From Norman Douglas (1928) Birds and Beasts of the Greek Anthology, pp 20-23.

Junipers in the Anthology and in the Antique World

[Deer] antlers, like the trophies of other wild animals, were suspended on trees, on the pine, beech, plane, and the juniper “sacred among hunters” (6, 253). This last gives some food for reflection. The tree is called arkeuthos — a name which occurs more than once in these pages; and Theophrastus, our first authority, has described it so well that there can be little chance of identifying it with anything save the modern kentros, juniperus phoenica, as was done long ago. Now, firstly, I do not remember seeing a juniper of this species — the Syrian juniperus excelsa grows taller — more than thirty feet in height and that not in Greece (one I planted myself, under favourable conditions of soil and exposure, is now nearly twenty), and the trunk is so relatively slender that a stag’s head nailed against it would present an absurd spectacle. Not that there is any mention in these poems of a stag’s head actually attached to one of them; but this animal constituting the sportsman’s greatest prize, it would follow that the favourite juniper was preferred to all other trees. Secondly, I should not call is a forest growth — Theophrastus himself insists upon its fondness for rocks; it avoids those wooded and shady regions which the deer loves. Thirdly, so far as I can recollect, I have never yet seen the natural stump of a juniper — if the poet meant its stump rather than its trunk — great or small. They seem to be not only of uncommonly tough texture, but of uncommonly long life.

I cannot guess the size of the “high-stemmed junipers” mentioned by Philippson (Der Peloponnes, Berlin: 1892, p. 282); my friend Shirley Atchley of Athens, who has walked over most parts of Greece, tells me that the tallest juniper of this kind which he has ever seen may have been fifteen feet high (some on Parnassus struck me as higher); that, for example, on the foothills of Aigalion opposite Salamis something like a wood of them might spring up, if the plants were left undisturbed; and that Thompson, in his Flowering Plants of the Riviera, gives twenty feet as its greatest height, and refers to an unusually large specimen with a trunk three feet in circumference. Both Thistleton Dyer and Sir A. Hort maintain the old identification of arkeuthos with juniperus phoenicia.

There, I suppose, we must leave the matter — unless these writers were alluding not to the juniper but to one of the six larger conifers of Greece; abies cephalonica, panachaica and R-Amaliæ, and pinus halepensis, laricio and pinea (the former of which were, and still are, known as elate, whereas their other ancient name, peuke, is now applied to the pine — called pitys in antiquity). Firs would be appropriate in relation to the stag, which is the most fir-haunting beast in Europe; they are liable to mortal accidents from snow and wind and — owing to their height — from lightning, when they leave a slowly decaying trunk such as hunters might find convenient for their purpose.

The hunters, yes; the poets, perhaps no; and that is why I dwell on this trifle. We must be on our guard with these poets, and not only in the matter of plants. Exigencies of versification are responsible for some little botanical and zoological confusion in nearly all poetry, and one really cannot expect these charming people to be meticulous about such trifles; they have enough to do avoiding hiatuses and minding their quantities. So one of these epigrams (10, 12) bids the weary wanderer rest his limbs under a juniper, where there was a bench. It is not the kind of tree I should choose for a siesta or under which I should place a bench; its limbs are often so low that one would have to crawl there on all fours. Enough of junipers.

This page is by James Eason.