previous next


We will begin then with man, and our first enquires will be into the resources which he provides for himself-a subject replete with boundless difficulties at the very outset.1

Epileptic patients are in the habit of drinking the blood even of gladiators, draughts teeming with life,2 as it were; a thing that, when we see it done by the wild beasts even, upon the same arena, inspires us with horror at the spectacle! And yet these persons, forsooth, consider it a most effectual cure for their disease, to quaff the warm, breathing, blood from man himself, and, as they apply their mouth to the wound, to draw forth his very life; and this, though it is regarded as an act of impiety to apply the human lips to the wound even of a wild beast! Others there are, again, who make the marrow3 of the leg-bones, and the brains of infants, the objects of their research!

Among the Greek writers, too, there are not a few who have enlarged upon the distinctive flavours of each one of the viscera and members of the human body, pursuing their researches to the very parings of the nails! as though, forsooth, it could possibly be accounted the pursuit of health for man to make himself a wild beast, and so deserve to contract disease from the very remedies he adopts for avoiding it. Most righteously, by Hercules! if such attempts are all in vain, is he disappointed of his cure! To examine human entrails is deemed an act of impiety;4 what then must it be to devour them?

Say, Osthanes,5 who was it that first devised these practices; for it is thee that I accuse, thou uprooter of all human laws, thou inventor of these monstrosities; devised, no doubt, with the view that mankind might not forget thy name! Who was it that first thought of devouring each member of the human body? By what conjectural motives was he induced? What can possibly have been the origin of such a system of medicine as this? Who was it that thus made the very poisons less baneful than the antidotes prescribed for them? Granted that barbarous and outlandish tribes first devised such practices, must the men of Greece, too, adopt these as arts of their own?

We read, for instance, in the memoirs of Democritus, still extant, that for some diseases, the skull of a malefactor is most efficacious, while for the treatment of others, that of one who has been a friend or guest is required. Apollonius, again, informs us in his writings, that the most effectual remedy for tooth-ache is to scarify the gums with the tooth of a man who has died a violent death; and, according to Miletus, human gall is a cure for cataract.6 For epilepsy, Artemon has prescribed water drawn from a spring in the night, and drunk from the skull of a man who has been slain, and whose body remains unburnt. From the skull, too, of a man who had been hanged, Antæus made pills that were to be an antidote to. the bite of; mad dog. Even more than this, man has resorted to similar remedies for the cure of four-footed beasts even—for tympanitis in oxen, for instance, the horns have been perforated, and human bones inserted; and when swine have been found to be diseased, fine wheat has been given them which has lain for a night in the spot where a human being has been slain or burnt!

Far from us, far too from our writings, be such prescriptions7 as these! It will be for us to describe remedies only, and not abominations;8 cases, for instance, in which the milk of a nursing woman may have a curative effect, cases where the human spittle may be useful, or the contact9 of the human body, and other instances of a similar nature. We do not look upon life as so essentially desirable that it must be prolonged at any cost, be it what it may—and you, who are of that opinion, be assured, whoever you may be, that you will die none the less, even though you shall have lived in the midst of obscenities or abominations!

Let each then reckon this as one great solace to his mind, that of all the blessings which Nature has bestowed on man, there is none greater than the death10 which comes at a seasonable hour; and that the very best feature in connexion with it is, that every person has it in his own power to procure it for himself.11

1 See B. xxviii. c. 3.

2 This practice is mentioned with reprobation by Celsus and Tertullian. It was continued, however, in some degree through the middle ages, and Louis XV. was accused by his people of taking baths of infants' blood to repair his premature decrepitude.

3 In recent times, Guettard, a French practitioner, recommended human marrow as an emollient liniment.

4 Hence, as Ajasson remarks, the ignorance of anatomy displayed by the ancients.

5 For further particulars as to Osthanes, see B. xxix. c. 80, and B. xxx. cc. 5 and 6; also cc. 19 and 77 of the present Book. The reading, however, is very doubtful.

6 "Oculorum suffusiones." As Ajasson says, the remedy here mentioned reminds us of the more harmless one used by Tobias for the cure of the blindness of his father Tobit.

7 He gives a great many, however, which are equally abominable.

8 "Piacula."

9 We may here discover the first rudiments of the doctrine of Animal Magnetism.

10 In accordance with the republican doctrines of Cato of Utica, Brutus, Cassius, and Portia.

11 Holland remarks, "Looke for no better divinitie in Plinie, a meere Pagan, Epicurean, and professed Atheist." See B. vii. cc. 53, 54.

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.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

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

hide References (9 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • W. Walter Merry, James Riddell, D. B. Monro, Commentary on the Odyssey (1886), 9.198
  • Cross-references to this page (5):
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (3):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: