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The son of the river-god Meander of Phrygia, his name means 'reed'. He was deeply in love with a youth of great beauty named Carpus who was the son of the god Zephyrus and one of the Horae. One day they were both bathing in the Meander and Calamus wanted to show his friend that he was the better swimmer, but in the competition which ensued Carpus was drowned. In his grief Calamus withered to such an extent that he became a reed by the river bank. Carpus (whose name means 'fruit') became the 'fruit of the fields' which dies and is reborn every year.


Table of Sources
- Serv. on Virgil, Ecl. 5, 48
- Nonnus, Dion. 11, 370ff.

Calamus, the reed pen which the ancients used in writing, made of the stem of a reed growing in marshy places, of which the best were obtained from Egypt. The stem was first softened, then dried, and cut and split with a knife, as quill pens are made. To this day the Orientals generally write with a reed.

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Calamus, the traditional name of the sweet flag, which is no doubt the "calamus aromaticus" of Roman authors, and probably the sweet calamus and sweet cane of Scripture.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

With all that said, there is Walt Whitman’s take on the noble Sweet Flag, whose root was considered "a fine and democratic gift” among his fellow men and “comrados” of these United States, in his addendum to Leaves of Grass, also called Calamus.

First one must understand that  candied calamus root was a very common commodity in the early 19th century, available in country stores and apothecaries in town, as a balm for headaches, “travel”, and sour stomachs, and especially beloved of children.  Nowadays, it’s considered mildly carcinogenic (though probably less than tobacco) and is not for sale anywhere I know of. Fans admit that it tastes a little “soapy”, like coriander, but it grows on you. 

So far, cool beans, but what does it look like? I can spot a flag as easily as anyone (it’s a bitty wild iris), but is this the same thing, or different? Well….

Um. It’s not so much the root, as the…um flowering body.
 I’m kind of at a loss here, it’s not quite the shape and color, which is yellow, and kind of like a single banana, or maybe a sausage…as much as it is the pert and jaunty, um, angle as it stands from the ground. Like a cute teenage boy's first erection. I'm not getting pedophile on you, I'm talking Greek art... and being more sexually active than usual in high school, as a girl..

So I guess, what he's saying, is "if things were different, I wouldn't have to hide that I'm sexually attracted to various people. I could just...show them my penis! Women would take that as a compliment! Men would already understand!" Except in Victorian...

Um.  So, I guess, when Oscar Wilde was reading in Cambridge, he had a pretty good idea who he was going to be meeting in New Jersey...

Cal"a*mus (?), n.; pl. Calami (#). [L., a reed. See Halm.]

1. Bot.

The indian cane, a plant of the Palm family. It furnishes the common rattan. See Rattan, and Dragon's blood.

2. Bot.

A species of Acorus (A. calamus), commonly called calamus, or sweet flag. The root has a pungent, aromatic taste, and is used in medicine as a stomachic; the leaves have an aromatic odor, and were formerly used instead of rushes to strew on floors.

3. Zool.

The horny basal portion of a feather; the barrel or quill.


© Webster 1913.

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