8.08.2005

Fighting Memory Loss in Homeric Times
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Homer - Roman Copy of a Greek original


In the "did you know?" file

Literary Construct, or...

There is startling hypothesis regarding the Odyssey, Homer's epic celebration of heroic memory, composed between 1,000 B.C. and 800 B.C., in the form of an elegaic. Our current knowledge of botany suggests that the medicinal plant that Hermes, the messenger of the gods, gave to King Odysseus of Ithaca in the story to enable him to rescue his crew of sailors from the seductive spell cast upon them by the beautiful sorceress Circe was probably the snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), Circe's spell, in Homer's description of it, bore the earmarks of amnesia and hallucinatory delusions such as those caused by atropine, which is found in jimsonweed (Datura stramonium), a plant also known to the ancient Greeks.

The ideal antidote to such a drug would be an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, and Homer's description of Hermes' gift from the gods - small white flowers - points to the snowdrop, and thus galantamine, which was well suited to this purpose. (The snowdrop was known to the ancient Greeks as moly.)

This knowledge was apparently "forgotten" in the modern period but rediscovered in Bulgaria 50 years ago, where the snowdrop was used as an herbal remedy or supplement
for a wide variety of purposes.



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