Some science behind the scenes

Theriac

 

Theriac and Mithridate are actually general purpose, almost mythical cure-alls that counteract poisons, the plague – you name it – and have been used from ancient  times. 

But the basic ingredients -  opium, hemp [cannabis], myrrh, saffron,  ginger and cinnamon steeped in wine – seem to stay fairly constant, even though we may get the occasional infusion of toe of viper. 

I started to take this seriously when I found that Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, took it on a regular basis.

Even the toe of viper or at least the venom of some poisonous snakes has now been proved to have medicinal properties, so it appears - given that every other ingredient is medicinally extremely effective against a host of unpleasant pathogens, that whoever invented Theriac knew what they were doing.

Making theriac - Venetian

The mythical side says that you must collect and ferment the herbs and other ingredients for several months. It was supposed to be left to mature for years. 

Theriaca andromachi or Venice Treacle contained 64 ingredients! In addition to viper flesh and opium, it included cinnamon, agarics [fly agaric mushrooms] and gum arabic.

Medicines were at lot more exciting in those days.  They were also probably a lot more effective.

See also opium.

References

 
  • Galen, 1965 Galen . De Theriaca ad Pisonem. In: Kühn CG, ed. Opera omnia. Hildesheim: Olms, 1965.

  • Mattern, 2008 Mattern SP. Galen and the rhetoric of healing. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

  • Porter and Teish, 1995 Porter R, Teish M. Drugs and narcotics in history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

  • Thompson, 1929 Thompson CJS. The mystery and art of the apothecary. London: John Lane/The Bodley Head, 1929.

  • Watson, 1966 Watson G. Theriac and Mithridatum: a study in therapeutics. London: Wellcome Historical Medical Library, 1966

 

Observations

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