Medea’s Magic Was Really a Spa Treatment

Yesterday we posted some varying accounts on Medea’s power over rejuvenation. Here’s another alternative account.

Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Things

Palaephatus was a Hellenistic mythographer who tried to rationalize archaic myths by attributing their fantastic aspects to exaggeration and linguistic confusion.

“People say that Medeia used to make old men young by boiling them, but she didn’t actually make anyone young. Whomever she boiled, she killed. Something like this did happen. Medeia was the first to introduce the use of a red and black flower. She used it to make old men change from gray to dark again: for she dyed their white hair and changed it to black and red. She [also] was the first to discover that a hot bath was useful for people. She used a hot bath to treat those who wanted it, but not out in the open—so that none of the doctors would learn about it—and after she gave them a bath, she made them swear not to tell anyone. The name [people gave] to this warm bath was “parboiling” [parepsêsis]. Because people who took warm baths felt lighter and healthier afterwards, those who saw her cauldron and fire, were convinced that she boiled men. But Pelias, who was an old and weak, died during his bath. This is where the myth comes from.”


῾Η Μήδεια φασὶ <μὲ>ν ὡς ἀφέψουσα τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους νέους ἐποίει, οὐδένα δὲ δείκνυται νέον ποιήσασα· ὃν δὲ ἥψησε πάντως ἀπέκτεινεν. ἐγένετο δέ τι τοιοῦτον. Μήδεια πρώτη ἐφεῦρεν ἄνθος τὸ πυρρὸν καὶ τὸ μέλαν. τοὺς οὖν γέροντας ἐκ πολιῶν μέλανας <καὶ πυρροὺς> ἐποίει φαίνεσθαι· βάπτουσα γὰρ αὐτοὺς τὰς λευκὰς τρίχας εἰς μελαίνας  καὶ πυρρὰς μετέβαλεν. *** πυρίαν πρώτη Μήδεια ἐφεῦρεν ἀνθρώποις ὄφελος. ἐπυρία οὖν τοὺς βουλομένους, οὐκ ἐν τῷ προφανεῖ, ἵνα μή τις μάθῃ τῶν ἰατρῶν, πυριῶσα δὲ ὥρκου μηδενὶ μηνύειν. ὄνομα δὲἦν τῷ πυριάματι παρέψησις. ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ κουφότεροι καὶ ὑγιεινότεροι ἐγίνοντο οἱ ἄνθρωποι πυριώμενοι. ἐκ δὴ τούτου, ὁρῶντες παρ’ αὐτῇ λέβητας καὶ πῦρ, ἐπείσθησαν ὡς ἕψει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ὁ δὲ Πελίας, ἄνθρωπος γέρων καὶ ἀσθενής, πυριώμενος ἀπέθανεν. ἐντεῦθεν ὁ μῦθος.

Image result for Medea Pelias
Just a bath, nothing to fear.