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0542 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 542 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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526   183. COTTON

cu/um was simile Agno sine lana seems to imply that his source was not Odoric, but Maundeville, at least indirectly. Directly, his information was drawn from « Laurentius Servius in Chronica Germ. anni 1504 » and « Jo. Maria Bonard. de miner. », of which I can trace neither for the present.

As to the name baranec and the fur used to make caps, an obvious solution is that HERBER-STEIN, perhaps in agreement with some Turkish tradition, transferred the legend to a local product, in fact to the skin of the stillborn iamb or iamb obtained before birth by opening the belly of the mother, our astrakhan. In 1692, the clearheaded WITSEN (Noord en Oost-Tartarye, 1705 ed., I, 288), in a paragraph « De Agno Scyticâ, seu fructu Boronietz (Boranits) » had inserted with approval a Latin note which he had received from KAEMPFER, in which the latter stated that the « borometz seu barannetz » could be nothing else but « the placenta of a lamb taken from the womb of its mother ». This is already, almost word for word, the text which, a few years later (1712), KAEMPFER himself published in his Amoenitates Exoticae, fasc. III, 505-508. We have seen that, in the 18th cent., the « sheep with heavy bones » of the Chinese, which, through a mistake in the meaning of ku-chung yang, is the lineal descendant of the « sowed sheep », was no other than the astrakhan. Moreover the fur caps made from the lamb plant, according to POSTEL'S Turkish informant, came from Samarkand, which is very near Bokhara, mentioned for the « sheep with heavy bones » by the Chinese.

But this was too simple. In 1725, according to BRETSCHNEIDER (Br, I, 154), Dr BREYN of Danzig (this must be Johann Philip BREYN, whose works are not at my disposal; from bibliographies I cannot trace any book of his which is dated 1725) declared that the pretended A gnus scythicus was nothing more than the rhizome of a large fern, which, once placed in an inverted position, had the appearance of the legs and horns of a quadruped; specimens of that fern, known as penghawar, were artificially made to have a still closer resemblance to the animal, and magical properties were attributed to it. The great LINNAEUS, having received in 1752 a certain fern from southern China, had no hesitation in declaring it to be the Agnus scythicus, and called it Polypodium barometz. Modern botanists have also used the term Aspidium barometz, but prefer Cibotium barometz. Such would be the Agnus Scythicus. « Adam and Eve were said to have been astonished on seeing this vegetable iamb in the Garden of Eden » (STUART, Materia Medica, 345). In one of the very spare footnotes added to his translation of HERBERSTEIN, MAJOR accepted the Polypodium theory. As to BoULLON'S Dictionnaire de botanique, almost every word under the headings « Agneau de Scythie » and « Barometz » is a glaring error. So barometz, miscopied from HERBERSTEIN'S « boranetz », became universally adopted in botanical nomenclature. The Russians corrected the form of the word, but not the value, and now baranec is the Russian designation of a Polypodium, just as barometz is in the rest of the world. No botanist paid attention to the fact that this fern, extensively found in south-eastern Asia and said to occur in the mountainous regions of Central Asia, did not grow in the very country from which the pseudo-name barometz had been imported.

LEE (pp. 24-44) has already exposed the absurdity of the fern story, but we have now to account for the whole legend in its various forms, without stopping at BRUCKNER'S hypothesis of a solar myth (p. 144).

In 1871, BRETSCHNEIDER (On the knowledge possessed by the ancient Chinese, 24) suggested