Monday, September 29, 2008

Citrus juglandis

PHOLILOTUMNUS, son of Hermes (Mercury) and the Naiad Astophaxibia (ibid.). Variously described as the tutelary spirit of false prophecy, of prevarication, or merely of fibbing. He appears in most accounts as a gaunt, stooped figure who claims to be advanced in age but responds to threats with surprising vigor. The dingy hue of his long robe makes it impossible to determine if it is clean. He always bears in his fist a small garland of Sicilian burr shaddocks, also known as walnut limes (Citrus juglandis), which he will offer as a remedy for whatever ails those he befriends.

But he is not to be trusted. Depending on the obscure walnut lime's stage in life, its effects on man vary sharply: As a bud, it is a powerful emetic, effective on contact with the skin; when blossoming, its ripe fruit (legend has it) can rid one’s blood of any harmful poison. But once dead, its dried zest is said to corrupt the flesh and eventually kill those who touch it. The hard outer casing does not change throughout the growing season, making the state of the fruit difficult to confirm.

The better-known tales have Pholilotumnus outwitted by clever intended victims, such as Pratinoxos (ibid.), who, aware that Pholilotumnus was, by character, lying about the fruit’s property, ruled out his initial claim, leaving two possible conditions for the plant — which, through further deduction, he narrowed to one: the dried and lethal stage. Pratinoxos then used the limes to vanquish the giant serpent poisoning his well (rather than attempt to purify its waters).

Fragments of early Satyr plays depict Pholilotumnus using his garland to threaten groups of paunchy Sileni, who, also aware that he is lying about its danger, snatch the fruits away, and either eat them (if they are ripe), or, if they are in bud-form, overpower Pholilotumnus and force him to vomit.

From: Clema Meskine Vermelt, Mythological Glosses for To-day’s Readers, Cambridge: Rohaurght & Druffton, 1871: p. 327.