Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 23 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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LOTUS, a popular name applied to several plants. The lotus fruits of the Greeks belonged to Zizyphus Lotus, a bush native in south Europe with fruits as large as sloes, containing a mealy substance which can be used for making bread and also a fermented drink. In ancient times the fruits were an important article of food among the poor; whence " lotophagi " or lotus-eaters. Zizyphus is a member of the natural order Rhamnaceae to which belongs the British buckthorn. The Egyptian lotus was a water-lily, Nymphaea Lotus; as also is the sacred lotus of the Hindus, Nelumbium speciosum. The lotus tree, known to the Romans as the Libyan lotus, and planted by them for shade, was probably Celtis australis, the nettle-tree (q.v.), a southern European tree, a native of the elm family, with fruits like small cherries, which are first red and then black. Lotus of botanists is a genus of the pea-family (Leguminosae), containing a large number of species of herbs and undershrubs widely distributed in the temperate regions of the old world. It is represented in Britain by L. corniculatus, bird's foot trefoil, a low-growing herb, common in pastures and waste places, with clusters of small bright yellow pea-like flowers, which are often streaked with crimson; the popular name is derived from the pods which when ripe spread like the toes of a bird's foot. LOTUS-EATERS (Gr. Atoros/6.yol), a Libyan tribe known to the Greeks as early as the time of Homer. Herodotus (iv. 177) describes their country as in the Libyan district bordering on the Syrtes, and says that a caravan route led from it to Egypt. Victor Berard identifies it with the modern Jerba. When Odysseus reached the country of the Lotophagi, many of his sailors after eating the lotus lost all wish to return home. Both Greeks and Romans used the expression " to eat the lotus " to denote forgetfulness (cf. Tennyson's poem " The Lotus-Eaters "). There has been considerable discussion as to the identification of the Homeric lotus. Some have held that it is a prickly shrub, Zizyphus Lotus, which bears a sweet-tasting fruit, and still grows in the old home of the Lotophagi. It is eaten by the natives, who also make a kind of wine from the juice. P. Charupault (Pheniciens et Grecs en Italie d'apres l'Odyssee, p. 400, note 2), however, maintains that the lotus was a date; Victor Berard (Les Pheniciens et l'Odyssee, 1902–1903, ii. 102) is doubtful, but contends that it was certainly a tree-fruit. If either of these be correct, then the lotus of Od. iv. 603–604 is quite a different plant, a kind of clover. Now Strabo (xvii. 829a) calls the lotus a6av lava icai Xi-ay. Putting these two references together with Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi i. 4. 4, R. M. Henry suggests that the Homeric lotus was really the ,r6a of Strabo, i.e. a kind of clover (Classical Review, December 1906, p. 435).
End of Article: LOTUS
LORENZO LOTTO (c. 1480-1556)

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