1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Moly

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MOLY (Gr. μῶλυ), a mysterious plant with magical powers described in Homer, Odyssey, x. 302–306. Hermes pulls it up and gives it to Odysseus as a protection against the arts of Circe. It is further described as “ having a black root and a flower like milk, and hard for mortals to pull up.” There has been much controversy as to the identification. Philippe Champault—Phéniciens et Grecs en Italie d'après l'Odyssée (1906), pp. 504 seq.—decides in favour of the Peganum harmala (of the order Rutaceae), the Syrian or African rue (Gr. πήγανον), from the husks of which the vegetable alkaloid harmaline (C13H14N2O) is extracted. The flowers are white with green stripes. Victor Bérard—Les Phéniciens et l'Odyssee, ii. 288 seq.—relying partly on a Semitic root, prefers the Atriplex halimus (atriplex, a Lat. form of Gr. ἀτράφαξυς, and ἅλιμος, marine), order Chenopodiaceae, a herb or low shrub common on the south European coasts. These identifications are noticed by R. M. Henry in Class. Rev. (Dec. 1906), p. 434, who illustrates the Homeric account by passages in the Paris and Leiden magical papyri, and argues that moly is probably a magical name, derived perhaps from Phoenician or Egyptian sources, for a plant which cannot be certainly identified. He shows that the “difficulty of pulling up” the plant is not a merely physical one, but rather connected with the peculiar powers claimed by magicians. In Tennyson's Lotus Eaters the moly is coupled with the amaranth (“propt on beds of amaranth and moly”).