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The proper season for making elaterium is the autumn; and there is no medicament known that will keep longer than this.1 It begins to be fit for use when three years old; but if it is found desirable to make use of it at an earlier period than this, the acridity of the lozenges may be modified by putting them with vinegar upon a slow fire, in a new earthen pot. The older it is the better, and before now, as we learn from Theophrastus, it has been known to keep2 so long as two hundred years. Even after it has been kept so long as fifty3 years, it retains its property of extinguishing a light; indeed, it is the proper way of testing the genuineness of the drug to hold it to the flame and make it scintillate above and below, before finally extinguishing it. The elaterium which is pale, smooth, and slightly bitter, is superior4 to that which has a grass-green appearance and is rough to the touch.

It is generally thought that the seed of this plant will facilitate conception if a woman carries it attached to her person, before it has touched the ground; and that it has the effect of aiding parturition, if it is first wrapped in ram's wool, and then tied round the woman's loins, without her knowing it, care being taken to carry it out of the house the instant she is delivered.

Those persons who magnify the praises of the wild cucumber say that the very best is that of Arabia, the next being that of Arcadia, and then that of Cyrenæ: it bears a resemblance to the heliotropium,5 they say, and the fruit, about the size of a walnut, grows between the leaves and branches. The seed, it is said, is very similar in appearance to the tail of a scorpion thrown back, but is of a whitish hue. Indeed, there are some persons who give to this cucumber the name of "scorpionium," and say that its seed, as well as the elaterium, is remarkably efficacious as a cure for the sting of the scorpion. As a purgative, the proper dose of either is from half an obolus to an obolus, according to the strength of the patient, a larger dose than this being fatal.6 It is in the same proportions, too, that it is taken in drink for phthiriasis7 and dropsy; applied externally with honey or old olive oil, it is used for the cure of quinsy and affections of the trachea.

1 Fée says that this is not the fact, as it speedily deteriorates by keeping.

2 Fée says that this is not the fact, as it speedily deteriorates by keeping.

3 From Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. B. ix. c. 10.

4 Fée acknowledges the truth of this observation, that of a green colour containing feculent matter, and showing that the juice is not pure.

5 In reality there is no such resemblance whatever. See B. xxii. c. 29.

6 Fée says that this is an exaggerated account of the properties of the wild cucumber, as it would require a very considerable dose to cause death.

7 The Morbus pedicularis, or "lousy disease."

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    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), PASTILLUS
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