A typical Spanish dessert is the quince jelly (Spanish: carne/dulce de membrillo), which is also known as codoñate in areas of Catalan influence. Now, the Spanish word for quince is membrillo, which comes from Latin melimēlum 'honey apple'. But Catalan codonyat comes from the Catalan word for quince: codony, and this one comes from Latin cotoneum, cotonei 'quince'.

So it seems that the proper word for quince in Latin was cotoneum but I was wondering how is that the Spanish word membrillo comes from apparently a different fruit. So:

  • Is it possible that the Latin words melimelum and cotoneum meant the same thing in Classical Latin? Or maybe the word melimelum came to mean quince in Late or Medieval Latin?
  • Was cotoneum indeed the most used word for quince?
  • 2
    Fun etymological fact: English "marmalade" comes (through Portuguese marmelo) from melimelum. – brianpck Nov 7 at 14:54
  • 7
    Fun non-etymological fact: I had a hard time writing this question because in Spanish "quince" means "fifteen" and somehow my brain rejected the idea that the same word meant something completely different in English. :) – Charlie Nov 7 at 15:01
  • @brianpck I lke your derivation of 'marmalade'. It's new to me, so I'll add it to the forty or so others that occur in English myth! (it's a standing joke, as you probably know, that no-one really knows the word's origin). More seriously, though, it's interesting that Charlie's 'quince jelly' is used here in England as an alternative to marmalade on your breakfast toast. – Tom Cotton Nov 9 at 14:43

According to the Etimologia botanica of Alexandre de Théis, these words originally referred to two different species. On the one hand, melimelum comes from the Greek μελίμηλον, and this originally belonged to the species pyrus paradisiaca:

P. paradisiaca (pomme de paradis). Par allusion à son goût doux et agréable. Les Grecs nommoient ce fruit, dans le même sens, μελίμηλον, pomme de miel.

Quince, on the other hand, is the species pyrus cydonia:

P. cydonia. Originaire de la ville de Cydon, en Crète, aujourd’hui la Canée. Les Latins l’appeloient malus-cotonea. Son fruit est couvert de coton avant sa maturité.
Le cotonea, dit Pline, liv. 15, chap. 11, que les Grecs nomment cydoni, a été apporté de l’île de Crète.
De cydonia nous avons fait coing, et de coing les Anglois ont fait quince.

Translation:

P. paradisiaca (apple of paradise). Alluding to its sweet and pleasant flavor, the Greeks called this fruit, in the same sense, μελίμηλον, honey apple.

P. cydonia. Originally from the village Cydon, Crete, currently the city Chania. The Latins called it malus-cotonea. Its fruit is covered with cotton before coming to maturity.
Le cotonea, says Pliny, book. 15, chap. 11, which the Greeks call cydoni, was brought from the isle of Crete.
From cydonia we have derived coing, and from coing the English have derived quince.

This is from Plin. Nat. Hist. Book 15, ix, 37 —

his proxima amplitudine mala quae vocamus cotonea et Graece cydonea, e Creta insula advecta. incurvatos trahunt ramos prohibentque crescere parentem. plura eorum genera: chrysomela incisuris distincta, colore ad aurum inclinato, qui candidior nostratia cognominat, odoris praestantissimi

— which, answering the second part of your question, seems to remove any doubt about cotoneum being the proper word for a quince.

However, I can't find melimelum anywhere, either directly through a search of the relevant books in Pliny's Natural History or Packhum, and I wonder where the word occurs?

  • Horace “post hoc me docuit melimela rubere minorem ad lunam delecta” – Alex B. Nov 8 at 15:54

Very strangely, there is no entry for melimelum in (the electronic version of) L&S. I do not have the print version before me at the moment, but there are lots of good references (Pliny and others) in Gaffiot:

https://www.lexilogos.com/latin/gaffiot.php?q=melimelum

and in Georges:

http://www.zeno.org/Zeno/0/Suche?q=melimelum&k=Georges-1913

EDIT: L&S do have it, but only as a plural:

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Dmelimela

  • Interesting that the flower of the Coing/Quince has a separate name from the fruit. In your first link, lower down the page, melinum scent of quince; melinus quince flower. (compare: Damask Rose, scent of which is called Attar) – Hugh Nov 8 at 12:02
  • Melinus 3 (quince coloured, quince oil, eye ointment etc) clearly shown as a loan word: L&S perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/… – Hugh Nov 8 at 12:15

Relevant passages:

“Tum sive mala cydonia, quae percocta sublaturus sit ...” (Columella)

“Quaeque suos curvant matura cydonia ramos” (Ovid)

“Insecuta sunt Cydonia etiam mala spinis confixa, ut echinos efficeren” (Petronius)

“ etenim sic flore iuventae induimur vultus, ut in arbore saepe notavi cerea sub tenui lucere cydonia lana.” (Calpurnicus Silicus)

“nec hoc praetereo, quod ex fructibus arborum illi sunt frigidiores, quorum sucus imitatur vini saporem, ut mala seu simplicia seu granata vel cydonia, quae cotonea vocat Cato” (Macrobius) [emphasis mine - Alex B.]

“Praeterea malorum genera exquirenda maxime Scaudiana, Matiana, orbiculata, Cestina, Pelusiana, Amerina, Syrica, melimela, Cydonia: quorum genera tria sunt, struthia, chrysomelina, mustea” (Columnella)

etc.

However,

“The identification of the 'Cydonian apples' (μῆλα κυδώνια/mêla kydṓnia) or the Lat. mala cotonea - Italian cotogna denotes quince - with the quince (Cydonia oblonga) is at the very least dubious” (New Pauly) [emphasis mine - Alex B.].

And, most importantly:

enter image description here

I wonder what it looks like at L’Orto dei Frutti Dimenticati.

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