Thoughts On Coca, Cannabis, Opium & Tobacco – Gifts Of The Great Spirit

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The Opium Poppy & The Ancient World

(from) “Opium & The Opium Appetite”, published in 1870 by Alonzo Calkins, MD

Editors note: This is Dr. Calkins’ short introductory chapter with some interesting classical references to the Opium Poppy and its widespread medical and popular use in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Off We Go, In Search Of The Legendary Poppy

Chapter I: The Poppy – Its History, Mythic And Traditional

“Pro magna, teste vetustas Creditur.”- Ovid.

“Pauvres humains, qui bonheur attendez, Levez vos coeurs et nos dictes entendez.” – Rabelais

In the ancient mythologies; Greek and Roman, the early existence and use of the Poppy have abundant attestation. Cybele, mother of the gods, is represented on the old monuments as wearing a wreath of poppies, a symbol of fecundity (Jacques).

The Romans accounted the plant a gift of Demeter or Ceres, the goddess of corn, and she is described as bearing a sceptre in one hand, and in the other the symbolic capsule.

Ovid introduces Night advancing with the significant emblem in her coronet: “Interea placidam redimita papavera frontem Nox venit, et secum somnia nigra trahit.”

Somnus also was often painted as reposing upon a bed of snowy poppies. Silius Italicus speaks of him as wandering about by night, scattering from his loaded horn the medicated herb as he passes along: “Curvoque volucris Per tenebras portat medicata papavera cornu.”

Virgil in the Georgics instances the injunction to make an offering of the poppy to the infernal deities for the repose of the manes of Orpheus: “Inferias Orphei Lethaea papavera mittes.”

Catullus adverts to the “Lethaea papavera” and Tibullus to the “medicata papavera.”

Homer, earlier than any of the rest, who dates about 900 b.c., names the poppy among the familiar embellishments of the garden. The poets, careful observers of natural phenomena and faithful chroniclers of antique lore as they ever are, have thus assigned to the poppy a prehistoric existence as also a foremost preeminence. Expede Herculem – allusions thus distinctive and positive must have an origination outside of the mere unsubstantial creations of the poet’s brain.

Diodorus relates that the women of Thebes were acquainted with an herb having properties analogous to those of the poppy certainly, though he does not specify the name. Pliny, while he does not include the poppy in his enumeration of the indigenous products on the Nile border, plainly well understood its virtues, as is evident from the following passage: “Succus papaveris densatur, cui non vis soporifera modo inest, verum si copiosior hauriatur, mortifera per somnos.”

The poppy was evidently known to the Romans at least five centuries before the Christian era, being spoken of by Livy as conspicuous in the gardens of Tarquinius Superbus. Hippocrates, 460 b.c., was acquainted with the same, and among all the physicians and herbalists of his period, the plant ever holds a prominent place. The famous Mithridaticum, which consisted of thirty-six ingredients, and upon which, as a basis, Andromachus, physician to Nero, compounded his Theriaca, contained poppy-extract in large proportion. Here was the Philonium also, an opiated electuary (as commonly supposed, combining hyoscyamus), a compound experimentally known to Plato, who, it appears, was wont to innovate upon his vegetarian habitudes with something more potent than beans and cress. This doughty champion in the van of the philosophers thus turns up in a novel association, as a pioneer to the long line of opium eaters.

Dioscorides, the Linnaeus by anticipation of his day, and Galen, the erudite physician of a period somewhat later, both accord to the poppy a precedent rank.

To Egypt, mother of the ancient civilization and cradle of art, medical writers have from earliest times been prone to point, as having been also the original herbarium of the botanic world. All refer with various speculations to the Nepenthes of the Odyssey as described in Lib. iv. 220. Thirty centuries since it was, as we measure the veiled past, when on the occasion of a nuptial banquet in the halls of Menelaus, at which Telemachus was present as a guest of honor, Helen, the famed in Trojan story, is related to have commingled for the use of her company a cordial of some sort: “A mirth-inspiring bowl, To clear the clouded front of wrinkled care, And dry the tearful sluices of despair” as it would do through twenty-four hours continuously.

The essential element, or what imparted to this liquor its intoxicant virtue proper, has been generally thought to have been a poppy-essence. Such is the view maintained by the learned Sprengel; and Van Swieten indicates his belief in the following passage: “Papaver, instar Helena: Nepenthes, oblivionem omnium malorum inducit.” That the prevalent opinion in the time of Claudian was in accordance with this, is plain from the following significant passage, indicative both of the origin of the plant which affords our opium, and of the primitive mode of preparation. The lines belong to an epithalamium dedicated to Palladius: “Nuiacm pingue desuuat vulnere cortex.”

The Nepenthes, a complex compound, and what Pliny thus adverts to as the “Nobile Nepenthes oblivionem tristitis afferens,” not unlikely, as indeed Dioscoridcs suspected, combined the Cannabis besides.

At the beginning of the present century and later, says Lane, among the common people of Egypt the Cannabis in one or another form, as compared with opium, was in more familiar use; and to this day a wine is made corresponding in character to the description by Dioscorides, and which, mingled with their booza or barley-wine, bears the name of bandji.

In Constantine, Algeria, the fashion at the soirees is to smoke the herb, and also to commingle the wine in their coffee; and thereupon ensues singing and dancing with hilarious extravagance in every way. Galen adverts to a virous liquor made from the seeds of the hemp, a beverage anciently used for its exhilarating inspirations. This much is rendered certain, the Cannabis was a familiar stimulant in the period of the Caliphate.

Very noticeable is the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures, amid references to balsamics and other aromatics, with their confections, make no distinctive allusion to the poppy, nor indeed to any narcotic extract, unless myrrh be so accounted. For such omission there is to be found a measurable explanation, perhaps, in the consideration that the Hebrew family, that “peculiar people” though having sojourned in the land of Egypt, their “house of bondage” for four hundred years, were kept nevertheless by the ruling power carefully segregated from the indigenous race, and under the governance of rigid taskmasters who made their lives “bitter with hard bondage.” The “strong drink” repeatedly spoken of in Leviticus and the prophetic writings was inebriating rather than soporific (Prov. XX-I, and Isa. V.- 11); though myrrhated and absinthiated liquors were employed of old for their recognized stupefactive powers. Vide chap. xxii.


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To Understand What Is Happening In Greece – Understand Philotimo

This post strays a bit afield from the normal subject matter of PanaceaChronicles, but I feel strongly about what is happening to one of the countries I love most – Greece. We are already hearing a lot of “experts” giving us their opinion of this and that aspect of the Greek crisis, and there is a lot of pontificating about how the Greeks are this way or that way. In the almost two years that I have been writing this blog I have come to know that my readers are fair-minded, thoughtful people and so I want to offer an idea that explains a lot about what is going on, and what will almost certainly come to pass in Greece. You will probably never hear about Philotimo in the mass media, but it is a concept that holds the key to the future of the Greek people and the core reason why they will survive the attack of the predatory multinational banks and the hostile governments of Northern Europe. (This passage is from my book “Cultural Dimensions of Expatriate Life In Greece“, if you want to learn more about the real Greece behind the superficial headlines.)

If you were to ask a Greek what he means by honor he would certainly reply by introducing you to the word philotimo – feel -OHT-ee-moh. Quite literally philotimo means a love of worth or honor. It means being honest, respectful, and moral. Philotimo knows no barriers of class or education; anyone can and should have it and anyone can lose it.

None of these explanations, however, tell you how Greek philotimo differs from an American’s own sense of honor and self-esteem, nor do they explain how you get philotimo or how you lose it. A more useful explanation for foreigners may be that Greek honor depends on observing a moral code that is always linked to appropriate group behavior. The key words here are “group” and “appropriate.”

It is action within the group that bestows honor on an individual. It is public behavior, not private moral dilemmas and decisions that count. The honor that you protect and exemplify is the family honor (or the parea honor or the national honor). Honor is rarely, if ever, a purely individual matter. Moreover, it is the group, not oneself, that judges honor. With public opinion as its sounding board, honor becomes largely a matter of a good reputation. Pose for a Greek the old conundrum “If a tree fell in the forest and no one heard it, would it make a sound?” and he will probably answer a resounding “No”’ because in his value system an action unobserved or unacknowledged by the community has no moral context. It is neither honorable nor dishonorable. It is merely neutral. In a very real sense, the appearance is the reality insofar as honor is concerned.

The other key word in defining philotimo is “appropriate,” by which is meant “consistent with culturally defined roles.” These roles, as you have already seen, have traditionally been determined by sex-related concepts and actions. Women traditionally exemplified family honor by their sexual modesty; men, by their manliness. These two concepts were exclusive, but complementary.

How does one achieve philotimo? A Greek might tell you that you’re either born with it or you’re not. Certainly coming from an honorable family helps. But beyond that “you have to be carefully taught,” as the old song says. Since behaving honorably is primarily a matter of good form there is careful attention paid to early role modeling, parental exhortation, and constant exposure of children to family and friends as they indulge in a favorite pastime: criticism and gossip about other people.

Another way of achieving a sense of self-esteem focuses on prestige in a worldly or material sense. Prestige has less to do with conformity to social roles and more with the acquisition of wealth and power, the conspicuous display of the symbols, of wealth and power, and a generous amount of self-praise.

Most Americans can relate to the drives toward wealth and power, as well as the need to display their symbols. Those are games they’re into also. But some may have trouble with the forms taken by display and self-promotion among the Greeks.

Those raised under the shadow of the WASP credo feel that it is most fitting for a person to behave modestly, speak diffidently, dress “down”, entertain casually, and forego blowing one’s own horn, so long as others take note of one’s worth. Greeks, however, definitely don’t do things that way. A politician is expected to indulge in inflated rhetoric. A member of an organization is expected to “toot his own horn” at meetings. A host is expected to entertain lavishly; hospitality thus proffered advertises not only one’s material good fortune, but also one’s unrivaled generosity. A woman – and a man, too – is expected to dress well, preferably in the latest fashion. Our classic Yankee model of the Boston Brahmin wearing the same suit or hat for thirty years would be greeted here with ridicule and contempt.

If some of the Greek ways of accruing honor seem odd to us as Americans, so will some of the strategies to avoid shame – the other side of the coin. Avoiding blame, for example, may seem strange to those brought up on the notion that honorable human beings always admit their faults, mistakes, and failures. Only being in love, as Erich Segal fans know, condones never having to say “I’m sorry.” Greeks, by contrast, do not consider it irresponsible to make excuses for what someone else may perceive as a shortcoming. It is but another way of protecting one’s self-esteem.

Once you understand that in Greece its O.K. to avoid blame by any means and O.K. to never ever say “I’m sorry,” then a lot of phenomena become clearer. Carried to extremes, however, this tendency to make excuses leads to a search for scapegoats. On the national level, it takes the form of what David Holden calls “the passionate addiction to conspiratorial interpretation of events.” In this regard, it seems to the foreigner that no election occurs but what the loser cries foul play; no summer fire breaks out but what one political group blames another for setting it; no crisis in government occurs but what Soviet imperialism, international Communism, monarchism, or the CIA are not held responsible. And, ironically enough, after a few years in this atmosphere, almost everyone – Greek and foreigner alike – finds himself playing the national game of “suspect your neighbor.”