Hannonia, again

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:13:50 PDT
Let's not leave this interesting name Hannonia without first exploring it a
bit more. 

Dylan Hannon pointed us in an interesting direction with his comments on the
name Hannonia - although if I were Dylan I would like Alberto's subsequent
suggestion even more.

In fact, there is a fascinating story behind the name. Ultimately, the name
honors a Carthaginian navigator who, about 2500 years ago, explored part the
western coast of Africa.  His name in Latin was Hanno (the genitive singular
is Hannonis), but we can't thank the Romans for knowing that. When Hanno
returned from his travels he must have been something of a national hero. A
stone was inscribed with the major events of his travels and placed in an
important temple for public viewing. 

Someone who spoke and wrote a provincial form of Greek saw the slab and
transcribed it into Greek, and in this form the story became known in the
ancient world. If this had not happened, it's probable that the story would
have been lost to history because the Romans ultimately and very thoroughly
destroyed Carthage.

Hanno's story includes one tale which really fascinates me: evidently he and
his crew encountered gorillas; they captured three females - I'm not sure
but I think they thought they were just very hairy humans - but found them
intractable and so they killed them, flayed them and brought their skins
back as souvenirs. Our word gorilla dates to this encounter and is evidently
derived from the word for "man" in a local language. Some modern
commentators are frankly skeptical that the hairy women were gorillas in the
modern sense; you can decide for yourself. 

If any of this interests you, Google Hanno and enjoy the numerous links.

Both the genus name Hannonia and the specific epithet hesperidum are a nod
to Hanno's voyage. The specific epithet should raise a question or two for
those of you with an interest in plant names. Why, if Hannonia is feminine
(as genus names derived from personal family names always are), does
hesperidum end in -um? 

The answer is that hesperidum is not an adjective. It is the genitive
singular of the feminine noun Hesperides which means, surprise, the
Hesperides. The Hesperides are characters from Greek mythology who lived on
an island far to the west (from the Greek perspective), "far to the west" in
this case probably meaning off the west coast of Africa. 

Hesperidum thus means "of the Hesperides" - of the mythological characters
or of the island gardem they purportedly inhabited (they passed the time by
raising golden apples). 

When you read of Hannon's travels, you'll sometimes see the far western
extension referred to as the hesperides. 

Braun-Blanquet and Maire missed the chance to tell a good story. 


Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where Antirrhinum
braun-blanquetii still has a bloom or two and Adiantum mairei is still

My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/

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