Intestinal Fortitude: Adventures in Ancient Medical Treatments

Galen, Method of Medicine 14: 10, 856

“The man was forty years old, as you know. While he was believed to be colic, he not only failed to profit from fomentations, heat treatments, ointments, and enemas—those kinds of things which doctors typically apply—but his condition was exacerbated by most of them. When rue-oil was applied rectally, he got worse; and he was worse still after the application of castor oil. When honey which had been prepared with pepper was inserted, he felt the worst find of pain. And he also suffered when he took the juice of fenugreek finished with honey.* For these reasons, I surmised that the biting fluids had worked themselves into the intestinal walls to begin with and that these were causing infection along with the treatments that had been inserted through his rectum, with the additional complication of the substances that had been ingested orally.

I gave him some food that would not cause problems. Then when I saw him in more pain, I realized that it was critical to purse the kakokhumia [bad-bile]. Although the medicine which is best for this sort of bile-issue is mad from aloe which people now call bitter, I did not date have this man purged right away because he was in pain and without proper nutrition for two months. Once I purged him in stages and moderately over a period of fifteen days I healed him and did not have to provide any other treatment. This man was at that time not afflicted for the first time, and he no longer had stomach pains.”

ὁ μέν γε τεσσαρακοντούτης ἦν, ὡς οἶσθα, | κωλικὸς εἶναι νομιζόμενος, οὐ μόνον οὐδὲν ὀνινάμενος ὑπὸ καταντλήσεων καὶ πυρίας καὶ καταπλασμάτων καὶ κλυσμάτων, οἷς συνήθως εἰώθασιν ἐπὶ τῶν τοιούτων χρῆσθαι διαθέσεων, ἀλλὰ καὶ παροξυνόμενος ὑπὸ τῶν πλείστων. ἐπὶ γοῦν ἐλαίῳ πηγανίνῳ διὰ τῆς ἕδρας ἐνεθέντι χείρων ἐγένετο καὶ αὖθις ἐπὶ καστορίῳ· καὶ μέντοι καὶ μέλι ποτὲ προσενεγκάμενος ἑφθὸν ἔχον πέπερι ἐσχάτως ὠδυνήθη· καὶ τὸν χυλὸν δὲ τῆς ἑφθῆς τήλεως ἅμα μέλιτι λαβὼν ἱκανῶς παρωξύνθη. στοχασάμενος οὖν ἐγὼ χυμοὺς δακνώδεις ἐν αὐτοῖς τοῖς χιτῶσι τῶν ἐντέρων ἀναπεπόσθαι, συνδιαφθείροντας ἑαυτοῖς τά τε κάτωθεν ἐνιέμενα καὶ τὰ διὰ τοῦ στόματος λαμβανόμενα, δύσφθαρτον αὐτῷ τροφὴν δούς.

εἶτ᾿ ἰδὼν ὀδυνώμενον ἔγνων χρῆναι τὴν κακοχυμίαν ἐκκαθαίρειν. ὄντος δ᾿ ἀρίστου πρὸς τὰς τοιαύτας κακοχυμίας φαρμάκου τοῦ διὰ τῆς ἀλόης, ὃ καλοῦσιν ἤδη συνήθως πικράν, ἀθρόως μὲν οὐκ ἐτόλμησα καθαίρειν αὐτὸν τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ὑπό τε τῆς ὀδύνης καὶ τῆς ἐνδείας καθῃρημένον ἤδη που δυοῖν μηνῶν. ἐκ διαστημάτων δέ τινων σύμμετρον | τοῦτ᾿ ἐργαζόμενος ἡμέρας ὡς οἶσθά που πεντεκαίδεκα τελέως ἰασάμην αὐτὸν οὐδὲν οὐκέτι αὐτῷ προσαγαγὼν ἄλλο βοήθημα. οὗτος μὲν οὖν ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ χρόνῳ πρῶτον οὕτως ἠνωχλεῖτο, μηδέπω πρότερον ἀλγήσας ἔντερα.

*In case the reader is uncertain, it does in fact seem that all of these substances were applied to the intestines rectally. 

Medieval depiction of an enema being performed
This image is from Pinterest

Pour Some Pepper on Me….

Theophrastus, Inquiry in Plants, 9.20.1

“Pepper is in fact a fruit and there are two kinds of it. One is rounded just like orobos [bitter vetch], it has a husk and flesh just like bay-berries [daphnides]. The other is long and has black seeds just like poppies [mekônika]. This is far stronger than the former one. Both are warming [thermantika]. In addition to frankincense [libanôtos] these help against hemlock.”

XX. Τὸ δὴ πέπερι καρπὸς μέν ἐστι διττὸν δὲ αὐτοῦ τὸ γένος· τὸ μὲν γὰρ στρογγύλον ὥσπερ ὄροβος, κέλυφος ἔχον καὶ σάρκα καθάπερ αἱ δαφνίδες, ὑπέρυθρον· τὸ δὲ πρόμηκες μέλαν σπερμάτια μηκωνικὰ ἔχον· ἰσχυρότερον δὲ πολὺ τοῦτο θατέρου· θερμαντικὰ δὲ ἄμφω· δι᾿ ὃ καὶ πρὸς τὸ κώνειον βοηθεῖ ταῦτά τε καὶ ὁ λιβανωτός.

Orobos: vicia ervilia
Mêkônika: papaver somniferum

Pepper is carminative, causing increased flow of gastric juices

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.

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Scamming on Skammonia

I have a graduate student working on spices in the ancient world. Expect random posts this semester.

Hesychius

“Skilla: skammônia, it brings death to mice.”

σκίλλα· σκαμμωνία, θανατηφόρος μυῶν

Suda

“Skammônia: a type of plant.”

Σκαμμωνία: εἶδος βοτάνης.

Convolvulvus Scammonia

Galen De Theriaca ad Pisonem 14.223

“just as scammony appears to treat yellow bile”

ὥσπερ ἡ σκαμμωνία ξανθὴν χολὴν ἕλκουσα φαίνεται.

Aetius, Med. 3.25.2

“Scammony: Scammony especially treats yellow bile. But it causes cardiac distress,  a bad smell, melancholy, and it makes people really thirsty,”

῀Σκαμμωνία. ῾Η δὲ ϲκαμμωνία ἄγει μάλιϲτα χολὴν ξανθήν· καρδιαλγὴϲ δέ ἐϲτι καὶ δύϲοϲμοϲ καὶ ἀτερπὴϲ καὶ ἄγαν διψώδηϲ.

 

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