“Some people have suggested using ten berries in a drink against scorpion stings. You can use the same to relieve a relaxed uvula: gargle quarter pound of berries or leaves reduced in three measure of water when it is still warm. To treat a headache, use an uneven number of berries crushed and warmed in oil. The leaves of the delphic bay, once pounded, may stop the spread of the plague if you smell them: this works even better when they are burned.”
quidam adversus scorpionum ictus decem bacas dari iubent potu, item et in remedio uvae iacentis quadrantem pondo bacarum foliorumve decoqui in aquae sextariis tribus ad tertias, eam calidam gargarizare et in capitis dolore inpari numero bacas cum oleo conterere et calfacere. laurus Delphicae folia trita olfactaque subinde pestilentiae contagia prohibent, tanto magis si et urantur.
“Whether domestic or civic duties occupy you, keep some time of the day for caring for the body. The chief way of caring for the body is exercise and it should always be done before eating. The work should be greater for one who has labored less and digested well and less for one who is tired and has not digested.
Good exercises include reading aloud, drilling, playing ball, running, walking. The last is not the most useful on a level road, since going up or down moves the body with a variety, unless the body is completely weak. It is better to walk out in the open than under a roof. And it is also better, should your head endure it, to walk in the sun instead of the shade. But better still in the shade than under a roof and better a straight than an indirect walk.
The end of exercise, moreover, should come with sweat or some bit of tiring which should still be on this side of fatigue. Sometimes more and sometimes less needs to be done. But one should not follow the model of athletes with their fixed rule and excessive workout.”
Quem interdiu vel domestica vel civilia officia tenuerunt, huic tempus aliquod servandum curationi corporis sui est. Prima autem eius curatio exercitatio est, quae semper antecedere cibum debet, in eo, qui minus laboravit et bene concoxit, amplior; in eo, qui fatigatus est et minus concoxit, remissior.
Commode vero exercent clara lectio, arma, pila, cursus, ambulatio, atque haec non utique plana commodior est, siquidem melius ascensus quoque et descensus cum quadam varietate corpus moveat, nisi tamen id perquam inbecillum est: melior autem est sub divo quam in porticu; melior, si caput patitur, in sole quam in umbra, melior in umbra quam paries aut viridia efficiunt, quam quae tecto subest; melior recta quam flexuosa. Exercitationis autem plerumque finis esse debet sudor aut certe lassitudo, quae citra fatigationem sit, idque ipsum modo minus, modo magis faciendum est. Ac ne his quidem athletarum exemplo vel certa esse lex vel inmodicus labor debet.
Hippocrates, Regimen 2 61
“I will now explore what kind of impact exercises have. For some are natural and some are pretty violent. Natural exercise deals with sight, hearing, voice, and thinking. The power of sight is like this. The soul, when it attends to what can be seen, moves and warms. As it warms it dries because the moisture is extracted. In hearing, when sound strikes, the soul shakes and works and as it exercises, it turns warm and dries.
A person’s soul is moved by however many thoughts it has and it also warms and is dried and it spends its moisture as it works—it can empty the flesh and make a person thin. Whenever people exercise their voice either in speaking, reading or singing, all these things move the soul. When it is moved, it warms and dries and uses up the moisture.”
SGDI 15632 (Teos, c. 475 BCE; from Buck, Greek Dialects: Ionic Inscriptions, 3)
“Who ever should make deadly drugs for the Teian community or for an individual, destroy him and his family. Whoever stops the importation of grain into the Teian land or repels it as it is being imported either with skill or device and on sea or on land, destroy him and his family.”
Aristotle (On Plants) and Galen (varia) define deleterious medicines (δηλητήρια φάρμακα) as those that are fatal to human beings, such as poisonous venom or substances coming from hemlock (or concentrations of opium, henbane etc.). Of course, such things are weaponized fairly early in human history as this threatening inscription above from Teos illustrates.
Scholia bT ad Il. 1.594
“[The Sintian men}: Philokhoros says that because they were Pelasgians they were called this because after they sailed to Brauron they kidnapped the women who were carrying baskets. For they call “harming” [to blaptein] sinesthai.
But Eratosthenes says that they have this name because they are wizards who discovered deadly drugs. Porphyry says that they were the first people to make weapons, the things which bring harm to men. Or, because they were the first to discover piracy.”
“He also gave them some deadly drugs to give to him in secret if they were able to persuade some of the cooks or waiters, even though [Albinus’] friends were suspicious and advising him to safeguard himself against a deceptively clever adversary.”
“There are two kinds of weasels: one is wild and the two differ in size. The Greeks call this one ictis. The gall of both is useful against asps, but poisonous to others. The other weasel, however, wanders in our homes and, as Cicero explains, moves its young on a daily basis and changes its nest, chasing snakes. Its meat, preserved in salt is given in a weight of one denarius and mixed in three cyathi of liquid to those who have been bitten. Otherwise, its stomach is stuffed with coriander and, once dried, drunk with wine. A weasel kitten is even better for this than the weasel itself.”
XVI. Mustelarum duo genera, alterum silvestre; distant magnitudine, Graeci vocant ictidas. harum fel contra aspidas dicitur efficax, cetero venenum. haec autem quae in domibus nostris oberrat et catulos suos, ut auctor est Cicero, cottidie transfert mutatque sedem, serpentes persequitur. ex ea inveterata sale denarii pondus in cyathis tribus datur percussis aut ventriculus coriandro fartus inveteratusque et in vino potus, et catulus mustelae etiam efficacius.
“Let’s talk first concerning the disease which is called sacred and paralyzed people and the many anxieties which frighten people seriously enough that they lose their minds and believe that they see evil spirits by night or even at times by die or sometimes on all hours. Many have hanged themselves before because of this kind of vision, more often women than men.
For a woman’s nature is more depressed and sorrowful. And young women, when they are at the age of marriage and without a husband, suffer terribly at the time of their menstruation, which they did not suffer earlier in life. For blood collects later in their uterus so that it may flow out. When, then, the mouth of the exit does not create an opening, the blood pools up more because of food and the body’s growth. When the blood has nowhere to flow, it rises up toward the heart and the diaphragm. When these organs are filled, the heart is desensitized and from this transformation it becomes numb. Madness overtakes women because of this numbness.”
“A sacred rite to the spirits of the dead. To Julia Saturnina, age 45, an incomparable wife, the best doctor, the most noble woman. Gaius Philippus, her husband, (made this) for her merits. She is buried here. May the earth be light on you.”
Here’s an anecdote that is chilling and a bit upsetting. CW: it contains misogyny as well as reference to suicide clusters. In general, this reminded me of the suicide clusters in Silicon Valley discussed widely a few years ago. But–and I think this is more important–it also points to groups of suicide as an attempt to wrest agency in response to desperation, a lack of agency, and marginalization.
Aulus Gellius, Varia Historia 15.10
“In his first of the books On the Soul, Plutarch included the following tale when he was commenting on maladies which afflict human minds. He said that there were maiden girls of Milesian families who at a certain time suddenly and without almost any clear reason made a plan to die and that many killed themselves by hanging.
When this became more common in following days and there was no treatment to be found for the spirits of those who were dedicated to dying, The Milesians decreed that all maidens who would die by hanging their bodies would be taken out to burial completely naked except for the rope by which they were hanged. After this was decreed, the maidens did not seek suicide only because they were frightened by the thought of so shameful a funeral.”
Plutarchus in librorum quos περὶ ψυχῆς inscripsit primo cum de morbis dissereret in animos hominum incidentibus, virgines dixit Milesii nominis, fere quot tum in ea civitate erant, repente sine ulla evidenti causa voluntatem cepisse obeundae mortis ac deinde plurimas vitam suspendio amississe. id cum accideret in dies crebrius neque animis earum mori perseverantium medicina adhiberi quiret, decrevisse Milesios ut virgines, quae corporibus suspensis demortuae forent, ut hae omnes nudae cum eodem laqueo quo essent praevinctae efferrentur. post id decretum virgines voluntariam mortem non petisse pudore solo deterritas tam inhonesti funeris.
“But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.”
In thinking about the impact of agency and belonging on our sense of well-being and relationship to death, I have been significantly influence by this book:
Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. London: Allen Lane, 2015.
If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.
There is an earlier account of breast cancer in Herodotus:
“A little while later following these events, some other things happened. Cyrus’ daughter and Dareios’ wife, Atossa, developed a swelling in her breast. It burst out and expanded. As long as it was rather small, she hid it and told no one because she was ashamed. But when it became worse, she summoned Democedes and showed him. He told her that he could make her healthy again but had her swear to him that she would reward him with whatever he asked from her, but that he would request nothing which would bring shame on her.”
“In Larissa, Dyseris’ servant, when she was still young, experienced severe pain whenever she had intercourse. But she was without pain otherwise. She was never pregnant. When she was sixty, she started feeling pan at midday as if she were in severe labor pains. Before midday, she had eaten many leeks and when the pain overcame her and was the strongest of all, she rose up and felt something rough-edged near the entrance to her womb. Then, because she had already fainted, another woman inserted her hand and withdrew a stone which was as big as a spindle top and very rough. After that she was immediately healthy.”
“Nerios’ beautiful virgin daughter was twenty years old when she was struck on the forehead by a flat hand when she was playing with a young woman friend. When it happened, she became blind and out of breath; when she went home, a fever came over her right away. Her head hurt; she was flushed all over her face. By the seventh day, a bad-smelling pus flowed out of her right ear—it was red colored and there was more than a fifth of a cup of it. She seemed to feel better and was relieved. But she was stretched out again later because of a fever. She was feeling badly and was speechless. The right part of her face was contracted and she breathed with difficulty. She also had spasms of trembling. Her tongue stopped working. Her eye was affected. She died on the ninth day.”
“I guess I’ve talked about milk and wine for a little longer than is strictly needed. Really, it is better, once someone has said what benefit the elderly get from these drinks, to indicate what has already been taught about the selection of the material and how diluted each of them should be and especially on the differences of each—once we’ve established that the warmer and more urine-producing wines are better for the elderly and that we shouldn’t give milk to everyone, but only those who can digest well and don’t sense any problem with their right hypochondrium.
But thanks to the lack of effort of those who are too lazy to read the books where more is written about the substance of cures we sometimes have to drag out our explanations. So, hopefully someone will pardon my style of teaching, that I am not precise and brief in the approaches I have generally taken.”
“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”