A couple of months ago, BCS did a series on recreating a Paeonian beer mentioned by Hecataeus. The beer, parabiēn or parabias, supposedly was made with millet and an adjunct called konuza. Konuza is usually translated as ‘fleabane,’ a name commonly applied to various species belonging to the very large Asteraceae or daisy family. A brief search into the meaning of konuza also yielded ‘inula,’ which is a genus of 90 species in the daisy family that includes some of these ‘fleabanes’. Thus, if we were to recreate parabias, we had to crack the case of which species of inula/fleabane to use.
The hunt begins
A first contender we encountered in our research was Pulicaria dysenterica or “common fleabane.” Kyle discovered that the sap of this plant was known for its bitter and astringent qualities, which sounded like an adjunct that could function like hop in a pre-hop era. Yet since there were so many other possible contenders to consider, we decided to try a different approach and see if the word ‘konuza’ came up in other ancient texts to see what else we might learn about our mystery plant.
It was not long before I found that the word occurred in the Hippocratic corpus, a series of texts on Greek medicine that were assembled between the end of the 5th century BC and the first half of the 4th century BC – i.e. only slightly later than Hecataeus’ writings. In a German translation of these texts, the word ‘konuza’ is translated as ‘alant.’ Alant is the Germanic equivalent of inula. While it can be applied to various species in the inula genus, it often refers to Inula helenium, also known as elecampane or ‘Greek alant.’
Greek alant? Named after Helen of Troy? That sounded like a plant that could have been known in Classical Antiquity! Our hunch was confirmed when we found a description of inula in Pliny. While he did not talk about beer, he described the plant’s use in Roman cuisine and specifically noted its bittering qualities – perfect for brewing a beer. Soon, Kyle found himself doing pre-brewing research into elecampane and found out that it was actually a well-known adjunct to historic beers. Bingo! From here, we developed the hypothesis that the konuza mentioned by Hecataeus could have been elecampane or Inula helenium and devised an experiment to test its effectiveness. The experiment was a success and the case on konuza was closed. Until now…
The plot thickens…
After the elecampane experiment, Kyle and I felt we were really on to something. This is why we decided to reopen the ‘konuza case,’ to learn more about the term, its use, and its possible identification as ‘elecampane’ rather than ‘fleabane’. As a first step, we would have to find other texts that mention konuza beyond Hecataeus and the Hippocratic corpus. Kyle suggested that I would consult the Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) Greek-English Lexicon, a dictionary that not only gives the translation of words in Greek and Latin but also lists its occurrences. And this is where things got complicated.
Beyond providing as translation to konuza ‘various species of Inula, Fleabane,’ the LSJ gives a number of sources in which the term occurs: Hecataeus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Galen, Dioscorides, Nicander. So far so good. For these specific sources, however, the LSJ also lists specific species of inula/fleabane, namely: Inula viscosa, Inula graveolens, and Inula brittanica. As you can notice, Inula helenium is not one of them. Does this mean our starting hypothesis was wrong? Not necessarily, but this data point does warrant further investigation. In following blog posts, I will, therefore, examine:
– the occurrences of ‘konuza’ in ancient Greek
– the identification of ancient plants
– whether ancient Greek has an equivalent for Pliny’s ‘inula’
Hardy, G./L. Totelin 2016, “Ancient Botany,” London.
Liddle, H.G./R. Scott 1940, “A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and Augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie”, Oxford.
Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. dissertation, U. of British Columbia.
Riddle, J.M. 1985, “Dioscorides on Pharmacy and Medicine“, Austin.
Schubert, C./U. Huttner 1999 (eds.), “Frauenmedizin in der Antike: griechisch/lateinisch/deutsch“, Düsseldorf/Zürich, pp. 232-233, 238-239, 244-245.
the sap of the fleabane (found in the tissues) has a bitter and astringent quality. Perhaps, the addition of this herb produced similar effects as hops by helping to balance the sweetness of the brew with bitterness.
Konuza is defined in the literature as referring to various species of inula and fleabane. If we were to recreate parabias, we had to figure out which species to use specifically.
f we were to recreate parabias, we had to figure out which one.
a passage by Hecataeus, preserved in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists.
Konuza occurs in Hecataeus. Defined as referring to various species of inula; fleabane.
But which one?
Found that it was also used in Hippocratic treatise. German translation uses Alant. Alant is German for Inula; often applied to Inula Helenium.
Hypothesis: Konuza is Inula Helenium. Turns out it makes sense: healing plant; various antisceptic properties AND used in beer since Medieval times.
So: we wanted to look into Konuza more in detail.
Step 1: find other texts that mention the word. In order to do this, Kyle suggested I would consult the LSJ dictionary, because it would give other occurrences.
The dictionary did but it also gave for some of these sources the specific species of inula. Inula Helenium was not one of them.