Cinnamon: Debunking the Myth of the Phoenix

originally printed in September 2003, by Maedb Hawkins

Often, folklore becomes confused with fact. Cinnamon (cassia) is a wonderful example of that. In most tracts on medieval spices, you will find the following information given as fact.

Medieval physicists loved any information on spices and were content to believe in even the most fantastic "facts," usually embellishing them with even more incredible details. Even the most common of spices, such as cinnamon, became objects of folklore:

"Pliny speketh of canel (cinnamon) and seith of canel and of cassia men tolde fables in old tyme, that is yfounde in briddes nests and specialle in the fenix (phoenix) his nest, and may nought be yfounde but what falleth by his owne wight or is ysmyte down with leded arwes (arrows)." [Mysterious Origins of Spices, James Matterer]

What Pliny actually said was:

"That in that tract where Bacchus was nourished, Cinamon and Canell either fell from the nests nests of certaine foules, and principally of the Phoenix, through the weight of the venison and flesh which they had preyed upon and brought thither where as they builded in high rockes and trees; or els was driven and beaten downe, by arrowes headed with lead. Also that Canell or Casia was gotten from about certaine marishes, guarded and kept with a kind of cruell Bats, armed with terrible and dreadfull tallons, and with certaine flying Pen-dragons. And all these devises were invented onely to enhaunce the price of these drugs." [History of the World, translated 1601] 


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