There is a following illustration (f. 28r) in the Tractatus de Herbis:

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(Here is a link to an image with high resolution.) It is written in Wikipedia that "Apparently the artist has confused his animals in this picture, with his drawing of a deer-like creature. "Beavers and musk deers were sought after for castoreum and musk, respectively"" etc. What I wish to know is what is written near the animal. Apparently it reads "castoreum alio noie asustilbar". I assume that "alio noie" is shortened "alio nomine", "also called". But what is the last word?

  • 2
    If you look at the scans of the whole MS at www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=7796&CollID=9&NStart=4016 (as I just spent far too long doing), indications of 'by another name' or 'which some people call' are frequent. The other names are a mishmash of Latin, transliterated Greek and Arabic, and what I presume is regional dialect(s) (e.g., folio 62r. gives mus, sorices[?], ratus, and topus [cf. Italian topo] in the caption for a mouse). Since the MS is from Lombardy, perhaps asustilbar is in Lombardic – or something else entirely (Arabic?).
    – cnread
    Oct 30 '17 at 9:44

In Isidore (translated Barney et al.) Etymologies XX which is the section on cookery, Isidore explains assus:

  1. Roasted (assus), something that is blazing hot, as though the word were arsus, burnt.

Two forms exist: assus and assatus. I think the first half of the word, asust- is a combination of these two. Apicius, whose book on cookery is famous, uses the verb asso; "assare jecus porcinum." (to roast pig’s liver) Isidore also helps with the second half of the word:::

  1. Placentae are breads made from spelt. Some people call them libum; because they are agreeable (libere) and pleasing (placere).

(Spelt is a primitive wheat; it has half the number of chromosomes found in cultivated varieties) Libar, here as ilbar, is likely to be a syncopated back-formation of from Libarius, a cook who sold these small libus or libum birthday cakes.

Verecunnus libarius hic and Pudens libarius,

which can be roughly translated as 'Verecunnus and Pudens sell votive bread here'. (graffiti on the precinct wall of the Temple of Apollo)

This creates a new problem. Beaver scent has nothing whatever to do with the musk deer in the picture. And "Blistering hot cup-cakes" is much more suitable as a description of roast chestnuts straight from the fire: castaneae, here written castanee on the left of the page. A misunderstanding seems to have arisen because because castanea, the word for chestnut, is a direct borrowing from Greek. Isidore's Etymologies p.144 provides a specious answer, which connects the chestnut tree to beaver and to musk::

Latin speakers name the chestnut (castanea)from a Greek term, for the Greeks call it καστάνια, because its paired fruits are hidden in a small sack like testicles, and when they are ejected from it, it is as if they were castrated (castrare).

It fits in perfectly with the story of beavers (Castores) making themselves valueless to hunters. And explains why this Herbal got the idea that musk deer might resort to the same drastic action.
But there is no connection that I can find between the musk deer and the cryptic ".Castoreum. alio noie asustilbar"

  • 1
    So, you're saying "asus-" is from "assus" and "-(i)lbar" is from "libarius", but what about the "t" in the middle of the word?
    – Asteroides
    Oct 30 '17 at 5:09
  • @sumelic, what I've come to think (after spending too much time on this) is these three words have nothing to do with Castor or bollocks, but might possibly have a connection with delicious hot chestnuts, bursting open from the heat.
    – Hugh
    Oct 30 '17 at 5:43

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