Wednesday, November 4, 2009

drugs in antiquity

An interview with David Hillman by Mike Riggs in Reason...

David Hillman isn’t the first classics scholar to have cited historical texts that suggest recreational drug use was common in antiquity, but doing so at the University of Wisconsin in 2004 almost cost him his degree. His doctoral thesis review committee objected to the idea that writers such as the Roman poet Ovid not only consumed drugs but used them to inspire their writing. The committee gave Hillman a choice: remove the drug references or kiss your Ph.D. goodbye. Hillman played ball and then turned around and wrote The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization, which was published in July by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of Macmillan....

Q: Why don’t we know more about the history of recreational drug use?

A: People haven’t heard about it because we’re living in a prohibitionist century. Sigmund Freud’s cocaine use is a great example, because cocaine was widely consumed pre-prohibition through Coca-Cola, as a pick-me-up. This was also back when opium was a common drug, and people like [poets Samuel Taylor] Coleridge and [Charles] Baudelaire had no problem with it whatsoever. Even [Friedrich] Nietzsche, who was a brilliant classicist in his day, talks about the use of drugs in antiquity. So my argument is nothing new, but it’s new to the last 100 years and the time of prohibition, when drug use was suddenly given a renewed moral stigma....

Q: What are some examples of classical drug use that we’d probably frown on today?

A: The Greeks used to give their infants raw, crude opium latex. Why would they do such a thing? You can find the answer in Greek medical texts: ear infections. When your infant is sick, the opium kills its pain and lets it sleep. In the case of diarrhea, the opium causes constipation, which means the child can retain water and get some sleep....

Q: At what point in Western history did drugs become taboo?

A: ...In the earliest anti-drug texts we have, all of which are Christian, the Christian fathers are telling their congregations to stop using drugs because the ecstatic out-of-mind experiences associated with drugs were an integral part of non-Christian religious practice.


At November 5, 2009 at 1:22 AM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Actually, if you read the Bible you can find a lot on what is probably the very first "drug in antiquity" -- Alcohol.

It seems to have been a very early drug of choice for pain relief, sleep induction, mood enhancement. The Bible also offers wisdom on proper usage that can be applied to drugs today.

A little for the right purposes can be acceptable, even good. Doesn't Paul tell Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach?

but, "Too much" in order to escape life or to feed an addiction is bad.

As far as Prohibition goes, it obviously didn't work with alcohol.
Maybe we should legalize marijuana and see how it goes

At November 5, 2009 at 6:33 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Good stuff...uhhh, errr...good comment!

Big fans of pot actually point to the Creation of plants and say that weed was first! But the use of alcohol is first-- as Noah gets messed up post-flood.

It's also interesting that wine generally requires both God's provision (to produce the grapes) and our participation (someone has to step on the grapes, etc.).


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