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The Palm tree, the Phoenix and the Wild Boar : Scientific and Literary Reception of a Strange Trio in Pliny the Elder (Natural History 13, 42-43) and Satyricon (40, 3-8)

Abstract : According to Pliny the Elder, an Egyptian palm tree bearing “big, hard, fibrous” syagri dates with a “taste of venison so characteristic of the wild boars” existed in his time, in synchrony with the phoenix bird (NH 13, 42–43). Greek and Latin poets usually use the homonymy of φοῖνιξ, meaning both “tree” and “bird”, making the former one the abode of the latter, and having license to play with the word. Pliny adds another pun: syagros understood as σῦς ἄγριος, meaning “wild boar”, in Latin porcus singularis, literally translated as “solitary pig” – meaning the same as φοῖνιξ, according to Isidore of Seville. What is real, what is invented, and why about the tree, the taste and the symbiosis with the bird? The trio – palm tree, phoenix and boar – also appears in Satyricon, as ingredients of an extravagant course served at the Feast of Trimalchio (40, 3–8): a roasted boar stuffed with live birds, served with Egyptian and Syrian (or Phoenician) dates. This course is comparable to other recipes consisting of boar and exotic birds, described by Apicius and other authors. Expressing criticism of luxury and gluttony, they also testify to the dream of eating the phoenix (substituted in literary descriptions and iconographic illustrations with flamingos), as expressed by the emperor Heliogabalus.
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Contributor : Francoise Lecocq <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 8:52:53 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, December 5, 2019 - 4:09:16 PM

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Françoise Lecocq. The Palm tree, the Phoenix and the Wild Boar : Scientific and Literary Reception of a Strange Trio in Pliny the Elder (Natural History 13, 42-43) and Satyricon (40, 3-8). Budzowska, M.; Dinçel, B. I.; Czerwińska, J.; Chiżyńska, K. The Metamorphoses of Ancient Myths, Peter Lang, pp.55-78, 2017, ⟨10.3726/978-3-653-06632-6⟩. ⟨hal-02295693⟩

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