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quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis

”Catullus, 7

Silph-bearing Cyrenaica, said a poet,
Alluding to a plant now long extinct.
The coastal plain of Libya could grow it
And nowhere else. The herb had a distinct
Fragrance of rosy fennel, with a whiff
Of spiciness, as if the gods had planned
To grace this stretch of desert with one gift
That made up for the scorpions and sand.

The helpless herb fell victim to our tastes”
Human greed soon harvested it all.
The fields of sylph turned into barren wastes
Where sunbaked serpents writhe, and lizards crawl.
The last surviving stalk was sent to Rome
Where Nero ate it with a golden spoon.
Meanwhile, back in the plant’s ancestral home,
Saharan death spread northward, dune by dune.