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To sit by a pregnant woman, or by a person to whom any remedy is being administered, with the fingers of one hand inserted between those of the other, acts as a magic spell; a discovery that was made, it is said, when Alcmena1 was delivered of Hercules. If the fingers are thus joined, clasping one or both knees, or if the ham of one leg is first put upon the knee of the other, and then changed about, the omen is of still worse signification. Hence it is, that in councils held by generals and persons in authority, our ancestors forbade these postures, as being an impediment to all business.2 They have given a similar prohibition also with reference to sacrifices and the offering of public vows; but as to the usage of uncovering the head in presence of the magistrates, that has been enjoined, Varro says, not as a mark of respect, but with a view to health, the head being strengthened3 by the practice of keeping it uncovered.

When anything has got into the eye, it is a good plan to close the other; and when water has got into the right ear, the person should hop about on the left foot, with the head reclining upon the right shoulder, the reverse being done when the same has happened to the left ear. If the secretion of the phlegm produces coughing, the best way of stopping it is for another person to blow in the party's face. When the uvula is relaxed, another person should take the patient with his teeth by the crown,4 and lift him from the ground; while for pains in the neck, the hams should be rubbed, and for pains in the hams the neck. If a person is seized in bed with cramp in the sinews of the legs or thighs, he should set his feet upon the ground: so, too, if he has cramp on the left side, he should take hold of the great toe of the left foot with the right hand, and if on the right side, the great toe of the right foot with the left hand. For cold shiverings or for excessive bleeding at the nostrils, the extremities of the body should be well rubbed with sheep's wool. To arrest incontinence of urine, the extremities of the generative organs should be tied with a thread of linen or papyrus, and a binding passed round the middle of the thigh. For derangement of the stomach, it is a good plan to press the feet together, or to plunge the hands into hot water.

In addition to all this, in many cases it is found highly beneficial to speak but little; thus, for instance, Mæcenas Melissus,5 we are told, enjoined silence on himself for three years, in consequence of spitting blood after a convulsive fit. When a person is thrown from a carriage, or when, while mounting an elevation or lying extended at full length, he is menaced with any accident, or if he receives a blow, it is singularly beneficial to hold the breath; a discovery for which we are indebted to an animal, as already6 stated.

To thrust an iron nail into the spot where a person's head lay at the moment he was seized with a fit of epilepsy, is said to have the effect of curing him of that disease. For pains in the kidneys, loins, or bladder, it is considered highly soothing to void the urine lying on the face at full length in a reclining bath. It is quite surprising how much more speedily wounds will heal if they are bound up and tied with a Hercules' knot:7 indeed, it is said, that if the girdle which we wear every day is tied with a knot of this description, it will be productive of certain beneficial effects, Hercules having been the first to discover the fact.

Demetrius, in the treatise which he has compiled upon the number Four, alleges certain reasons why drink should never be taken in proportions of four cyathi or sextarii. As a preventive of ophthalmia, it is a good plan to rub the parts behind the ears, and, as a cure for watery eyes, to rub the forehead. As to the presages which are derived from man himself, there is one to the effect that so long as a person is able to see himself reflected in the pupil of the patient's eye, there need be no apprehension of a fatal termination to the malady.

1 See Ovid, Met. ix. 273, et seq.

2 Much more probably, because they were considered to be significant of anything but seriousness and attention.

3 Exemplified in the case of the Egyptians, Herodotus says.

4 The remedy would seem to be worse than the evil.

5 See end of B. vii.

6 In B. viii. c. 58.

7 A knot tied very hard, and in which no ends were to be seen.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), AUGUR
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), SUPERSTI´TIO
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