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Pistakia dicunt greci arabes vero fistachi imitantes grecum .p. littera qua carent in .f. mutantes Ysidorus pistacia inquit dicta quod odorem nardi pistici referant.


Pystachia AC | Pistakia B ef

fistachi AC | fistach B e | fisthach f

imitantes C | imitãtes A | inmitantes e | ĩmitantes B f

.p. litera qua carent in .f. mutantes om. e

littera BC | lŕa A f

pistacia AC ef | pistachia B

inquit AC f | ĩquit B | inquid e

referant C e | referãt AB | referunt f


Pistakia is what the Greeks call it, but the Arabs say fistachi in imitation of the Greek word. The Arabs lack the letter {i.e. sound} /p/ and change it to /f/. Isidore of Seville says, it is called pistacia because it gives off the scent of pure {i.e. Latin pisticus, see Commentary below} nardus {"spikenard"}.


Greek πιστάκη /pistákē/ means "pistachio-tree", πιστάκιον /pistákion/, pl. πιστάκια /pistákia/, means "pistachio-nut". Typically of loan-words Greek has a number of variant forms like βιστάκιον /bistákion/; φιττάκια /phittákia/, ψιττάκια /psittákia/.

Latin adopts πιστάκιον /pistákion/ as pistaceum/ pistacium, plural pistacea/ pistacia, from which in late Latin a feminine singular was formed pistacia,ae for the tree.

Simon refers to Isidore’s Etymologiae, 17, 7, 30, De rebus rusticis: de propriis nominibus arborum, where it says: Pistacia, quod cortex pomi ejus nardi pistici odorem refereat – "The pistachio-tree has this name, because the shell of its fruit gives off the odour of true {i.e. pisticus} nardus {'spikenard'}."

The late Latin pisticus is taken from Greek πιστικός /pistikós/, which has two meanings: 1) "liquid" when it is derived from πίνω /pínō/ {"I drink"}, or 2) "faithful" when derived from πίστις /pístis/ {"trust, faith"}.

In the sense of "liquid" the word was mainly used in connection with a product of the plant νάρδος /nárdos/, ie. νάρδος πιστική /nárdos pistikḗ/, "liquid nardos", an expensive unguent made with spikenard, that was obviously somewhat runny. This ointment is mentioned twice in the Greek and the Vulgate New Testament, both passages telling the anointing at Bethany. In Marcus 14, 3 νάρδος πιστική /nárdos pistikḗ/ was translated as nardus spicatus {"spikenard"}, and in Iohannes, 12, 3 as nardus pisticus {"pure nard"}.

The two senses "liquid" and "faithful" evolved in late Latin to mean "authentic". The quote from the gospel of John must be the source for Isidore's etymological explanation.

For the Arabic word see Fistici.

History and botanical identification:

The pistachio-tree, Pistacia vera L. [[1]], has an original distribution that covers parts of South, West and Central Asia. The tree’s tolerance of saline and poor soil and widely fluctuating temperatures makes it a plant well adapted to the near-desert or steppe-like conditions on the Iranian plateaus. Archaeological evidence shows that pistachio-nuts were a common food as early as the seventh millennium BC, indicating that this tree was brought into cultivation in central Asia (Zohary, Hopf & Weiss, 2012: 151-2).

P. vera L. only came late into the Mediterranean world. The pistachio-nut is mentioned in a brief chapter in Dioscorides, 1, 113, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: I.113): πιστάκια /pistákia/, and in Dioscorides Longobardus, 1, 136, ed. Mihăescu (1938: 67) De pistacia, and in Pliny the tree is seen as peculiar to Syria, 13, 10, 51, ed. Rackham (1938-63: IV.128). Also according to Pliny, 15, 24, 91, (1938-63: IV.352), the tree was introduced to Italy by the Roman consul Lucius Vitellius the Elder, governor of Syria in 35 AD, and at the same time it was brought to Spain by the Roman knight Flaccus Pompeius.

WilfGunther 09/01/14

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