previous next


Hemlock,1 too, is a poisonous plant, rendered odious by the use made of it by the Athenian people, as an instrument of capital punishment: still,2 however, as it is employed for many useful purposes, it must not be omitted. It is the seed that is noxious, the stalk being eaten by many people, either green, or cooked3 in the saucepan. This stem is smooth, jointed like a reed, of a swarthy hue, often as much as two cubits in height, and branchy at the top. The leaves are like those of coriander, only softer, and possessed of a powerful odour. The seed is more substantial than that of anise, and the root is hollow and never used. The seed and leaves are possessed of refrigerating properties; indeed, it is owing to these properties that it is so fatal, the cold chills with which it is attended commencing at the extremities. The great remedy 4 for it, provided it has not reached the vitals, is wine, which is naturally of a warming tendency; but if it is taken in wine. it is irremediably fatal.

A juice is extracted from the leaves and flowers; for it is at the time of its blossoming that it is in its full vigour. The seed is crushed, and the juice extracted from it is left to thicken in the sun, and then divided into lozenges. This preparation proves fatal by coagulating the blood—another deadly property which belongs to it; and hence it is that the bodies of those who have been poisoned by it are covered with spots. It is sometimes used in combination with water as a medium for diluting certain medicaments. An emollient poultice is also prepared from this juice, for the purpose of cooling the stomach; but the principal use made of it is as a topical application, to check defluxions of the eyes in summer, and to allay pains in those organs. It is employed also as an ingre- dient in eyesalves, and is used for arresting fluxes in other parts of the body: the leaves, too, have a soothing effect upon all kinds of pains and tumours, and upon defluxions of the eyes.

Anaxilaüs makes a statement to the effect, that if the mamillæ5 are rubbed with hemlock (luring virginity, they will always be hard and firm: but a better-ascertained fact is, that applied6 to the mamillæ, it dries up the mill in women re- cetntly delivered; as also that, applied to the testes at the age of puberty, it acts most effectually as an antaphrodisiac.7 As to those cases in which it is recommended to take it internally as a remedy, I shall, for my own part, decline to mention them. The most powerful hemlock is that grown at Susa, in Parthia, the next best being the produce of Laconia, Crete, and Asia.8 In Greece, the hemlock of the finest quality is that of Megara, and next to it, that of Attica.

1 "Cicuta." Identified with the Conium maculatum of Linnæus, Common hemlock or Keghs. It grows in the vicinity of Athens, and probablv formed the basis of the poisons with which that volatile people "recompensed," as Fée remarks, the virtues and exploits of their philosophers and generals. Socrates, Potion, and Philopœmen, are said to have been poisoned with hemlock; but in the case of Socrates, it was probably com- bined with opium and other narcotics. See B. xiv. cc. 7, 28, and B. xxiii. c. 23.

2 He has more than once stated, that it is not his object to enter into a description of poisons.

3 Fée doubts if it is possible to eat it, boiled even, with impunity

4 (See B. xiv. cc. 7, 28 , and B. xxiii. c. 23.

5 A very dangerous use of it,Desfontaines thinks.

6 Desfontaines says that it is still employed in various ways when the milk is in excess.

7 By causing those organs to waste away.

8 The province of Asia Minor.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide References (4 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: