Slivers of Science in Homer's 'The Odyssey'
March 8, 2018 7:19 AM   Subscribe

 
Mmmm... "magical" herbs....
posted by SansPoint at 7:24 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


The plant Circe used could have been Datura stramonium, or jimson weed.

Jimsonweed is thought to be native to North America. A since-extinct relative could have existed in Ancient Greece, I guess? But I don't see the theory address this. Am I missing something?
posted by little onion at 7:51 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


The remedial/protective herb, now synthesized as galantamine, is said in the article to be of use to Alzheimer's. Maybe. Unproven as of yet. But it is also used to induce lucid dreaming. I've tried it for that purpose, although so far it had just had the effect of making dreams exceptionally vivid. It's one ingredient in some nootropics peddled on the internet these days.

The 1997 made-for-TV movie of The Odyssey merges Circe's tale with the Lotus-Eater's tale (the one which pretty obviously corresponds to opiate use). Homer's men lounge around in hot tubs, intoxicated with pleasure, fed grapes (and laudanum?) by Circe's nymphets. They stay on her island for years, although it seems like only days, because they're bewitched, obviously, and totally blitzed. (Circe, in the film, is portrayed by the fetching Bernadette Peters. Odysseus: some Greekish hunk.)
posted by kozad at 8:08 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Yeah. Odysseus protected himself against Circe with a special herb called moly*. I still remember the little shock I got in the supermarket when I saw THE DIRTY GREAT LONG RADISH that mooli happens to be.

* Moly the gods call it, and it is hard for mortal men to dig ; but with the gods all things are possible. Hermes then departed to high Olympus through the wooded isle, and I went my way to the house of Circe, and many things did my heart darkly ponder as I went.

Just because they were classical Greeks doesn't mean they weren't into dirty jokes. Sexist dirty jokes.
posted by glasseyes at 8:31 AM on March 8


Good point, little onion. Perhaps this ("Historical evidence for a pre-Columbian presence of Datura in the Old World....") explains it?
posted by exogenous at 8:42 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


There are indications that Datura stramonium was already being used in Europe in the Paleolithic era.
posted by adamvasco at 9:18 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


THE DIRTY GREAT LONG RADISH that mooli happens to be

excuse me that is a daikon radish and it is beautiful and tastes great in braised beef dish
posted by runt at 10:09 AM on March 8


I believe you. I bet Circe would've and all.
posted by glasseyes at 10:12 AM on March 8


Yeah. Odysseus protected himself against Circe with a special herb called moly*.

THE DIRTY GREAT LONG RADISH that mooli happens to be

Are we certain that Odysseus didn't just chuck a big radish at Circe, in the manner of Super Mario Bros. 2?
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:02 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Perhaps this ("Historical evidence for a pre-Columbian presence of Datura in the Old World....") explains it?

Interesting! I didn't know about any cases of pre-Columbian human-mediated transport of plants from the New World to the Old World. Although, this paper only gives evidence for Datura metel being present in the Old World, which as far as I can tell does not have the hallucinogenic properties of D. stramonium.
posted by little onion at 1:57 PM on March 8


little onion - Datura metel is well known in east asia.
Great caution is advised in the use of this plant since excess doses cause hallucinations, severe intoxication and death.
Trade between Europe and Asia expanded considerably during the Greek era (about the 4th century BC), by which time various land routes had been well established connecting Greece, via Anatolia (Asia Minor), with the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent.
posted by adamvasco at 2:49 PM on March 8


about the 4th century BC

several centuries after the Homeric poems were composed, though, isn't it?
posted by thelonius at 4:10 PM on March 8


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