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The curious incident of the canine and the palm tree

The curious incident of the canine and the palm tree

2023-09-21 22:46:14

All of us get so many emails. Some go immediately within the ‘garbage bin’; some solely require a number of phrases in response; others will give rise to many follow-up emails. There’s one kind {of professional} electronic mail, nonetheless, that at all times makes me smile: an electronic mail from a former scholar. It’s at all times good to have some information from somebody who has left the college. After which, more and more, there are emails from former college students who’re changing into pals and colleagues. Final week, I acquired such an electronic mail from a former scholar who now could be pursuing her graduate research. She advised me that she had come throughout the interpretation of a papyrus, which she thought could be of curiosity to me. For positive it was! I had seen mentions of that papyrus, however by no means checked out it intimately, and that electronic mail was simply what I wanted to pursue my analysis additional.

The papyrus in query comes from Oxyrhynchus (Egypt) and dates to 178 CE. We all know this due to a reference to the 18th yr of the rule of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. The writer of the papyrus (or a scribe) writes to an area official to report a horrible accident:

To Theon the strategos, from Gaius Papirius Maximus. Yesterday, the 26 [of X month], the irrigator of the winery I possess close to the village of Chusis, within the Hermopolis nome, in my absence, climbed onto a date-palm in my property with the intention to cowl it (ocheia); he fell and died whereas no person was current. And at present, once I went to my property, I discovered him mendacity there by the palm tree, his physique broken by canine. For that purpose, I current my report, anticipating the suitable procedures to happen in order that his physique could obtain a funeral. Within the yr 18 of the rule of the Emperors Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus. C.Pap.Gr. 2.1. [The Greek text of this papyrus is available here].

Palm tree in the garden room at Livia's villa at Prima Porta/ Photo: Laurence Totelin, October 2014

Palm tree surrounded by different bushes within the ‘backyard room’ at Livia’s villa at Prima Porta, close to Rome. Photograph: Laurence Totelin, October 2014

It is a very wealthy doc, however what pursuits me most right here is the reference to the ‘protecting’ of the date palm. Different translators have known as this ‘pollination’. Whereas this translation will not be incorrect, it might result in the impression that the ancients knew about pollination – this isn’t the case. As we speak, we all know that the date palm is dioecious (I’ve written on dioecious crops here). Because of this feminine and male sexual organs are discovered on completely different people (or ‘bushes’ for you and me). For the feminine tree to hold fruits to maturity, it should come into contact with pollen from the male tree.

The Greeks and Romans noticed that some palm bushes – which they known as ‘feminine’ – matured their fruits when its spathes bought in touch with these of different palm bushes – which they known as ‘male’. That is in truth an empirical remark of pollination, however the ancients didn’t have a full principle of pollination, that’s, they didn’t know that the identical course of really occurs in all crops, be they dioecious or not.

The phrase that’s really used within the papyrus is ocheia, which is the time period that normally refers back to the protecting of a feminine animal (as an example a sow) by a male animal. The irrigator who tragically died on this story should have climbed atop a palm tree, most likely a male one, with the intention to convey its spathes in touch with these of one other tree. As palm bushes may be extraordinarily excessive, this was a really perilous enterprise. Why did this employee even try this in a abandoned backyard will stay a thriller.


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