Camels in Greece? Really Gizmodo? Source?

A potentially interesting item in Gizmodo begins thusly:

The ancient Greeks called the thapsia garganica plant “deadly carrot,” because their camels would eat it and quickly die. The Roman emperor Nero mixed it with frankincense to treat bruises.

hmmm … I’d really love to have a source for this claim, especially as regards camels (the Nero claim is possibly in the same section). I strongly suspect Theophrastus’ plants tome (9.20 or so), but there doesn’t seem to be a copy available on the web. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t refer to camels and I honestly can’t recall ever reading of the ancient Greeks keeping camels around …

UPDATE (an hour or so later) … tip o’ the pileus to JR Strang who pointed me to an online source for Theophrastus’ plants thing at the Open Library (very useful; not sure how I missed this) … 9.20.2  f was indeed the section of interest and via the Loeb is:

The root of thapsia has emetic properties : and,
if one retains it, it purges both upwards and down-
wards. It is also able to remove bruises : and it
restores other contusions to a pale colour. Its
juice is stronger and purges both upwards and
downwards : the seed is riot used. It grows especially
in Attica, but also in other places : the cattle of the
country do not touch it, but imported cattle feed on
and perish of diarrhoea.

Here’s the source

I can’t seem to get the Greek here on my netbook, but the word used is ‘bosketai’ which usually refers to cattle but in theory could be any ‘grazing beast’. Even so, I don’t think ‘camel’ is a likely candidate in Attica. JR Strang also just alerted us to the Nero passage coming from Pliny NH 13.43-125-126 (via Lacus Curtius):

quibusdam tamen morbis auxiliari dicunt medici permixtam aliis, item alopeciis suggillatisque ac liventibus, ceu vero remedia desint, ut scelera non tractent. sed ista praetexunt noxio instrumento, tantumque inpudentiae est, ut venenum artis esse persuadeant. thapsia in Africa vehementissima. quidam caulem incidunt per messes et in ipsa excavant radice, quo sucus confluat, arefactumque tollunt.

alii folia, caulem, radicem tundunt in pila et sucum in sole coactum dividunt in pastillos. Nero Caesar claritatem ei dedit initio imperi, nocturnis grassationibus converberata facie inlinens id cum ture ceraque et secuto die contra famam cutem sinceram circumferens. ignem ferulis optime servari certum est easque in Aegypto praecellere.

… in case you’re not up to speed in your Latin, the skinny here is that Nero apparently was a sort of ‘sleepwalker’ and got into trouble while sleeping, which resulted, apparently in assorted beatings from ne’er-do-wells and would use a mixture of this thapsia, wax, and other things which apparently cleared things up over night!

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3 thoughts on “Camels in Greece? Really Gizmodo? Source?

  1. I read somewhere that a Roman general used camels as part of the booty train from the Eastern provinces back to Rome, presumably using the Via Egnatia. That some would end up in Greece would be plausible, but of course it doesn’t matter if there isn’t a source for it.

  2. Bob Coldwell says:

    Did a quick look around the net and “apparently” both Aristotle and Aristophanes mention camel as a food. If such is the case, unless it was jerked, camels must have at least been slaughtered in A-Greece.

  3. Not sure about ancient Greece, but as late as the 1850s, when the US Army was shopping for camels (there’s some great, little-known history for ya!), Salonica was one of the proposed stops to check out stock.

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