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polymorphousπολύμορϕος (gr.); polymorpha (lat.); polymorph (ger.)

  • Having or occurring in several different forms; spec. occurring in different morphological forms (at the same or different stages of the life cycle). (OED 2011)
    c. -340 (BC)

    Ἰσχνότατος δ’ ὁ χαμαιλέων τῶν ᾠοτόκων καὶ πεζῶν ἐστι πάντων· ὀλιγαιμότατος γάρ ἐστιν. Αἴτιον δὲ τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς ἦθός ἐστιν αὐτοῦ· διὰ γὰρ τὸν φόβον γίνεται πολύμορφος. Κατάψυξις γὰρ ὁ φόβος δι’ ὀλιγαιμίαν καὶ δι’ ἔνδειάν ἐστι θερμότητος. Καὶ περὶ μὲν τῶν ἐναίμων ζῴων τῶν τ’ ἀπόδων καὶ τετραπόδων, ὅσα τε μόρια αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἐκτὸς καὶ διὰ τίν’ αἰτίαν, εἴρηται σχεδόν. [Among the oviparous land-animals, the chameleon has the least flesh on him; this is because he has least blood, and the same reason is at the root of the animal’s habit of soul—he is subject to fear (to which his many changes in appearance are due), and fear is a process of cooling produced through scantiness of blood and insufficiency of heat.]

    Aristotle (c. 340 BC). De partibus animalia 692a20-b2 [transl. A.L. Peck].

    c. 200

    Τῶν δὲ Ἀραβίων ζῴων πολύχροιά τε καὶ τὸ πολύμορφον πάντα γραφικὸν ἐλέγξαιδεινά, καὶ ταῦτα οὐ μόνον τά τε ἄλκιμα καὶ γενναῖα, ἤδη δὲ καὶ τὰ ἀδοξότερα.

    Claudius Aelianus (c. 200). De natura animalium X, 13.

    c. 1589

    Id ni in causa fuerit, diversítatem coloris, ut in ursis merulisque sit albicantibus, ludenti demus naturae: quae varia quum ipsa fuerit & Polymorpha, haud mirum si formarum πολυποικιλία gaudens, non unius omnes coloris apes fecerit.

    Moffett, T. [c. 1589]. Insectorum sive minimorum animalium theatrum (London 1634): 4.

    Medicago polymorpha
    Linné, C. von (1753). Species plantarum, vol. 2: 779.
    Polymorphous trefoil
    Hanbury, W. (1771). A Complete Body of Planting and Gardening, vol. 2: 208 (ccxv).
    Polymorphous trefoil
    Rousseau, J.-J. (1785). Letters on the Elements of Botany (transl. T. Martyn, London 1785): 371.
    speciem polymorpham
    Candolle, A.P. de (1828). Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetabilis, vol. 3: 71.

    There is one point connected with individual differences, which seems to me extremely perplexing: I refer to those genera which have sometimes been called “protean” or “polymorphic,” in which the species present an inordinate amount of variation; and hardly two naturalists can agree which forms to rank as species and which as varieties. We may instance Rubus, Rosa, and Hieracium amongst plants, several genera of insects, and several genera of Brachiopod shells. In most polymorphic genera some of the species have fixed and definite characters. Genera which are polymorphic in one country seem to be, with some few exceptions, polymorphic in other countries

    Darwin, C. (1859). On the Origin of Species: 46.


    [The variety of colour and of shape in the fauna of Arabia might well put anyone skilled in painting to the test, not only in the case of powerful and noble animals but even of the more insignificant

    Aelian, On the characteristics of animals, transl. by A. F. Scholfield, vol. 2, London 1959. X, 13.]