Early Egyptian ship

"Helen, the child of Zeus, had a happy ihouglu.. Into the bowl in which their wine was mixed, she slipped a drug that had the power of robbing grief and anger of their sling and banishing all painful memories. No one that swallowed this dissolved in wine could shed a single tear that day, even for the death of his mother and father, or if they put his brother or his own son to the sword and he were there to see it done. This powerful anodyne was one of many useful drugs which had been given to the daughter of Zeus by an Egyptian lady, Polydamna, the wife of Than. For the fertile soil of Egypt is most rich in herbs, many of which are wholesome in solution, though many are poisonous. And in medical knowledge the Egyptian leaves the rest of llie woidd behind."


Aristotle, whose philosophic speculations on animals and plants founded biology, mentions the poppy as a "hypnotic" (from Hypnos, god of sleep). He left his library to his pupil Theophrastus, who carried on the Dr. Dope tradition with a massive Enquiry into Planis that gives perhaps the eanJiest specific mention of incising the poppy to obtain opium. Aristotle's other famous pupil, Alexander the Great, took trained herbalists with him to Persia and India who returned with much knowledge of Asian planis, though Alexander himself, died of a fever after a bout of heavy drinking in Babylon. Soon thereafter, Greek schools were founded in Syria and Alexandria thai promoted the flow of pharmacology and ultimately preserved Aristotelian teachings in Arabic.

Thus there developed a fund of information available, in addition to folklore provided by herb pickei-s (rhizoiomoi) and drug dealers (pliarnuikopolai). Moreover, there was stale support for botanical research, especially from rulers feanful of being poisoned. Mithridales VI, King of Pontus in Asia Minor (120-63 B.C.), described all ihe medicinal planis of his kingdom himself and employed a rhizoiomist named Kiateuas as his personal physician. Together, ihey gained the reputation of knowing more about poisons than anyone else in ihe would; ihe king lent his name to mithridaium, the most renowned antidote of the age, and his herbalist provided Ihe most lifelike pictures of planis ever drawn al Ihe lime. Among Ihem was a poppy, now christened Papaver dubium, which yields opium.

So sophisticated was ihe art of poisoning that occasionally ihe precaution of hiring slaves as food tasters didn't even work. Tacitus tells us that when Nero assumed the Roman throne in ad. 54, he hired a woman under sentence for poisoning to


Tweophrastus: "{Juice is extracted from] as with the spurge and thé lettuce and most p from the roots, or thirdly from the head, asir with poppies. The poppy is tJfë only pi; which the juice is extracted From the he peculiar to it From other plants the juice by itself like tears, i.e., the juice of t'rogacantl need not be slit. In most cases the * from cuttings. Sometimes the jtiiee is collect« at once, as with the juice of spurge or terms spurge-juiçe. and poppy-juice are changeably when the liquid emanates with many openings.' "v'^^f^

Dioscosides: "Some cut off the pods and 1« compress them, grind them in a mortar, pills called mek onion, which is lîèss po opion. For opion, slit the frùit with as ma the dew is well dried, The knife irftîstp around the crown without ^piercing thé fr then the capsules should be incised on thi the surface and opened a little, A drop of will ooze forth onto the finger sluggish soon flow freely. When it is cooled and taken in small quantities like vetch, it induces sleep, aids digestion, .relieves stomach trou bles; when more is taken it into lethargic stupor arid is injurious."-


Opium prepare a Fast-acting toxin to slip into his brother Britannicus's wine, but they liad lo figure out a way lo fool ihe test taster. Remembering that Briiannicus liked his wine heated, Nero presented him wilh a cupful thai the slave pronounced loo hot lo drink. . The poison was then poured in wilh some cold water, and the unsuspecting Britannic us downed the wine in a gulp. A few seconds later Nero's claim lo the throne was undisputed-vexcept by his mother, a celebrated poisoner herself..

The greatest authority on drugs in the ancient Mediterranean was Dioscorkies, a surgeon bom in Asia Minor who traveled widely with Nero's army collecting information. He compiled a master-work, De Materia Medica, which included about a thousand vegetal, animal and mineral drugs. Of these, some 600 were plants (about a hundred more than in Theophrastus and about 450 more than were known to Hippocrates). Pictures of many of these species, some based oil Krateuas, were preserved in a Byzantine codex of ad. 512 and became the basis for botanical illustration for Ihe next thousand years. Dioscorides's descriptions of drugs and their effects, though brief, were far superior lo any thai had come before. Among the plants exalted by Dioscorides are cannabis, opium, white and black hellebore, henbane, aloes, hemlock, aconite, Syrian rue,



Continue reading here: Classical Mandrake Prescriptions

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