The other day I was a little surprised to find the following definitions and etymologies of pharmakon (“medicine”).
From the Suda
“Pharmakon [medicine]: conversation, consoling, it comes from pherein [bringing] akos [relief/cure]. But it is also said to come from flowers.
Φάρμακον: παραμυθία, ὁμιλία, εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ φέρειν τὴν ἄκεσιν: εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθέων
“Medicine: consolation, conversation. This is from pherein [to bear] and akos [relief], something close to pherakon
Φάρμακον: Παραμυθία, ὁμιλία· παρὰ τὸ φέρειν τὸ ἄκος, φέρακόν τι ὄν·
Chaintrain s.v. pharmakon, after surveying various approaches to its etymology (mostly reflexes of pherô and PIE *bher-) concludes “la question de l’origine de pharmakon est insoluble en l’ état present de nos connaissances.”
But it seems that the medicinal/therapeutic power of conversation was a popular trope in several contexts.
Some Proverbs from Arsenius, Paroemiographer
“Only words [reason] is medicine for grief”
Λόγος μέν ἐστι φάρμακον λύπης μόνος.
“Conversation [ or ‘reason’] is the doctor for suffering in the soul”
Λόγος ἰατρὸς τοῦ κατὰ ψυχὴν πάθους.
The palliative and or curative effect of stories and speech appears with some frequency in Euripides (and then appears in other authors as well)
Euripides, fr. 1065
“Many words of the ancients still ring true:
Their fine stories are medicine for mortal fear.”
καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν πόλλ’ ἔπη καλῶς ἔχει·
λόγοι γὰρ ἐσθλοὶ φάρμακον φόβου βροτοῖς.
Euripides, fr. 1079
“Mortals have no other medicine for pain
Like the advice of a good man, a friend
Who has experience with this sickness.
A man who troubles then calms his thoughts with drinking,
Finds immediate pleasure, but laments twice as much later on.”
Οὐκ ἔστι λύπης ἄλλο φάρμακον βροτοῖς
ὡς ἀνδρὸς ἐσθλοῦ καὶ φίλου παραίνεσις.
ὅστις δὲ ταύτῃ τῇ νόσῳ ξυνὼν ἀνὴρ
μέθῃ ταράσσει καὶ γαληνίζει φρένα,
παραυτίχ’ ἡσθεὶς ὕστερον στένει διπλᾶ.
Eur. Fr. 962
“There are different medicines for different diseases.
A kind story [muthos] from friends for a man in grief;
Advice for someone playing the fool to excess”
. . . ἄλλ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἄλλῃ φάρμακον κεῖται νόσῳ·
λυπουμένῳ μὲν μῦθος εὐμενὴς φίλων,
ἄγαν δὲ μωραίνοντι νουθετήματα.
Menander (fr. 591 K.).
“The man who is sick in the body needs a doctor;
someone who is sick in the mind needs a friend
For a well-meaning friend knows how to treat grief.”
Τῷ μὲν τὸ σῶμα † διατεθειμένῳ κακῶς
χρεία ‘στ’ ἰατροῦ, τῷ δὲ τὴν ψυχὴν φίλου·
λύπην γὰρ εὔνους οἶδε θεραπεύειν φίλος.
Attributed to Socrates (in Stobaeus)
“The sick need doctors; the unlucky need encouragement from friends.”
Τοῖς μὲν νοσοῦσιν ἰατρούς, τοῖς δ’ ἀτυχοῦσι φίλους δεῖ παραινεῖν.
Euripides, Alcestis, 962—966
I have leapt through the Muses
And soared high but
Even though I have tried most words
I have found nothing stronger than Necessity
Not any medicine at all.
᾿Εγὼ καὶ διὰ Μούσας
καὶ μετάρσιος ᾖξα καὶ
πλείστων ἁψάμενος λόγων
κρεῖσσον οὐδὲν ᾿Ανάγκας
εὗρον, οὐδέ τι φάρμακον.
Sotion, About Rage
“Consolation is the greatest medicine for anger,
It counters grief, anger, and brings forgetfulness from all evils.”
῞Οτι ἡ παραμυθία φάρμακον ἀνίας ἐστὶ μέγιστον,
νηπενθές τ’ ἄχολόν τε, κακῶν ἐπίληθον ἁπάντων.
Biôn (c. XIV Herm., XVIII Ahr.).
“Love should summon the Muses; the Muses should carry love.
The Muses—I hope—give song to me always when I need it,
Sweet song, no medicine is more pleasing!”
Μοίσας ῎Ερως καλέοι, Μοῖσαι τὸν ῎Ερωτα φέροιεν·
μολπὰν ταὶ Μοῖσαί μοι ἀεὶ ποθέοντι διδοῖεν,
τὰν γλυκερὰν μολπάν, τᾶς φάρμακον ἅδιον οὐδέν.
All of these quotes make me rethink the following from the Odyssey (14.399-400):
“Let us take pleasure from recalling one another’s grievous pains”
κήδεσιν ἀλλήλων τερπώμεθα λευγαλέοισι / μνωομένω