The Greek text of Materia Medica by Dioscorides (1st century of our era) is now available on Pl@ntUse ! Well, it can only be read by hellenists, but titles have been added with a transcription in latin script, as well as partial translations by Suzanne Amigues and identifications.
Curiously, no French translation is known since Mattioli (1572). Today, we can buy two translations in German, two in English and one in Spanish. Comparing them shows that they have been published by hellenists who made no effort in updating identifications. As for botanists, it seems they have no longer been interested in Dioscorides, since Sprengel and Fraas in the 19th century.
Nevertheless, the work of Dioscorides is indispensable to anybody interested in the history of botany. It was quite the sole base of botanical knowledge throughout the Middle-Ages, and Renaissance botanists constantly translated and commented Dioscorides (Theophrastus was only rediscovered during the Renaissance).
As a result, most Dioscorides' names are to be found in botanical names in latin. Any etymological dictionary should then go back to Dioscorides. Pl@ntUse will endeavour to do it in time.
Latin names of plants are often perceived as complicated, with many h and y. When we read Dioscorides, we are surprised by the freshness of text, and by the fact that his Greek names were in fact popular names. Alcea is simply "the helpful", althaea "the healing". We discover that akoron is Iris pseudacorus, and that it was confused with Acorus calamus because both are aquatic plants giving a fragrant rhizome. Even more amusing, cleavers, Galium aparine, if it bears not surprisingly the name aparinê, has as a synonym "the philanthropous", because it sticks to humans!
In brief, many details to rejoice all those interested in plant names, or looking for scholarly anecdotes. As Pl@ntUse is a collaborative site, don't hesitate to propose translations if you are a hellenist, or to ask for them on a case by case basis. You can also help translating pages from French to English.
3 avril 2014
PS. Such pages complement the index of plants of Theophrastus
. We could also think about the works of Galen, Hippocrates or Arabic authors. But this will be quite another task.