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Literary evidence for taro in the ancient Mediterranean: A chronology of names and uses in a multilingual world.

08:00 EDT 5th June 2018 | BioPortfolio

Summary of "Literary evidence for taro in the ancient Mediterranean: A chronology of names and uses in a multilingual world."

Taro, Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott, is a vegetable and starchy root crop cultivated in Asia, Oceania, the Americas, Africa, and the Mediterranean. Very little is known about its early history in the Mediterranean, which previous authors have sought to trace through Classical (Greek and Latin) texts that record the name colocasia (including cognates) from the 3rd century BC onwards. In ancient literature, however, this name also refers to the sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn. and its edible rhizome. Like taro, lotus is an alien introduction to the Mediterranean, and there has been considerable confusion regarding the true identity of plants referred to as colocasia in ancient literature. Another early name used to indicate taro was arum, a name already attested from the 4th century BC. Today, this name refers to Arum, an aroid genus native to West Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean. Our aim is to explore historical references to taro in order to clarify when and through which routes this plant reached the Mediterranean. To investigate Greek and Latin texts, we performed a search using the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) and the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL), plus commentaries and English and French translations of original texts. Results show that while in the early Greek and Latin literature the name kolokasia (Greek κολοκάσια) and its Latin equivalent colocasia refer to Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn., after the 4th century AD a poorly understood linguistic shift occurs, and colocasia becomes the name for taro. We also found that aron (Greek ἄρον) and its Latin equivalent arum are names used to indicate taro from the 3rd century BC and possibly earlier.

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This article was published in the following journal.

Name: PloS one
ISSN: 1932-6203
Pages: e0198333

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