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Re: Maize origins [was re: "Corn" in medieval Europe]
I stand corrected. I had written,
>>The English colonists
>> in N. Am. originally called maize "Indian corn", since they got this "corn"
>> from the American Indians,
David Friedman replied,
>That seems plausible, but according to Finan, John J., _Maize in the Great
>Herbals_, it is wrong. His claim is that Maize was misidentified with an
>"Indian Corn" described by Pliny.
I've now had a chance to look at Finan's excellent 1950 book, based on his
interdisciplinary (Botany, Romance Languages, Classics, and Art and
Archaeology) master's thesis at Washington University. It is a survey
of the treatment of maize in 16th and 17th century herbals. It's only
33 pages long, but for some reason the pages are numbered 149-181.
Finan concludes that in the 16th century, there were two principal varieties
of maize in Europe. Tabernaemontanus (1588) actually describes both
in separate chapters.
The first, generally called Frumentum Turcicum or Tuerkische Korn (Turkish
grain) has no prop roots or "flag leaves", and is the only type described in
the earlier herbals. It was said to have been introduced from the Turkish
domains to the east. Recall that the Turks were deep into Europe, and
beseiging Vienna in 1529, so these were not just abstract generic
The second, which has prop roots and flag leaves, and apparently a
larger ear, was not depicted until 1576. It was generally called
Frumentum Indicum (Indian grain or Indian corn, using corn in the UK
sense), and said to have been brought from the W Indes by the
Finan notes that "prop roots" tend to appear on Caribbean
maize when it is transported to temperate climates. The "Turkish"
variety, on the other hand, more resembles the flint corn that
was being grown in eastern N. Am. when the English arrived.
This is not positively its source, however, since he notes that some
Amazonian maizes likewise do not produce prop roots.
In 1570 one herbalist argued that the Turkish Grain in fact came
from the W. Indes, but Finan is of the view that this writer was not
differentiating the two varieties.
In any event, I was wrong to assume that the English colonists in Mass.
made up the expression "Indian Corn". It was already established in the
herbals to which they had access, and long cultivated in the Netherlands,
where the Pilgrims sojourned prior to moving to Massachusetts, if not
in England itself. The Pilgrims may never have actually grown it
themselves, and certainly were not accustomed to depending on it,
so in that sense the American Indians "introduced" it to them, but they
already would have known what it was, and that should be called "Indian
Finan notes that some of his herbalists thought that maize was
the same as the black, large kernelled millet that Pliny had reported as
coming from India, since they observed that maize often had dark, almost
black kernels. This was called Milium Indicum or Pliniarium by
Dodonaeus and L'Obel. This is an interesting angle, but an entirely
different story. Unfortunately, Finan does not indicate where to find this
in Pliny, or what "typha" means in the discussion.
According to Finan (p. 150 n3), in the report of his 3rd Voyage, Columbus
describes the maize he found in the New World, and reports that it was
already widely cultivated in Castille, claiming that he himself had introduced
it after one of his earlier voyages. This is very interesting, since it
sounds like perhaps the Castillians were already growing "Turkish grain",
and Columbus just took credit for it. Recall that he was an Italian, not a
Spaniard, and so would have had little knowledge of Spanish agriculture
prior to his first voyage. Unfortunately, Finan supports this with a
secondary source, rather than a direct cite of Columbus. (For a botanist,
he's an outstanding historian!)
So Finan lends a little suppport to the Johannessen and Parker (Economic
Botany, 1989) contention that maize appears in 12th and 13th c AD Hoysala
sculptures from So. India. This could then be the source of the Corn
that was introduced into Europe by the Turks. The Indians (of India) may have
gotten it either from eastern N. Am - note that the Hoysala were the rulers
of Kannada! - or maybe from the Amazon - Johannessen, in _Person, Place
and Thing_, edited by Shue Tuck Wong, 1992, notes that Maka/Makai/
Makki/Makka/Makkai/Mokkajonna, etc, used in most parts of India and the Guinea
coast of Africa for maize, is similar to the Amazonian Arawak terms
Makanatsi, Makanazi, Makanadzi, Maiki. The Spanish got
their Maiz from the Hispanola form of this word, Mai.
(On the other hand, an Andhra student tells me that in Telugu, a Dravidian
language, Mokka just means any kind of plant that is not a tree.)
There was some dispute in the herbals about whether or not maize
was fit for human consumption. So perhaps the Turkish/Indian Corn
distinction corresponded to our modern Field Corn/Sweet Corn distinction.
The latter is eaten off the cob, frozen, or canned, by humans, whereas
the former is grown primarily as fodder for livestock. Any farmer
can tell at a glance which is being grown.
Finan does not indicate whether there were herbals prior to 1539 that
would have described Turkish Corn if it was present then, or if there
simply were no herbals prior to that date. The Turks were into Europe
from 1453 on, at least.
(Vincent Deluca started all of this with his query about his
wife's modern Italian term, granturco, for maize.)
-- Hu McCulloch
Ohio State U.