Ancient Literature, Antiquity

Ancient Remedies

One of the more enjoyable aspects of researching ancient culture is what you learn that is secondary to the subject on which you’re reading and/writing. I’m finishing up a research paper that led me to Pliny the Elder, who lived in the first century CE. His still-famous Naturalis Historia (Natural History) became a classic work. It is essentially a catalog of the plant and animal kingdoms in Pliny’s culture. But far from merely describing the flora and fauna of his world, Pliny provides countless remedies that are comprised of various animal parts. For your dermatological needs, consider the following remedies:

  • A vulture’s blood, beaten up with cedar resin and root of white chameleon and covered with a cabbage leaf, when applied, is good for the cure of leprosy; the same, too, with the legs of locusts, beaten up with he-goat suet.
  • Pimples are treated with poultry grease, beaten up and kneaded with onions.
  • One very useful substance for the face is honey in which the bees have died; but a sovereign detergent for that part is swans’ grease, which has also the property of effacing wrinkles.
  • Brand-marks are removed by using pigeons’ dung, diluted in vinegar.

For your throat problems, consider these remedies:

  • Affections of the uvula and pains in the fauces are alleviated by using the dung of lambs before they have begun to graze, dried in the shade.
  • The same maladies (uvular maladies) are treated also with ashes of burnt swallows, mixed with honey; a preparation which is equally good for affections of the tonsillary glands.
  • Millepedes, bruised with pigeons’ dung, are taken as a gargle, with raisin wine.

For your shoulder problems, get yourself some ashes of a burnt weasel and mix with wax—it’s a cure for pains in the shoulders.

Want your teens to be nice and smooth beneath the arms? Have them rub their arm pits with ants’ eggs.

And what ancient didn’t have issues with stomach pains! Remedies were plentiful! According to Pliny, one of the very best remedies for affections of the stomach is to use a snail diet. They must first be left to simmer in water for some time, without touching the contents of the shell, after which, without any other addition, they must be grilled upon hot coals, and eaten with wine and garum; the snails of Africa being the best of all for the purpose. But remember, snails will give you bad breath!

If you’re afflicted with having to spit blood, use a vulture’s lungs, burnt upon vine logs, and mixed with half the quantity of pomegranate blossoms, or with the same proportion of quince and lily blossom: the whole being taken morning and evening, in wine, if there is no fever; but where there are symptoms of fever, instead of wine, water is used in which quinces have been boiled.

There’s plenty more, and these I’ve reproduced here are rather mild in comparison to some others he names. Go here to read more.

Ah, the ancients—how entertaining they can be!

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