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Hence it is that other writers have confined themselves to a verbal description of the plants, indeed some of them have not so much as described them even, but have contented themselves for the most part with a bare recital of their names, considering it sufficient if they pointed out their virtues and properties to such as might Feel inclined to make further enquiries into the subject. Nor is this a kind of knowledge by any means difficult to obtain; at all events, so far as regards myself, with the exception of a very few, it has been my good fortune to examine them all, aided by the scientific researches of Antonius Castor,1 who in our time enjoyed the highest reputation for an intimate acquaintance with this branch of knowledge. I had the opportunity of visiting his garden, in which, though he had passed his hundredth year, he cultivated vast numbers of plants with the greatest care. Though he had reached this great age, he had never experienced any bodily ailment, and neither his memory nor his natural vigour had been the least impaired by the lapse of time.

There was nothing more highly admired than an intimate knowledge of plants, in ancient times. It is long since the means were discovered of calculating before-hand, not only the day or the night, but the very hour even at which an eclipse of the sun or moon is to take place; and yet the greater part of the lower classes still remain firmly persuaded that these phenomena are brought about by compulsion, through the agency of herbs and enchantments, and that the knowledge of this art is confined almost exclusively to females. What country, in fact, is not filled with the fabulous stories about Medea of Colchis and other sorceresses, the Italian Circe in particular, who has been elevated to the rank of a divinity even? It is with reference to her, I am of opinion, that Æschylus,2 one of the most ancient of the poets, asserts that Italy is covered with plants endowed with potent effects, and that many writers say the same of Circeii,3 the place of her abode. Another great proof too that such is the case, is the fact, that the nation of the Marsi,4 descendants of a son of Circe, are well known still to possess the art of taming serpents.

Homer, that great parent of the learning and traditions of antiquity, while extolling the fame of Circe in many other respects, assigns to Egypt the glory of having first discovered the properties of plants, and that; too at a time when the portion of that country which is now watered by the river Nilus was not in existence, having been formed at a more recent period by the alluvion5 of that river. At all events, he states6 that numerous Egyptian plants were sent to the Helena of his story, by the wife of the king of that country, together with the celebrated nepenthes,7 which ensured oblivion of all sorrows and forgetfulness of the past, a potion which Helena was to administer to all mortals. The first person, however, of whom the remembrance has come down to us, as having treated with any degree of exactness on the subject of plants, is Orpheus; and next to him Musæus and Hesiod, of whose admiration of the plant called polium we have already made some mention on previous occasions.8 Orpheus and Hesiod too we find speaking in high terms of the efficacy of fumigations. Homer also speaks of several other plants by name, of which we shall have occasion to make further mention in their appropriate places.

In later times again, Pythagoras, that celebrated philosopher, was the first to write a treatise on the properties of plants, a work in which he attributes the origin and discovery of them to Apollo, Æsculapius, and the immortal gods in general. Democritus too, composed a similar work. Both of these philosophers had visited the magicians of Persia, Arabia, Æthiopia, and Egypt, and so astounded were the ancients at their recitals, as to learn to make assertions which transcend all belief. Xanthus, the author of some historical works, tells us, in the first of them, that a young dragon9 was restored to life by its parent through the agency of a plant to which he gives the name of "ballis," and that one Tylon, who had been killed by a dragon, was restored to life and health by similar means. Juba too assures us that in Arabia a man was resuscitated by the agency of a certain plant. Democritus has asserted—and Theophrastus believes it—that there is a certain herb in existence, which, upon being carried thither by a bird, the name of which we have already10 given, has the effect, by the contact solely, of instantaneously drawing a wedge from a tree, when driven home by the shepherds into the wood.

These marvels, incredible as they are, excite our admiration nevertheless, and extort from us the admission that, making all due allowance, there is much in them that is based on truth. Hence it is too that I find it the opinion of most writers, that there is nothing which cannot be effected by the agency of plants, but that the properties of by far the greater part of them remain as yet unknown. In the number of these was Herophilus, a celebrated physician, a saying of whose is reported, to the effect that some plants may possibly exercise a beneficial influence, if only trodden under foot. Be this as it may, it has been remarked more than once, that wounds and maladies are sometimes inflamed11 upon the sudden approach of persons who have been journeying on foot.

1 See end of B. xx.

2 There is little doubt that he alludes to the passage of Æschylus, quoted by Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. B. ix. c. 15. τυῤῥήνων γενεαν φαρμακοποιὸν ἔθνος—"The race of the Tyrrheni, a drug-preparing nation."

3 See B. ii. c. 87, B. iii. c. 9, B. xv. c. 36, and B. xxxii. c. 21.

4 See B. vii. c. 2.

5 See B. ii. c. 87.

6 Od. iv. 228, et seq.

7 See B. xxi. c. 91.

8 See B. xxi. cc. 21, 84.

9 Or serpent.

10 In B. x. c. 20

11 Most probably by the agency of "feverish expectation" on the part of the patient.

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