It was not until the time of Aristotle and his pupil Theophrastus that the Greeks took the initiative in studying botany from a scientific point of view, but naturally earlier Greek writers were interested in varying degrees and for various reasons in the plants which they saw around them, and therefore mention them in their works.
The present is the third of a series of articles, the first two of which have appeared in the Classical Review, ‘Trees and Plants in Homer’ (C.R., vol. 1, July 1936, pp. 97 ff.) and ‘Trees and Plants in Herodotus’ (ib., vol. lvi, July 1942, pp. 57 ff.). The present article deals with the references to trees and plants in the thirty-five extant plays and fragments of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. It is proposed first to tabulate the references to trees, shrubs, and plants in these authors and indicate the contexts in which they occur, and then to try to draw some conclusions as to the interest which these writers display in plant life and the attitude which they adopt towards it. Forty-three botanical names occur in the plays of the three dramatists, whereas in Homer there are fifty and in Herodotus fifty-seven. It will be clear, I think, that the dramatists took much less interest in plant-life than either Homer or Herodotus.
To take trees and shrubs first, the oak, ρῠς (Quercus robor)—a word which, like the Sanskrit root dru, was originally a general term for ‘tree’ or ‘wood’, and hence is used for the ‘king of trees’—occurs frequently in the Greek tragedians, especially in Euripides.