
The mulberry is one of the latest trees to blossom, but among the first to ripen. The juice of ripe mulberries stains the hand, but the stain can be washed out with the juice of unripe ones. In the case of this tree the devices of the growers have made the least improvement of any, and the mulberry of Ostia and that of Tivoli do not differ from that of Rome by named varieties or by grafting or in any other way except in the size of the fruit. A similar but much firmer berry also grows on brambles.
XXVIII. The flesh of the ground strawberry is different from that of the strawberry-tree which is related to it, the strawberry being the only fruit that grows at the same time on a bush and on the ground. The tree itself is a sort of shrub; the fruit takes a year to mature, and the following crop flowers side by side with the earlier crop when it is ripening. Authorities disagree as to whether it is the male plant or the female that is unproductive. The fruit is held in no esteem, the reason for its name being that a person will eat only one. Nevertheless the Greeks call it by the two names of comaron and memaceylon, which shows that there are two varieties of the plant; and with ourselves it has another name, the arbutus. Juba states that in Arabia the strawberry-tree grows to a height of 75 feet.
XXIX. There is also a great difference among the acinus classto begin with, between grapes themselves, which vary in respect of firmness, thinness or thickness of skin and the stone inside, which in some is specially small and in others actually double, the latter producing extremely little juice. Again, the berries of the ivy and the elder are very widely different, and the pomegranate differs greatly in shape also, being the only fruit that has corners; and there is no membrane for each separate grain, but only one wrapping for them all in common, which is white in colour. And these fruits consist entirely of juice and flesh, particularly the ones which contain only a small amount of woody substance.
There is also a great variety among the berries of the baca kind, those of the olive and the laurel being different, and that of the lotus differing in structure from that of the come and that of the myrtle from that of the lentisk; indeed the berries of the holly and the may contain no juice; and moreover the cherry forms a class intermediate between the baca kind of berries and the acinus kind: its fruit is at first white, as is that of almost all the bacae. At a later stage with some the berry turns green, e.g. the olive and the laurel; but in the case of the mulberry, the cherry and the cornel it changes to red, and then with the mulberry, cherry and olive it turns black.
XXX. Before the victory of Lucius Lucullus in the war against Mithridates, that is down to 74 BC., there were no cherry-trees in Italy. Lucullus first imported them from Pontus, and in 120 years they have crossed the ocean and got as far as Britain; but all the same no attention has succeeded in getting them to grow in Egypt. Of cherries the Apronian are the reddest, and the Lutatian the blackest, while the Caecilian kind are perfectly round. The Junian cherry has an agreeable flavour but practically only if eaten under the tree on which it grows, as it is so delicate that it does not stand carriage. The highest rank, however, belongs to the bigaroon cherry called by the Campanians the Plinian cherry, but in Belgium to the Lusitanian, and so also on the banks of the Rhine. This cherry has a third kind of colour, a blend of black, bright red and green, which looks as if the fruit were always not quite ripe. It is less than five years ago that what is called the laurel-cherry was introduced, which has a not disagreeable bitter flavour, and is produced by grafting a cherry on a bay-tree. There are also Macedonian cherries, grown on a tree of small size and rarely exceeding four and half feet in height, and ground-cherries, with a still smaller bush. The cherry is one of the earliest fruits to repay its yearly gratitude to the farmer. It likes a north aspect and cold conditions; moreover it can be dried in the sun and stored in casks like olives.
XXXI. The same amount of care is also bestowed on the cornel, and even on the lentisk. So that nothing may not appear to have come into existence for the sake of man's appetite, flavours are blended and different ones are forced to gratify different persons; indeed even the regions of the earth and of the sky are blended: in one kind of food the aid of India is invoked, in another that of Egypt, Crete, Cyrene and every land in turn. Nor does our regimen stick at poisons, if only it may devour everything. This will become clearer when we come to the nature of herbaceous plants.
XXXII. In the meantime we find that there are ten kinds of flavours that belong in common to the fruits and to all their juices; sweet, luscious, unctuous, bitter, rough, acrid, sham, harsh, acid and salt. Beside these there are three other flavours of a particularly remarkable nature: (1) one in which several tastes are discerned simultaneously, as in winesfor they contain both a rough and a sham and a sweet and a luscious taste, all of them different from each other; (2) another kind is that which contains both the flavour of something else and one that is its own and peculiar to itself, for instance milkinasmuch as milk contains a something which nevertheless cannot rightly be called sweet or unctuous or luscious, being possessed by a smoothness which of itself takes the place of a flavour; (3) water has no flavour at all and no flavouring constituent, yet still this very fact gives it some taste and makes it form a class of its own: at all events for water to have any perceptible taste or flavour is a defect. In all these flavours smell is of great importance and a great factor of affinity; in the case of water even smell is entirely absent, or if perceptible at all is a defect. It is a remarkable fact that the three chief natural elements, water, air and fire, have neither taste, smell, nor any flavour whatever.
XXXIII. Among juices, then, those with a vinous and flavour are the juices of the pear, the mulberry and the myrtle-berry, and surprising as it may seem, the juice of the grape least of all. The juice of the olive, laurel, walnut and almond is unctuous, that of grapes, figs and dates is sweet, and that of plums watery. There is also a great difference in the colour of juice: that of the mulberry, the cherry, the cornel and the black grape is blood-red; the juice of white grapes is of a light colour; fig juice is milky white in the part near the stalk but not in the body of the fruit; apple juice is the colour of foam; peach juice has no colour at all, in spite of the. fact that the hard peach has a large quantity of juice, but no one would say that this has any colour.
Smell also contains its own marvels. Apples have a pungent scent, peaches a weak one, and sweet fruits none at all; for even sweet wine has no smell, although thin wine has more aroma, and wines of that class become fit for use much sooner than those with more body. Fruits with a scent are not likewise agreeable to the palate, as scent and flavour do not go togetherso that citrons have a very penetrating smell and a very rough taste, and in some degree that is the case with quinces also; and figs have no smell.
XXXIV. And so much for the various classes and kinds of fruits. Their structures call for closer examination. Some fruits are characterized by their pods, which are themselves sweet and which enclose a seed that is bitter, since whereas in fairly many plants the seeds are agreeable, seeds contained in a pod are not approved of. Others are characterized by berries which have a hard kernel inside and flesh outside, for instance olives and cherries. Some have the berries inside and a hard shell outside, as is the ease with the fruit we spoke of that grows in Egypt. Fruits of the apple kind have the same structure as the berries: some have flesh inside and a hard ease outside, as in the case of nuts; while others have flesh outside and a hard stone inside, as is the ease with peaches and plums, which thus have the refuse part wrapped round with the fruit, whereas in other eases the fruit is shielded by the refuse part. Nuts are enclosed in a shell, chestnuts in a skin; with chestnuts the skin is removed, but in the ease of medlars it is eaten. Acorns are covered with a hard shell, grapes with a skin, pomegranates with an outer skin and an inner skin. Mulberries consist of flesh and juice, cherries of skin and juice. Some fruits separate from their woody part at once, for instance nuts and dates, but some adhere to it, for instance olives and laurel-berries; and one group has both properties, for example peaches, inasmuch as in the hard peach or nectarine the flesh adheres and cannot be torn away from the stone, whereas in all the other sorts it is easily separated. Some fruits have no stone inside and no shell outside, for instance the date class. Of some kinds the hard part itself is used and serves as fruit, for instance the cuci which we spoke of as growing in Egypt. Some fruits have a double refuse-covering, as in the case of chestnuts and almonds and walnuts. Some have a threefold structurethere is flesh and then shell and then again a seed inside the shellfor instance peaches. Some fruits grow in clusters, for instance grapes and sorbs, the latter clinging all round the branches and weighing them down, like grapes; but others hang separately, as in the case of the peach. Some fruits are contained in a matrix, for instance pomegranates; some hang down from a stalk, for instance pears, others hang in bunches, for instance grapes and dates, and others hang from a stalk and form hunches as well, for instance ivy-berries and elder-berries. Others are attached to a branch, like the berry on the laurel, while certain kinds hang in both ways, for instance olives, for they have both short stalks and long ones. Some consist of capsules, for instance the pomegranate, the medlar and the lotus in Egypt and on the Euphrates. Then again fruits have a variety of attractions to recommend them. Dates please us by their flesh, but the dates of the Thebaid by their hard skin; grapes and nut-dates by their juice, pears and apples by their firm flesh, mulberries by their substance, nuts by their solid interior, certain fruits in Egypt by their pips, Carian figs by their skin this is removed from green figs as refuse, but in dried figs it is very agreeable. In the case of the papyrus, the fennel-giant and the white thorn the stalk itself is the fruit, as are the stalks of the fig-tree, and in the shrub class the caper with its stalk; but in the carob the only part that is eaten is the woodwhile its seed has a property that must not be omitted: it cannot be called either flesh or wood or cartilage, and it would not be given any other name.
XXXV. The nature of the juices produced is particularly remarkable in the case of the myrtle, because it is the only one among all the trees that gives two kinds of oil and of wine, beside the drink called myrtidanum, as we said. In former times another use was also made of the myrtle-berry, which held the place of pepper before pepper was discovered; in fact, in the case of one kind of savoury dish the name is derived from this, it being to this day called myrtle sausage. Also the flavour of wild boar is improved from the same source, as the pickle usually has myrtle-berries added to it.
XXXVI. The actual tree is recorded to have been seen for the first time on the hither side of Europe, beginning from the Ceraunian Mountains, on the grave of Elpenor at Circello, and it still keeps its Greek name, showing it to be an exotic. At the time of the foundation of Rome myrtles grew on the present site of the city, as tradition says that the Romans and Sabines, after having wanted to fight a battle because of the carrying off of the maidens, laid down their arms and purified themselves with sprigs of myrtle, at the place now occupied by the statues of Venus Cluacina, cluere being the old word meaning 'to cleanse.' And a kind of incense for fumigation is also contained in this tree, which was selected for the purpose on the occasion referred to because Venus the guardian spirit of the tree also presides over unions, and I rather think that it was actually the first of all trees to be planted in public places at Rome, fraught indeed with a prophetic and remarkable augury. For the shrine of Quirinus, that is of Romulus himself, is held to be one of the most ancient temples. In it there were two sacred myrtles, which for a long time grew in front of the actual temple, and one of them was called the patricians' myrtle and the other the common people's. For many years the patricians' tree was the more flourishing of the two, and was full of vigour and vitality; as long as the senate flourished this was a great tree, while the common people's myrtle was shrivelled and withered. But after the latter had grown strong while the patrician myrtle began to turn yellow, from the Marsian war onward [91-88 BC] the authority of the Fathers became weak, and by slow degrees its grandeur withered away into barrenness. Moreover there was also an old altar belonging to Venus Myrtea, whose modern name is Murcia.
XXXVII. Cato mentioned three kinds of myrtle, the black, the white and the 'union myrtle'perhaps named after marriage unionsdescended from the stock of the Cluacina myrtle mentioned above; but at the present day there is also another classification, which distinguishes the cultivated and the wild myrtle, and in each of these also a wide-leaved variety, while the variety called oxymyrsine occurs only in the wild kind. Varieties of the cultivated myrtle produced by landscape-gardeners are the Taranto myrtle with a very small leaf, the Roman myrtle with a broad leaf, and the 'six-row' myrtle with very thick foliage, the leaves growing in rows of six. The last is not much grown, being bushy and not lofty. I believe that the union-myrtle is now called the Roman myrtle. The myrtle with the most powerful scent belongs to Egypt. Cato taught how to make wine from the black myrtle, by drying it in the shade until no moisture remained and then putting it in must; he says that if the berries are not thoroughly dried, oil is produced. Afterwards a way was also discovered of making a white wine from the pale variety, by steeping a quart of pounded myrtle in a pint and a half of wine and then pressing out the liquor. The leaves are also dried by themselves till they go to a powder, which is used as a cure for sores on the human body, the powder being slightly corrosive and serving to cool off the perspiration. Moreover, the oil also curiously enough contains a certain flavour of wine, and at the same time has a greasy fluidity which makes it specially efficacious for improving wines if it is poured over the wine-strainers before they are used; this is because the oil retains the lees and only allows the pure liquor to pass through, and unites with the wine after it has been strained, greatly improving it. Sprigs of myrtle also merely by being carried by a traveller are beneficial when making a long journey on foot. Moreover, rings made of myrtle twigs which have never been touched by iron are a cure for swellings in the groin.
XXXVIII. The myrtle has also claimed a part in matters of warfare, and Publius Postumius Tubertus, the first of all men who ever entered the city with an ovation, during his consulship celebrated a triumph [503 B.C.] over the Sabines, and because he had won the campaign easily, without bloodshed, he made his entry wearing a wreath made of the myrtle of Venus Vietrix, and so made that tree a coveted object even for our enemies. Subsequently a myrtle wreath was regularly worn by generals celebrating an ovation, with the exception of Marcus Crassus, who when celebrating his victory won from the runaway slaves and Spartacus, made his entry wearing a wreath of laurels. Masurius informs us that generals going in triumph in a chariot also used to wear a myrtle wreath. Lucius Piso records that Papirius Maso, the first general who held a triumph on the Alban Mount, in [71 B.C.] celebration of his victory over the Corsicans, was in the habit of wearing a wreath of myrtle when watching the games in the circus: he was the maternal grandfather of the second Africanus. Marcus Valerius wore two wreaths, one of laurel and one of myrtle, having made a vow to do so.
XXXIX. The laurel is especially assigned to triumphs, but it is extremely decorative for dwelling-houses, and guards the portals of the emperors and the high priests; there it hangs alone, adorning the mansions and keeping sentry-guard before the thresholds. Cato has recorded two species of laurel, the Delphic and the Cyprian. Pompeius Lenaeus added one which he called mustax, because it was placed underneath mustacean cakes: he said that this has a very large, pendulous leaf of a whitish colour, and that the Delphic laurel is a uniform greener colour, and has very large berries of a reddish green; and that this laurel is used to make wreaths for the winners at Delphi, as it is for generals going in triumph at Rome. He states that the Cyprus laurel is crinkly, with a short black leaf that curves up along the edges. Since his time varieties have been added: the tine treethis some take to be the wild laurel, but there are people who think that it is a separate kind of tree: indeed there is a difference of colour, the berry being bright blue. Another addition is the royal laurel, which has begun to be called the Augusta laurel, a very large tree with a very large leaf and berries without any rough taste. Some say that the royal laurel and the Augusta are not the same, and make out the royal to be a special kind, with longer and broader leaves. The same persons place in another class, under the name of hacalia, the laurel which is the, commonest of all and bears the largest number of berries, but much to my surprise give the name of triumphal laurel to one that has no berries, and say that this is the one used by persons celebrating a triumphunless the use of it began with his late Majesty Augustus, as we shall show, as sprung from the laurel which was sent down to him from heaven, which was a very low growing tree with a short, crinkled leaf, and very rarely met with. In ornamental gardening there is also the Thasos laurel, which has a tiny leafy fringe as it were growing out of the middle of the leaf, and the gelded laurel, without this fringe, which is remarkably able to stand lack of sun and which consequently fills the ground with its shoots in however shady a place. There is also the ground laurel, a shrub that grows wild, and the Alexandrine laurel, which some call the Idaean, others hypoglottion, others carpophyllon and others hypelatess This laurel spreads out branches 9 inches long from its root, and is useful for making wreaths; the leaf is more pointed than that of the myrtle, and softer, brighter in colour and larger; the seed, which lies between the leaves, is red; it grows in great abundance on Mount Ida and in the vicinity of Heraclea in Pontus, and it only occurs in mountain districts. Also the class of laurel called daphnoides is involved in a competition of nomenclature, as some call it the Pelasgian laurel, others the leafy laurel, others Alexander's crown. This also is a bushy shrub, with a thicker and softer leaf than the ordinary laurel, which leaves a burning taste in the mouth; the berries are a blackish red. The older writers noted that there was no variety of laurel that grew in Corsica; but it has now been introduced there with successful results.
XL. The laurel itself is a bringer of peace, inasmuch as to hold out a branch of it even between enemy armies is a token of a cessation of hostilities. With the Romans especially it is used as a harbinger of rejoicing and of victory, accompanying despatches and decorating the spears and javelins of the soldiery and adorning the generals' rods of office. From this tree a branch is deposited in the lap of Jupiter the All-good and All-great whenever a fresh victory has brought rejoicing, and this is not because the laurel is continually green, nor yet because it is an emblem of peace, as the olive is to be preferred to it in both respects, but because it flourishes in the greatest beauty on Mount Parnassus and consequently is thought to be also dear to Apollo, to whose shrine even the kings of Rome at that early date were in the custom of sending gifts and asking for oracles in return, as is evidenced by the case of Brutus; another reason also is perhaps to supply a token, because it was there that Brutus won freedom for the people by kissing the famous plot of earth that bore the laurel, at the direction of the oracular utterance; and another possible reason is that the laurel alone of all the shrubs planted by man and received into our houses is never struck by lightning. I personally am inclined to believe that it is for these reasons that the place of honour has been assigned to it in triumphs, rather than because it was employed, as Masurius records, for the purpose of fumigation and purification from the blood of the enemy. And it is so strongly forbidden to pollute the laurel and the olive in profane uses, that they must not be employed even for kindling a fire at altars and shrines in propitiating the deities. The laurel indeed manifestly expresses objection to the application of fire by crackling and making a solemn protest, the timber actually giving a twist to the cracks in its intestines and sinews. It is stated that the emperor Tiberius used to put a wreath from this tree on his head when there was a thunder-storm as a protection against danger from lightning.
There are also occurrences related to the laurel that are worth recalling in connexion with his late Majesty Augustus. When Livia Drusilla, who afterwards received the name of Augusta on her marriage, had been betrothed to Caesar, while she was seated an eagle dropped into her lap from the sky a hen of remarkable whiteness, without hurting it; she regarded it with wonder, but undismayed, and there was a further miracle: it was holding in its beak a laurel branch bearing its berries. So the augurs ordered that the bird and any chickens it produced should be preserved, and that the branch should be planted in the ground and guarded with religious care. This was done at the country mansion of the Caesars standing on the banks of the river Tiber about nine miles out on the Flaminian road; the house is consequently called The Poultry, and the laurel grove so begun has thriven in a marvellous way. Afterwards the Emperor when going in a triumph held a laurel branch from the original tree in his hand and wore a wreath of its foliage on his head, and subsequently every one of the ruling Caesars did the same; and the custom was established of planting the branches which they had held, and groves of laurels distinguished by their names still survive; and it was perhaps in consequence of this that the change was made in the laurels worn in triumphs.
The laurel is the only tree the name of which is used in Latin as a man's name, and the only tree whose leaves have a special name applied to themwe call them bay-leaves. The name of the tree also survives as a place-name in Rome, as there is a locality on the Aventine called Loretto where there was once a laurel grove. Moreover, the laurel is employed in rituals of purification; and incidentally it should be stated that it can even be grown from a slip, as this has been doubted by Democritus and Theophrastus.
We will now describe the various forest trees.