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0175 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 175 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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116. CAPDOILLE   159

In the Genoese system, 100 « pounds » (libbre) made a centinaio, «hundredweight »; the centinaio was 72 saggi; the saggio, 24 carati (Pegolotti, EVANS, 32).

YULE, in his Marco Polo (Y, II, 442), rendered «cantar » as « hundredweight »; but in Cathay (Y', III, 165, 167), he has retained «cantar » and reserved « hundredweight » for the equivalence of «centenaio ». Although both « cantar» and « centenaio » etymologically mean « hundred [weight] », they have diverged in value to such an extent that the course adopted in Cathay seems to be safer.


capadocle P capdoille, capdol F capdoilz FB capdos FA

capi dollio VB capidioli L capidolii L' capita olei, cauodoio Z

chapedoge, gapedoge VA chapidoglie, chapodoglie TA' chapodogli TA3

This is of course the word which has survived in Italian as capidoglio and capidoglia; although earlier Italian dictionaries mention capodoglio only from Polo's Italian versions, this latter form has been revived in the Enciclopedia Italiana and is adopted in modern Italian by BENEDETTO (B', 352, 357). Literally the name means of course « head of oil », « oil-head » (cf. capita olei in Z), and it is still the Italian name of the sperm whale or cachalot. At one time it was more or less adopted as a technical term in French; BECHERELLE still listed « capidolio » as being the name of a dolphin among French naturalists.

In Vol. I, 426, mention is made of a suggestion of mine which I wish to develop and also to qualify. I no longer think now that the sentence found only in RAMUSIO is due, in its second part (e della testa assai botte di olio), to a « misunderstanding or explanation of cauodoio ». It seems more likely that there was there a genuine sentence, omitted in Z, perhaps because it was corrupt in the ms. from which Z was copied or translated. As MOULE has suggested to me, the unintelligible et quandoque of Z may belong to that lost sentence, and represent *et cauodoie. Whatever the case may be, the fact that oil was extracted from the head of the « capdoille » is of course true, and it accounts for the very name of the animal.

The English names for the « capdoille », i. e. « cachalot » and « sperm whale », are not very old. The first occurence of « cachalut », as a word used in the region of Bayonne and Biarritz, is in 1670, in the Latin Miscellanea Curiosa, Francfort, 1670, p. 266; « cachalot » is then found in a French book in 1746, and in English in 1747 (MuRRAY). The most probable etymology is to derive « cachalot » from Gascon cachau, Catal. caxal, meaning « tooth »; the teeth, of which the cachalot makes good use for his defence, are his distinctive characteristic, while the true whale has no teeth.

The other name, « sperm whale », is a survival of the belief that the waxy white substance actually found in a large cavity and in the subcutaneous folds of the head of the cachalot was the sperm of the animal, hence its name spermaceti, lit. « whale sperm ». Through the same