Tawdry Tuesday: Medicine, Magic, and Erections (Ancient Greek Viagra)

Last year a tweet from the always entertaining Greek History Podcast (.@greekhistorypod) directed me to learn some new words: “To have an erection whenever you wish, mix up crushed pepper in honey and smear on your thing” —Greek Magical Papyri, 7.185. Also, I don’t advise trying the following formulas.  This post has been ‘enhanced’ from the original. Here we go…

The full passage also has a prescription for sexual performance

Magical Papyri, 7.185

“To be able to fuck a lot: mix fifty [pine nuts] with two measures of honey and seeds of pepper and drink it. To have an erection whenever you want: mix pepper with honey and rub it on your thing.”

Πολλὰ βι[ν]εῖν δύνασθαι· στροβίλια πεντήκοντα μετὰ δύο κυά[θ]ων γλυκέος καὶ κόκκους πεπέρεως τρίψας πίε. Στ[ύ]ειν, ὅτε θέλεις· πέπερι μετὰ μέλιτος τρίψας χρῖέ σου τὸ πρᾶ̣γ̣μ̣α.

  1. Complications: this might just be a metaphor. στροβίλια can be phallic; κόκκος can mean “testicles” or female genitals. Also, seeds are, well, seminal. So there is some associative magic going on here.

2. I was a little unsure about στροβίλια, but I checked Galen (De Simp. Medic. 12.55.7) and it seems to be a pine nut (Κώνου ὁ καρπὸς, ὃν δὴ καὶ κόκαλον ὀνομάζουσι καὶ στρόβιλον). I am happy for a botanist’s help.

3. τὸ πρᾶ̣γ̣μ̣α: There is a variant attributed to Democritus τὸ π[έλ]μα, which looks like we could treat as a diminutive of τὸ πέος (“penis”) if we wanted to. So, you know, “spread pepper and honey on your little prick”. In Modern Greek, “thing” can still mean genitals.

4. Pepper and honey are prescribed by Aelian for persuading livestock to breed. In Dioscorides, pepper is suggested as a birth control method and as a a way of stimulating the libido:

Aelian, Nature of the Animals  9.48

“Guardians who want the reproduction of their animals to increase when it is time to mate take handfuls of salt and sodium carbonate and rub them on the genitals of female sheep, and goats and horses. From these [animals] get more eager for sex. Others rub them down with pepper and honey; and others with sodium carbonate and nettle-seed. Some even rub them down with myrrh. From this kind of stimulation the females lose control and go crazy for the males.”

  1. ‘Υπὲρ τοῦ πλείονα τὴν ἐπιγονὴν τῶν ζῴων σφίσι γίνεσθαι οἱ τούτων μελεδωνοὶ τὰ ἄρθρα τῶν θηλειῶν καὶ οἰῶν καὶ αἰγῶν καὶ ἵππων ἀνατρίβουσι κατὰ τὸν τῆς ὀχείας καιρὸν ἁλῶν καὶ λίτρουτὰς χεῖρας ἀναπλήσαντες. ἐκ τούτων ὄρεξις αὐτοῖς γίνεται περὶ τὴν ἀφροδίτην μᾶλλον. ἕτεροι δὲ πεπέριδι καὶ μέλιτι τὰ αὐτὰ χρίουσι, λίτρῳ δὲ ἄλλοι καὶ κνίδης καρπῷ· σμυρνίῳ δὲ ἤδη τινὲς ἔχρισαν καὶ λίτρῳ. ἐκ δὴ τοῦδε τοῦ ὀδαξησμοῦ ἀκράτορες ἑαυτῶν γίνονται αἱ θήλειαι ποῖμναι, καὶ ἐπιμαίνονται τοῖς ἄρρεσιν.

Dioscorides, De materia medica 2.159:2-3

“Both kinds of pepper commonly have the following effects:, digestive, uretic, absorbent [antidiarrheal], pro-perspirant and a purgative for things which overshadow girls. It also treats those who drink it and rub it on for periodic shakes and helps those bitten by wild beasts and also compels [out?] fetuses. It seems to make someone not pregnant when applied after sex.

It helps with coughs and aids with all kinds of ailments in the chest cavity, when it is taken in lozenges and suspensions, and it helps with sore throats when rubbed in with honey. It also treats constricted bowels when drunk with young laurel leaves. When it is crushed with stavesacre, it helps to produces phlegm, which is both painless and healthy to do. It stimulates your libido and helps as well in a soup mixed over heat. When it is prepared with pitch it helps neck swelling, and it darkens white spots with washing. Like lentils, pepper jumps in a pan right on the coals when it is roasting.”

δύναμιν δὲ ἔχει κοινῶς θερμαντικήν, πεπτικήν, οὐρητικήν, ἐπισπαστικήν, διαφορητικήν, σμηκτικὴν τῶν ταῖς κόραις ἐπισκοτούντων· ἁρμόζει καὶ ῥίγεσι περιοδικοῖς πινόμενον καὶ συγχριόμενον, καὶ θηριοδήκτοις ἀρήγει, ἄγει καὶ ἔμβρυα. ἀτόκιον δὲ εἶναι δοκεῖ μετὰ συνουσίαν προστιθέμενον, βηξί τε καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς περὶ θώρακα πάθεσιν ἁρμόζει, ἔν τε ἐκλεικτοῖς καὶ ποτήμασι λαμβανόμενον, καὶ συνάγχαις ἁρμόζει διαχριόμενον σὺν μέλιτι, καὶ στρόφους λύει πινόμενον μετὰ δάφνης φύλλων ἁπαλῶν. ἀποφλεγματίζει δὲ σὺν σταφίδι διαμασηθέν, ἀνώδυνόν τέ ἐστι καὶ ὑγιεινόν, καὶ ὄρεξιν κινεῖ καὶ πέψει συνεργεῖ μειγνύμενον ἐμβάμμασιν. ἀναλημφθὲν δὲ πίσσῃ χοιράδας διαφορεῖ, σμήχει δὲ ἀλφοὺς σὺν νίτρῳ. φώγνυται δὲ ἐν ὀστράκῳ καινῷ ἐπ’ ἀνθράκων κινούμενον ὡς φακοί.

Some Explanations for Erections, Courtesy of ‘Aristotle’. thanks to Ryan Blank (@drawingablank87) for Reminding me of these.

Aristotle, Problems 879a-b

20 “Sexual excitement is also due to an exiting of breath. If its rush finds some exit while arousal is ongoing then it does not make the semen ejaculate. But instead, it cools. Then, it ruins the rigidity of the penis.”

ἔστι δὲ καὶ ὁ ἀφροδισιασμὸς μετὰ πνεύματος ǁ ἐξόδου. εἰ οὖν ὁδοποιεῖται ἡ ὁρμὴ γινομένου αὐτοῦ, οὐ ποιεῖ ὁρμᾶν τὸ σπέρμα, ἀλλὰ καταψύχεται· μαραίνει οὖν τὴν συντονίαν τοῦ αἰδοίου.

4.23 “Why does rigidity and increase happen to the penis? Is it for two reasons? First, is it because that weight develops on the bottom of the testicles, raising it—for the testicles are like a fulcrum? And is it because the veins become full of breath [pneuma]? Or does the mass become bigger because of an increase in moisture or some change in position or from the development of moisture itself? Extremely large things are raised less when the wight of the fulcrum is far away.”

Διὰ τί ἡ σύντασις γίνεται τοῦ αἰδοίου καὶ ἡ αὔξησις; ἢ διὰ δύο, διά τε τὸ βάρος ἐπιγίνεσθαι ἐν τῷ ὄπισθεν τῶν ὄρχεων αἴρεσθαι (ὑπομόχλιον γὰρ οἱ ὄρχεις γίνονται) καὶ διὰ τὸ πνεύματος πληροῦσθαι τοὺς πόρους; ἢ τοῦ ὑγροῦ αὐξανομένου καὶ μεθισταμένου ἢ ἐξ ὑγροῦ γινομένου ὁ ὄγκος | μείζων γίνεται; τὰ λίαν δὲ μεγάλα ἧττον αἴρεται διὰ τὸ πορρωτέρω τὸ βάρος τοῦ ὑπομοχλίου γίνεσθαι.

Erectile Enhancements

For the verb βι[ν]εῖν, see this earlier post. For masturbation in ancient Greek, go here.

Etymologicum Magnum

Anaphlân: to rub genitals with your hand. Some, instead, say stuein.

     ᾿Αναφλᾶν: Χειροτρίβειν τὸ αἰδοῖον. Οἱ δὲ, στύειν.

Aristophanes, Birds 1255-56

“Iris herself—so you’ll be surprised how erect I am
Even though I am an old man, three times as good as a ship’s ram!”

τὴν ῏Ιριν αὐτήν, ὥστε θαυμάζειν ὅπως
οὕτω γέρων ὢν στύομαι τριέμβολον.

Suda, for the gloss

“Triembolon: able to strike a lot. Aristophanes”

Τριέμβολον: πολλάκις ἐμβάλλεσθαι δυνάμενον. ᾿Αριστοφάνης·

Aristophanes, Acharnians 1220

“I want to sleep. And I am erect.
And I will fuck in the dark.”

Κἀγὼ καθεύδειν βούλομαι καὶ στύομαι
καὶ σκοτοβινιῶ.

According to J. Henderson (The Maculate Muse 1991: 112) this verb is the vulgar way to talk about erections:

stuein

Image result for Ancient Greek Phallic vase

Athenaeus, Deipn. 1.32 [=BNJ8135b]

“Phularkhos says that Sandrokottos, the king of the Indians, sent along with other gifts to Seleukos some drugs with erectile powers, the kind of which, when they are applied beneath feet of those who are going to have sex, give the the urge like birds, while some people lose their ability [for sex].”

Φύλαρχος δὲ Σανδρόκοττόν φησι τὸν ᾽Ινδῶν βασιλέα Σελεύκωι μεθ᾽ ὧν ἔπεμψε δώρων ἀποστεῖλαί τινας δυνάμεις στυτικὰς τοιαύτας ὡς ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας τιθεμένας τῶν συνουσιαζόντων οἷς μὲν ὁρμὰς ἐμποιεῖν ὀρνίθων δίκην, οὓς δὲ καταπαύειν.

A Priapic plant [=BNJ 81 F17]

“Phularkhos writes in the eighth book of his Histories that near the Arabian Gulf there is a spring of water from which if anyone ever anoints their feet what transpires miraculously is that their penis becomes enormously erect.  For some it never contracts completely, while others are put back in shape with great suffering and medical attention.”

14 Φύλαρχος ἐν τῇ η′ τῶν ἱστοριῶν [καὶ] κατὰ τὸν ᾿Αράβιόν φησι κόλπον πηγὴν εἶναι ὕδατος, ἐξ οὗ εἴ τις τοὺς πόδας χρίσειεν, συμβαίνειν εὐθέως ἐντείνεσθαι ἐπὶ πολὺ τὸ αἰδοῖον, καί τινων μὲν μηδ’ ὅλως συστέλλεσθαι, τινῶν δὲ μετὰ μεγάλης κακοπαθείας καὶ θεραπείας ἀποκαθίστασθαι.

3 responses

  1. Pine cone nuts are called “στροβίλια” from the word στρόβιλος [meaning turbine or turbulence] due to their gyrating motion [στροβιλισμός] as they fly away from the pine cone, spiraling down.

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