Roman Fungi

Stephen P. Bentivenga bentiven at VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU
Wed Nov 20 11:12:07 EST 1996

On: Mon, 18 Nov 1996 12:42:23 -0500, Cathouse at wrote:

>I have been trying to find primary source information about the various
>species of fungi consumed by the ancient Romans. The copy of Apicius'
>Cookery book which I have been consulting lists recipes for truffles
>(tubera), tree fungi (fungi farnei), and mushrooms (boletos, boleti). 
>The translator has rendered boletos as simply "mushroom" but mentions
>that there is some dispute as to whether "boletos" refers to the common
>agaric or whether it refers to Caesar's mushroom (Amanita caesarea). I
>am puzzled by this as my initial thought was that it referred to Boletus
>edulis which remain one of the most popular mushrooms in Italy. Is
>there a taxonomist out there who knows the solution to my problem? If
>"boletos" in primary sources does refer to Boletus edulis can anyone
>tell me what the ancient Romans called Amanita caesarea? Anyone
>information at all related to this would be very much appreciated and
>can either be posted or better yet e-mailed to: Cathouse at
>Thanks, Judith.

Great question .....  I too have been interested in ancient fungus folklore.
A great source to look up is:  

  Buller, A.H.R.  1914.  The Fungus Lore of the Greeks and Romans.  Trans.
Brit.      Mycol. Soc.  5: 21-66.

Buller cites Pliny, Galen; Dioscorides, Theophrastus, and others.  If you
want the "primary" sources you need to be able to read latin and greek.
Buller states that:

   *Amanita caesarea* Fr. = Boletus (Pliny) or Bolitus (Galen).  
   *Boletus edulis* Fr. = Fungi suilli (Pliny)
   *Fometopsis officinalis* Fr. = Agaricum (Pliny)

So ... how did our current names come about?  Why do we now use the name
*Boletus* for fleshy mushrooms with pores (and not the genus *Amanita*)?
Why is *Suillus* not used to describe *Boletus edulis*?  Why do we now use
the term "Agaric" for gilled mushrooms when it was first applied to a
We can thank non other than Carl von Linne (Linneaus) for these egregious
errors.  His nomenclatural mistakes are now totally ingrained into the
fabric of mycology.  I'm not knocking his contribution to botany and science
as a whole but he really messed up mycology.  

Another great source for this type of information is:

  Rolfe, R.T. and Rolfe, F.W.  1925.  The Romance of the Fungus World.
Chapman     and Hall.  Reprinted in 1974 by Dover Publications, New York.  

Hope this helps.

- Steve Bentivenga
      ___/^,       Stephen P. Bentivenga, Ph.D.
     ;      ^'--.    Department of Biology & Microbiology
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