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There are numerous varieties of the palm-tree. In Assyria, and throughout the whole of Persis, the barren kinds are made use of for carpenters' work, and the various appliances of luxury. There are whole forests also of palm-trees adapted for cutting,1 and which, after they are cut, shoot again from the root; the pith of them towards the top, which is usually called the brain2 of the tree, is sweet to the taste, and the tree will live even after it has been extracted, which is the case with no other kind. The name of this tree is "chammereps;"3 it has a broader and softer leaf than the others, which is extremely useful for various kinds of wickerwork;4 these trees are very numerous in Crete, and even more so in Sicily. The wood of the palm-tree, when ignited, burns both brightly and slowly.5 In some of those that bear fruit,6 the seed of the fruit is shorter than in others, while in some, again, it is longer; in some it is softer than in others, and in some harder; in some it is osseous and crescent-shaped; polished with a tooth, superstition employs the stone as an antidote against charms and fascination. This stone is enclosed in several coats, more or less in number; sometimes they are of a thick texture, and sometimes very thin.

Hence it is that we find nine and forty different kinds of palm-trees, if any one will be at the trouble of enumerating all their various barbarous names, and the different wines that are extracted from them. The most famous of all, are those which, for the sake of distinction, have received the name of "royal" palms, because they were preserved solely by the kings of Persia; these used to grow nowhere but at Babylon, and there only in the garden of Bagöus,7 that being the Persian for an eunuch, several of whom have even reigned over that country! This garden was always carefully retained within8 the precincts of the royal court.

In the southern parts of the world, the dates known as "syagri,9 hold the highest rank, and next after them those that are called "margarides." These last are short, white, and round, and bear a stronger resemblance to grapes than to dates; for which reason it is that they have received their name, in consequence of their close resemblance to "margaritæ," or pearls. It is said that there is only one tree that bears them, and that in the locality known as Chora.10 The same is the case also with the tree that bears the syagri. We have heard a wonderful story too, relative to this last tree, to the effect that it dies and comes to life again in a similar manner to the phoenix, which, it is generally thought, has borrowed its name from the palm-tree, in consequence of this peculiarity; at the moment that I am writing this, that tree is still bearing fruit. As for the fruit itself, it is large, hard, and of a rough appearance, and differing in taste from all other kinds, having a sort of wild flavour peculiar to itself, and not unlike that of the flesh of the wild boar; it is evidently this circumstance from which it has derived its name of "syagrus."

In the fourth rank are the dates called "sandalides," from their resemblance to a sandal in shape. It is stated, that on the confines of Æthiopia there are but five of these trees at the most, no less remarkable for the singular lusciousness of their fruit, than for their extreme rarity. Next to these, the dates known as "caryotæ"11 are the most esteemed, affording not only plenty of nutriment, but a great abundance of juice; it is from these that the principal wines12 are made in the East; these wines are apt to affect the head, a circumstance from which the fruit derives its name. But if these trees are remarkable for their abundance and fruitfulness, it is in Judæa that they enjoy the greatest repute; not, indeed, throughout the whole of that territory, but more particularly at Hiericus,13 although those that grow at Archelais, Phaselis, and Livias, vallies in the same territory, are highly esteemed. The more remarkable quality of these is a rich, unctuous juice; they are of a milky consistency, and have a sort of vinous flavour, with a remarkable sweetness, like that of honey. The Nicolaän14 dates are of a similar kind, but somewhat drier; they are of remarkable size, so much so, indeed, that four of them, placed end to end, will make a cubit in length. A less fine kind, but of sister quality to the caryotæ for flavour, are the "adelphides,"15 hence so called; these come next to them in sweetness, but still are by no means their equals. A third kind, again, are the patetæ, which abound in juice to excess, so much so, indeed, that the fruit bursts, in its excess of liquor, even upon the parent tree, and presents all the appearance of having been trodden16 under foot.

There are numerous kinds of dates also, of a drier nature, which are long and slender, and sometimes of a curved shape. Those of this sort which we consecrate to the worship of the gods are called "chydæi17 by the Jews, a nation remarkable for the contempt which they manifest of the divinities. Those found all over Thebais and Arabia are dry and small, with a shrivelled body: being parched up and scorched by the constant heat, they are covered with what more nearly resembles a shell18 than a skin. In Æthiopia the date is quite brittle even, so great is the driness of the climate; hence the people are able to knead it into a kind of bread, just like so much flour.19 It grows upon a shrub, with branches a cubit in length: it has a broad leaf, and the fruit is round, and larger than an apple. The name of this date is "coïx."20 It comes to maturity in three years, and there is always fruit to be found upon the shrub, in various stages of maturity. The date of Thebais is at once packed in casks, with all its natural heat and freshness; for without this precaution, it quickly becomes vapid; it is of a poor, sickly taste, too, if it is not exposed, before it is eaten, to the heat of an oven.

The other kinds of dates appear to be of an ordinary nature, and are generally known as "tragemata;"21 but in some parts of Phœnicia and Cilicia, they are commonly called "balani," a name which has been also borrowed by us. There are numerous kinds of them, which differ from one another in being round or oblong; as also in colour, for some of them are black, and others red-indeed it is said that they present no fewer varieties of colour than the fig: the white ones, however, are the most esteemed. They differ also in size, according to the number which it requires to make a cubit in length; some, indeed, are no larger than a bean. Those are the best adapted for keeping which are produced in salt and sandy soils, Sudca, and Cyrenaica in Africa, for instance: those, however, of Egypt, Cyprus, Syria, and Seleucia in Assyria, will not keep: hence it is that they are much used for fattening swine and other animals. It is a sign that the fruit is either spoilt or old, when the white protuberance disappears, by which it has adhered to the cluster. Some of the soldiers of Alexander's army were choked by eating green dates;22 and a similar effect is produced in the country of the Gedrosi, by the natural quality of the fruit; while in other places, again, the same results arise from eating them to excess. Indeed, when in a fresh state, they are so remarkably luscious, that there would be no end to eating them, were it not for fear of the dangerous consequences that would be sure to ensue.

1 "Cæduæ." Though this is the fact as to some palm-trees, the greater part perish after being cut; the vital bud occupying the summit, and the trunk not being susceptible of any increase.

2 Cerebrum.

3 The Chamæreps humilis of the modern botanists. It is found, among other countries, in Spain, Morocco, and Arabia.

4 Vitilia.

5 "Vivaces." Perhaps it may mean that the wood retains the fire for a long time, when it burns.

6 Fée suggests that Pliny may possibly have confounded the fruit of other palms with the date.

7 This seems to have been a general name, as Pliny says, meaning an eunuch; but it is evident that it was also used as a proper name, as in the case of the eunuch who slew Artaxerxes, Ochus, B.C. 338, by poison, and of another eunuch who belonged to Darius, but afterwards fell into the hands of Alexander, of whom he became an especial favourite. The name is sometimes written "Bagoüs," and sometimes "Bagoas."

8 Dominantis in aula.

9 From the Greek σύαγρος, "a wild boar," as Pliny afterwards states; they being so called from their peculiar wild taste.

10 See B. vi. c. 39.

11 Said to have been so called from the Greek κάρη, "the head," and ὑωδία, "stupidity," owing to the heady nature of the wine extracted from the fruit.

12 See B. vi. c. 32, and B. xiv. c. 19.

13 The Jericho of Scripture.

14 Athenæus, B. xiv. c. 22, tells us that these dates were thus called from Nicolaus of Damascus, a Peripatetic philosopher, who, when visiting Rome with Herod the Great, made Augustus a present of the finest fruit of the palm-tree that could be procured. This fruit retained its name of "Nicolaän," down to the middle ages.

15 Pliny would imply that they are so called from the Greek ἀδέλφια, "a sister," as being of sister quality to the caryotæ; but it is much more probable, as Fée remarks, that they got this name from being attached in pairs to the same pedicie or stalk.

16 Pliny certainly seems to imply that they are so called from the Greek πατέω, "to tread under foot," and Hardouin is of that opinion. Fée, however, thinks the name is from the Hebrew or Syriac "patach," "to expand," or "open," or else from the Hebrew "pathah," the name of the first vowel, from some fancied resemblance in the form.

17 From the Greek χυδαῖος, "vulgar," or "common," it is supposed. The Jews probably called them so, as being common, or offered by the Gentiles to their idols and divinities. Pliny evidently considers that in the name given to them no compliment was intended to the deities of the heathen mythology.

18 From its extreme driness, and its shrivelled appearance.

19 From Theophrastus, B. i. c. 16.

20 κύκως, in the Greek. It is supposed by Sprengel to be the same as the Cycas circinnalis of Linnæus; but, as Fée remarks, that is only found in India.

21 From the Greek, meaning "sweetmeats," or "dessert fruit:" he probably means that in Syria and some parts of Phœnicia they were thus called.

22 This story, which is borrowed from Theophrastus, B. iv. c. 5, is doubted by Fée, who says that in the green state they are so hard and nauseous, that it is next to impossible to eat sufficient to be materially incommoded by them.

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