The Mystery and Romance of Alchemy and Pharmacy - Charles John Samuel Thompson - E-Book

The Mystery and Romance of Alchemy and Pharmacy E-Book

Charles John Samuel Thompson

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It has been my endeavour in the following pages to sketch, however imperfectly, some phases of the romance and mystery that have surrounded the arts of medicine, alchemy, and pharmacy from the earliest period of which we have record down to the close of the eighteenth century. The influence of the past on the present is greater than we commonly suppose. In this age of rapid scientific progress and brilliant research, we are apt to overlook and lose sight of the patient labours of the early pioneers of science, many of whom laid the foundations of discoveries that have since proved of inestimable value to mankind. Hence the history of the past, whether in science or in art, is always worthy of study and attention.

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The Mystery and Romance of Alchemy and Pharmacy


The Mystery and Romance of Alchemy and Pharmacy

Charles John Samuel Thompson


It has been my endeavour in the following pages to sketch, however imperfectly, some phases of the romance and mystery that have surrounded the arts of medicine, alchemy, and pharmacy from the earliest period of which we have record down to the close of the eighteenth century. The influence of the past on the present is greater than we commonly suppose. In this age of rapid scientific progress and brilliant research, we are apt to overlook and lose sight of the patient labours of the early pioneers of science, many of whom laid the foundations of discoveries that have since proved of inestimable value to mankind. Hence the history of the past, whether in science or in art, is always worthy of study and attention.My thanks are due to the Editor of thePharmaceutical Journalfor permission to reproduce several illustrations which appeared in its pages together with a portion of this work.C. J. S. T



The birth of the art of healing goes back to a period of great antiquity. The instinct that first led man to utilise the fruits of the earth for his bodily sustenance, may perchance have suggested the herbs which grew around him as a means of alleviating the ills of his flesh.

It is a matter of doubt whether medicine as an art was first practised in Egypt or China; from recent research probably the former, as at the time of the writing of theEbers Papyrus, B.C. 1550, the Egyptians had a considerable knowledge of the use of herbs and other bodies for medicinal purposes.

The art of medicine had two foundations—empiricism and superstition—which have influenced it from its birth down to the present time.

The most ancient record of medicine and pharmacy known was discovered at Kahun in 1889, near the pyramid of Illahun in the ruins of an ancient town, which had apparently been inhabited by the builders of the pyramid. It dates from the twelfth dynasty, B.C. 2700 to 2500, more than a thousand years before the Exodus.

Besides containing instructions for midwives, it includes numerous formulæ for the treatment of various complaints, composed of such very homely articles as beer, cow’s milk, honey, oil, onions, herbs, dates, and other fruits.

TheEbers Papyrus, which was found reposing between the legs of a mummy, throws a light on ancient Egyptian pharmacy, and was written in the reign of King Amenhotep I., of the eighteenth dynasty. It commences as follows: “Beginning of the chapter of applying medicaments to every part of the patient.

“I have come forth from Heliopolis with the mighty ones of the Temple of the Sun, the wielders of protection, the princes of eternity.

“Rescuing (?) I have come forth from Sais with the Mothers of the Gods, who have given me their protection.

“I have magic formulæ made by the Universal Lord to drive out the stroke of god and goddess, the Male Death and Female Death,et cetera,[1]that is in this my head, in this my neck, in this my shoulder, in this my flesh, in these my limbs, to punish the above-named enchanters (?) who introduce disturbance into this my flesh.”

Such formulæ, evidently for recitation during the treatment, continue for a page and a half. The book has thus no general title, but plunges at once into the mysteries of the profession.

“Beginning of the mystery of the physician who knows the motion of the heart. There are vessels in it to every limb. When any physician, doctor, or amulet-maker puts his fingers upon the top of the head, upon the occiput, upon the hands, upon the chest, upon the arms, upon the legs, he communicates (?) with the heart, for its vessels extend to every limb, wherefore it is called the starting-point of every limb.”

The following may be taken as an example of the recipes given in the manuscript:—

“A remedy for the belly that is painful: Cummin1∕64hin, goose-grease1∕8hin, milk1∕16hekt; cool, strain, and drink”. The hin is about 29 cubic inches, and the1∕16hekt 18 cubic inches; the prescription is thus roundly1∕2cubic inch of cummin, and 4 of goose fat, in half a pint of milk.

This papyrus contains 110 pages, each page consisting of about twenty-two lines of bold Hieratic writing. It may be described as an encyclopædia of medicine as known and practised by the Egyptians of the eighteenth dynasty, and it contains prescriptions of all kinds of diseases—some borrowed from Syrian medical lore, and some of such great antiquity that they are ascribed to the mythological ages, when the gods yet reigned personally on earth. Among others is given the recipe for an application whereby Osiris cured Ra of a headache. In this papyrus is an example of an old Egyptian diagnosis and therapeutics, as follows: “When thou findest any one with a hardness in his re-hit (pit of the stomach), and when, after eating, he feels a pressure on his intestines, his hit is swollen and he feels bad in walking like one who suffers from heat in his back, then observe him when he lies stretched out, and if thou findest his intestines hot and a hardness in his re-hit, say unto thyself, This is a disease of the liver. Then prepare for thyself according to the secrets of the science from the plant pa-che-test and dates, mix them, and give in water.”

It also contains numerous recipes for the treatment of diseases, for internal and external use. Most of the drugs mentioned are derived from indigenous plants, and such chemical bodies as alum, salt, nitre, and sulphate of copper are included in some of the prescriptions.

It seems probable that most of the medicines used in these early times were first tried as foods; and those which when taken in large quantities or in special conditions influenced the functions of the body, these and others found to be too strong for dietetic use were relegated to the books of medicine.

As an instance of this, the leaves and seeds of the castor oil plant and the astringent sycamore fig are included in many recipes, but Maspero states that there is little doubt that castor oil was taken regularly in food in the time of the Pharaohs, and at the present time it is a favourite adjunct to the salads of the Egyptian fellaheen. The same writer thinks the Egyptians began by eating every kind of food which the country produced, and so became acquainted with their therapeutic properties.

In another papyrus said to have been written about the time of King Chata of the first dynasty, who reigned B.C. 4000, the following prescription for promoting the growth of the hair is given:—

Pad of a dog’s foot


Fruit of date palm


Ass’s hoof


Boil together in oil.

Dr. v. Oefele states of pharmacy before the time of Hippocrates, that although the practice of medicine was not separated from pharmacy among the Greeks and Romans, there was such a separation among the ancient Egyptians, from whom the distinction was handed down to the Copts, and by them to the Arabians; and, in fact, that the term pharmacist is probably of Egyptian origin, being derived from Ph-ar-maki, which signifies the preparation of medicine from drugs. The Egyptian pharmaki who were engaged in that occupation belonged to the higher social ranks of writers or academically-educated persons, comprising also the priests, physicians, statesmen, and military commanders.

The Jews were indebted to Egypt for their primary ideas of medicine, but they cast away the ideas of demonology and magic which clouded what was good in the practice of Egypt. The Talmud recommends onions for worms, and wine, pepper, and asafœtida for flatulency. The Talmudists are responsible for calling the earth, air, fire, and water elementary bodies. In the middle ages the Jews rendered service to the healing art, and had a large share in the scientific work connected with the Arab domination of Spain.

In China the use of drugs goes back to a very remote age, and alchemy was practised by the Chinese long previous to its being known in Europe. For two centuries prior to the Christian era, and for four or more subsequent, the transmutation of the base metals into gold, and the composition of the elixir of immortality, were questions ardently studied by the Chinese. It is, moreover, a matter of history that intercourse between China and Persia was frequent both before and after the Mahomedan conquest of the latter country; that embassies from Persia as well as from the Arabs, and even from the Greeks in Constantinople, visited the court of the Chinese emperor in Shansi; that Arab traders settled in China, and that there was frequent intercourse by sea between China and the Persian Gulf; and lastly, that China had an extensive alchemical literature anterior to the period when alchemy was studied in the West. All these facts go to prove that the ancient science known as alchemy was originated by the Chinese, and not by the disciples of Mahomed, who only acquired the knowledge at second hand.[2]

It is somewhat curious that while the alchemists of the West were always in doubt as to what constituted the true Philosopher’s Stone, the Chinese seemingly had no doubt as to its identity. Cinnabar was regarded by the early alchemists and philosophers of that nation as the wonderful body which was supposed to have the mysterious power of converting other metals into gold, and when used as a medicine would prolong life for an indefinite period. Ko-hung, author of thePau-p’uh-tsi p’ian, a work of the fourth century, and undoubtedly genuine, gives various mineral and vegetable productions possessing in different degrees the properties of an elixir vitæ. In one paragraph of this work he states: “When vegetable matter is burnt it is destroyed, but when the Ian-sha (Cinnabar) is subjected to heat it produces mercury. After passing through other changes it returns to its original form. It differs widely, therefore, from vegetable substances, and hence it has the power of making men live for ever and raising them to the rank of the genii. He who knows the doctrine, is he not far above common men, etc.?”

Inmateria medicathe knowledge of the Chinese was much in advance of the nations of the West, and their great herbal, entitledPun-Isaun-Kang-Mûh, written by Le-she-chin in the middle of the sixteenth century, shows the discernment possessed by these curious people. This work consists of forty thin octavo volumes, the first three of which contain woodcuts of many of the minerals, plants, and animals referred to in the text. The woodcuts alone number 1100, and the work itself is divided into fifty-two divisions. The antiquity of the practice of medicine among the Chinese may be gathered from the fact that there exists a work entitledA Treatise from the Heart on the Small-pox, which was written during the dynasty of Icheon, B.C. 1122. In this work the eruption is described, and some kind of inoculation is also referred to as a remedy.

But it is to Greece that we have to look for the birth of medical art in the West, its practice by the priests being of great antiquity. The earliest record of a temple of medicine is of one erected in the Peloponnesus in the year B.C. 1130, or about fifty years after the fall of Troy. Other temples or centres of the healing art gradually sprang up, and round each of those clustered a little school of students. There were the temple of Health at Pergamus, the temple of Hygeia at Cytea, and the temples of Æsculapius at Cos and Epidamus, where the famous statue of Æsculapius stood. The father of ancient medicine, Hippocrates, graduated as a student of Cos, and Galen is said to have been at Epidamus.

It was in the temple of Æsculapius at Greece that any record of medicine was first kept, the names of diseases and their cures being registered on tablets of marble. The priests and priestesses, who were the guardians of the temple, prepared the remedies and directed their application, and thus commenced the practice of physic as a regular profession.

These official persons were ambitious to pass as the legitimate descendants of Æsculapius, and therefore assumed the title of the Asclepiades. The writings of Pausanius, Plutarch, and others abound with accounts of the artifices of these early practitioners. Aristophanes mentions the dexterity and promptitude with which they collected and put into their bags the offerings on the altar.

The patients were wont to repose on the skins of sacrificed rams in order to procure celestial visions. As soon as they were supposed to be asleep, a priest, clothed in the dress of Æsculapius, imitating his manner, and accompanied by the daughters of the god (that is, by young actresses well up in their parts), entered and solemnly delivered a medical opinion. The student sat at the feet of the philosopher of his choice, and after a certain period and course of probation, was granted the rights of priest and physician to practise as a teacher and healer.

They had their code and ethics of a standard almost equal to those of to-day, and their knowledge of surgery, and the use of the herbs and plants which grew around them, was not a little.

Entering on their novitiate at their chosen temple or school, they were required to make a protestation or oath, of which the following is the one made by Hippocrates:—

“I, Hippocrates, do now promise and protest to the great god Apollo and his two daughters Hygeia and Panadie, and also to all the gods and goddesses, to observe the contents of this oath or tables wherein the oath is carved, written, or engraved, so far as I can possibly, and so far as my wit or understanding shall be able to direct me, viz., I yield myself tributary and debtor to the master and doctor, who hath instructed me and showed me this science and doctrine, even as much or rather more than to my father who hath begotten me, and that I shall live and communicate with him, and follow him in all necessities which I shall know him to have, so far as my power shall permit and my goods extend. Also that I shall love and cherish his children as my brother’s, and his progeny as my own. Further, that I shall teach, show and demonstrate the said science without reward or covenant, and that I shall give all the canons, rules and precepts freely, truly and faithfully to my master, his children as to my own, without hiding or unacting anything, and to all other scholars who shall make the same oath or protestation, and to no others. Also that in practising and using my science towards the sick, I shall use only things necessary, so far as I am able, and as my spirit and good understanding shall give unto me, and that I shall cure the sick as speedily as I may without dilating or prolonging the malady, and that I shall not do anything against equity for hatred, anger, envy or malice to any person whatsoever. Moreover, that I shall minister no poison, neither counsel nor teach poison, nor the composing thereof to any. Also that I shall not give nor cause to be given, nor contend that anything be applied to a woman breeding, to destroy and make her void her fruit. But I shall protest to keep my life and science purely, sincerely and inviolably, without deceit, fraud or guile. And that I shall not cut or incise any person having the stone, but shall leave the same to those who are expert in it. And, furthermore, that I shall not enter into the patient’s house lest with purpose to heal him, and that I shall patiently sustain the injuries, reproaches, and loathsomeness of sick men and other base railings, and that I shall eschew, as far as I may, all venereous lasciviousness. Moreover, I protest, be it man, woman, or servant who is my patient, to cure them of all things, that I may see or hear either in mind or manner, and I shall not betray that which should be concealed or hidden, but keep inviolable with silence; neither reveal any creature under pain of death. And therefore I beseech our gods that observing this protestation, promise, and vow entirely and inviolably, all things in my life, in my art, and science, may succeed securely, healthfully, and prosperously to me, and in the end eternal glory.

“And to him that shall violate, transgress, or become perjured, that the contrary may happen unto him, viz., misery, calamities, and continual maladies.”

We have here principles laid down which would do honour to any medical body, and which show the highly civilised condition and the excellent moral teaching of the early Greek philosophers and priests.


One of the earliest magicians or soothsayers of which we have record out of the era of mythology was Tiresias. He lived in the times of Œdipus and the war of the seven chiefs against Thebes. For having offended the gods he was visited with blindness, but being repentant, tradition states they recompensed him for this affliction by endowing him with the gift of prophecy and the act of divination. He is also said to have been able to hold communion with the feathered world, and to have power over the spirits of the dead, whom he could compel to appear and reply to his inquiries. His incantations and spells were supposed to be irresistible, and he could foretell future events by signs from fire, smoke, and other methods of divining.

Abaris, a native of Scythia, was another magician of renown. There is no exact record of the time in which he lived, but he is represented by some as having constructed the Palladium which protected Troy from its enemies for a long time. Other authors declare he was a friend of Pythagoras, who flourished some 600 years later.

According to Herodotus, he travelled over the world with an arrow, eating nothing during his journey. By others it is said the arrow was presented to him by Apollo, and that upon it he rode through the air, and travelled over lands, seas, mountains, and other inaccessible places. But from all accounts his repute as a magician and seer is confirmed. He is said to have foretold earthquakes, allayed storms and pestilence, cured disease by charms and incantations, and was generally revered for his power and command over the dwellers in the unseen world.

Pythagoras, one of the most notable magicians in early history, was born about the year B.C. 586, and lived during the time of Cyrus and Darius Hystaspes, of Crœsus, of Pisistratus, of Polycrates, and Amasis King of Egypt. He was renowned not only as a philosopher but as a leader and politician, and was learned in all branches of science then known. The early part of his life was spent in Egypt, but he also travelled in order to gather experience and knowledge until he reached the age of forty years.

Afterwards he founded a school, where he lectured and instructed a large number of followers who were attracted by his wisdom and learning. He divided his pupils into two classes: the neophytes, to whom were explained the elementary and general principles of his philosophy, while the advanced were admitted into his entire confidence and formed a brotherhood, who threw their property into a common stock and lived together.

During the latter part of his life he is said to have lived in Magna Græcia, where he carried on his studies and made some of his great discoveries. He was a profound geometrician, and two great theorems, one still known as the Pythagorean, are ascribed to him. He propounded the doctrine that the earth is a planet of spherical form, and the sun the centre of the planetary system.

His philosophy prescribed and taught a total abstinence from everything which had animal life, and temperance in all things, together with the subjection of the appetites of the body. By this strict discipline, he seems to have obtained almost complete control over the wills and minds of his followers, from whom he demanded the utmost docility. Preparatory to entering on his novitiate, the pupil was strictly examined by the master as to his principles, habits, and intentions. The tone of his voice, his manner of speaking, his walk, gestures, and the lines of his face and the expression of his eyes, were all carefully observed, and only if all these features were satisfactory was he admitted as a probationer. After this interview the master withdrew from the sight of the pupil, who could then enter on his novitiate of three and five, in all eight years, during which time he was not permitted to look on the master, but only hear him speak from behind a curtain, and he was enjoined to preserve the strictest silence.

To add to his mystery and authority, Pythagoras is said to have hid himself during the day from his pupils, and was only visible to them after the night had come on. He is described as having a most imposing and majestic appearance, with a grave and awe-inspiring countenance. When he came forth he appeared in a long garment of the purest white, with his long beard flowing, and a garland upon his head.

He allowed his followers to believe he was one of the gods, and he is said to have told Abaris that he resumed human form so that he might win the confidence of man.

Doubtless, owing to his great attainments and his superiority to the men of his time, he considered himself more divine than human, and he claimed to have miraculous endowments. Those who were not of his followers ascribed the stories related of him to magic, which probably, like other philosophers, he studied.

Among other stories which tradition has handed down concerning Pythagoras are the following: He professed to have appeared in different ages in various human forms—first as Æthalides, the son of Mercury, and then as Euphorbu, who slew Patroclus at the siege of Troy, and as other individuals also.

He is said to have tamed a bear by whispering in its ear, and prevailed on it to feed on vegetables alone. He called also an eagle down from its flight, causing it to sit on his hand as if quite tame. When Abaris addressed him as one of the heavenly host, he convinced him that he was indeed a celestial being by showing him his thigh of gold, which also he exhibited to sceptical pupils. At another period he absented himself from his associates in Italy for a year: when he re-appeared he stated he had been sojourning in the infernal regions, and gave them wonderful descriptions of the strange things he had seen there.

These and many other fabulous stories are related of this singular man, which prove him to have been as wily as he was wise.

One curious rule by which he bound his pupils is worth mentioning. At the end of their novitiate, if it was discovered that their intellectual faculties were too weak to grapple with the intricacies of his theories and problems, they were expelled the community; the double of the property they had contributed to the common stock was refunded to them; a monument inscribed with their names was placed in the meeting-place of the community, and they were considered as dead by the brotherhood.

It is easy to imagine with what feelings these measures would be regarded by some who were called to submit to them, and so they eventually proved the cause of the break-up of the Pythagorean school.

Cylon, a man of great wealth of Crotona, conceived a great partiality for Pythagoras, and became a novice with Perialus, and submitted to all the severities of the school. They passed through the three years of probation and five years of silence, and were received into the familiarity of the master. But after they had delivered their wealth into the common stock, Pythagoras pronounced them to be deficient in intellectual power, or for some other reason most probably they were expelled. A tablet inscribed with their names was set up, and they were pronounced dead to the school.

Cylon, who was a man of excitable and violent temperament, became highly incensed at this treatment, and resolved on vengeance. Collecting a band of followers, which probably included a large number of rejected students, they surrounded the school of the master and set it on fire. Forty people are said to have perished in the flames, but Pythagoras with two of his pupils escaped to Metapontum, where he took refuge in the Temple of the Muses. The strife fomented by Cylon broke out afresh, and he was closely besieged in the temple by his enemies. The rioting continued, and as no provisions could be conveyed to him, he finally perished with hunger, according to Laertius, after forty days’ abstinence.

Thus ended Pythagoras, a man of undoubted genius, and in knowledge much in advance of his time. Although his teachings were mixed up with considerable artifice and deception, he ranks, as one of the greatest of the Greek philosophers.

Epimenides was a native of Crete, and probably lived before the time of Pythagoras. He was credited with marvellous performances from a very early age, and is said when quite a lad to have retired to a cave and slept for fifty-seven years. He then returned to his father’s house, which he found in the possession of a new tenant, and the family disappeared. At length he came across his brother, who had grown into an old man, who after some time acknowledged him.

On this story becoming known, he was accounted a favourite of the gods, and he professed to be endowed with supernatural gifts.

He made it known that he was supplied with food by the nymphs, and that he was exempt from the usual necessities imposed on the body by Nature. He boasted that he could separate his soul from his body and recall it as he thought fit. He professed to have dealings with the unseen world, and would exorcise evil spirits or work spells. He had great renown as a seer, and his prophecies were regarded as direct messages from the gods. But the great act of his life was his delivery of Athens from a great pestilence after the rebellion of Cylon. The plague, which had almost decimated the city, could not be stopped, and the Athenian Senate, after much deliberation, resolved to send for Epimenides, who was at that time in Crete. A special vessel was placed under the command of one of the first citizens of the State, who was commissioned to bring the wise magician.

On his arrival at Athens he at once set to work with solemn rites and ceremonials. He commanded that a number of black and white sheep should be led to the Areopagus, then be let loose and allowed to wander whither they wished. Certain persons were instructed to follow them and mark the spot where they lay down, on which place the animal was sacrificed to the local deity. In this manner, it is recorded, the plague was stayed. According to some writers he also sacrificed human victims. Although pressed by the Athenian Senate to take a recompense for his services, Epimenides is said to have refused all gifts, stipulating only that there should be perpetual peace between the Athenians and the people of Gnossus, his native city. He died shortly afterwards, at the reputed age of 157 years.

Empedocles was a distinguished magician, orator, and poet, and was born in Agrigentum, Sicily. He was a follower of Pythagoras, and probably received instruction from his successors. He was credited with miraculous powers, and to have been able to restore the dead to life. He was skilled in medicine and the use of herbs, and was indeed a general benefactor to the citizens of his native place, where he was almost worshipped as a god. Like other philosophers of his time, he was inordinately vain, but was undoubtedly a man of great intelligence, and conferred immense benefits on his fellow-creatures. His belief in the power of magic is shown in the following words he was wont to address to his students: “By my instructions you shall learn medicines that are powerful to cure disease and reanimate old age; you shall be able to calm the savage winds which lay waste the labours of all the husbandmen, and, when you will, shall send forth the tempest again; you shall cause the skies to be fair and serene; or, once more, shall draw down refreshing showers, reanimating the fruits of the earth; nay, you shall recall the strength of the dead man when he has already become the victim of Pluto”.

Of himself he said: “I mix with you a god, no longer a mortal, and am everywhere honoured by you, as is just; crowned with fillets and fragrant garlands, adorned with which, when I visit populous cities, I am revered by both men and women, who follow me by ten thousands, inquiring the road to boundless wealth, seeking the gift of prophecy and who would learn the marvellous skill to cure all kinds of diseases”.

Of other wizards of early Greece, Herodotus mentions Aristras, a poet of Proconnesus, who is said to have mysteriously disappeared from the earth for 340 years, and then appeared again at Metapontum and commanded the citizens to erect a statue to him. Also Hermotimus, who was reputed to have the power of separating his soul from his body at will. But little is known beyond the merest tradition of these worthies.


The Roman philosophers, like the Greeks, claimed to possess occult powers, and the practitioners of magic and sorcery were numerous during the time of the Empire. We have a graphic description of the incantations of a Roman sorceress in the story of Dido. Deserted by Æneas, she resolves on self-destruction. To delude her sister as to her secret purpose she sends for a priestess from the gardens of the Hesperides, pretending that her object is to effect the return of her lover by means of certain magical incantations. The priestess, who is invested with magical powers, can call up the spirits of the dead, cause the solid earth to rock and quake, and the trees of the forest to descend from the mountains. On the arrival of the sorceress, she commands that a funeral pyre shall be erected in the interior court of the palace, and that the arms of Æneas, what remains of his attire, and the marriage bed in which Dido had received him, shall be placed upon it. The pyre is to be hung round with garlands and branches of cypress, and the whole crowned with a picture of Æneas and his sword.

Altars were placed around, and the priestess, with dishevelled hair, cried aloud with terrible charms upon her three hundred gods, upon Erebus, Chaos, and the three-faced Hecate. The waters of Avernus were then sprinkled about, and certain magical herbs that had been cut by moonlight with a sickle of brass. The priestess had with her the excrescence which is found upon the forehead of a new-cast foal, of the size of a dried fig, a talisman of great power.

Dido is then called upon to approach, and, with her robe drawn up exposing one bare foot, she makes the circle of the altars, embracing them successively, and breaks over each a consecrated cake. The pyre is lit, and the charm is supposed to be complete.

But all the power and the elaborate ritual prescribed by the sorceress were of no avail. Æneas returns not, and the broken-hearted Dido finally stabs herself and dies.

Many prodigies are interspersed throughout the early history of Rome, and most of the acts of these people were surrounded with a halo of superstition natural at the time, and doubtless largely exaggerated. Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan all allude to the belief in and the practice of sorcery and magic by the Romans.

In the eighth eclogue of Virgil we have a detailed description of a Roman sorceress. She is introduced by the poet as giving directions to her assistant as to the working of certain charms. Her object (a common one apparently at that time) is to recall Daphnis, whom she calls her husband, to return once more to her arms. The assistant is directed to burn vervain and frankincense, and the highest efficacy is ascribed to a solemn chant, which is capable of calling down the moon from its sphere or making the cold-blooded snake burst in the field, and was the means by which Circe turned the companions of Ulysses into beasts. The image of Daphnis is then ordered to be thrice bound round with fillets of three colours, the assistant at the same time repeating the words, “Thus I bind the fillets of Venus,” and then paraded about a prepared altar.

An image of clay and one of wax are placed before the same fire; and as the image of clay hardens, so does the heart of Daphnis harden towards his new mistress; and as the figure of wax softens, so is the heart of the ex-lover made tender towards the sorceress. A sacred cake is then broken over the image, and crackling laurels burnt before it. She prays that as the wanton heifer pursues the steer through woods and glens till at length, worn out with fatigue, she lies down on the oozy reeds by the banks of the stream, and the night dew will not even drive her away, so Daphnis may be led on after her for ever with inextinguishable love. The relics of his belongings are then buried beneath the threshold. She bruises poisonous herbs of resistless virtue, which had been gathered in the kingdom of Pontus, herbs which enabled him who gave them to turn himself into a hungry wolf prowling amidst the forests, to call up ghosts from the grave, and to translate the ripened harvest from the field where it grew to the lands of another. The ashes of these herbs are cast over her head into the running stream, while she must not look behind her.

At length the sorceress begins to despair and cries, “Daphnis heeds not my incantations, heeds not the gods”. She looks again, and perceives the ashes on the altar are glowing and emitting sparks of fire. Her faithful house dog barks before the door. “Can these things be,” she exclaims, “or do lovers dream what they desire? It is not so! The real Daphnis comes; I hear his steps; he has left the deluding town; he hastens to my longing arms!”

In the works of Horace an interesting description of a witches’ incantation is also given, the details of which it is instructive to compare with those given by other writers.

Four sorceresses are assembled in conclave, the chief being Canidia, with three assistants, in order to work a charm by means of which a youth named Varus, for whom Canidia had conceived a passion, may be compelled to reciprocate her affections.

Canidia, with the locks of her dishevelled hair twined round with venomous and deadly serpents, orders the wild fig tree and the funeral cypress to be rooted up from the sepulchres on which they grew, and these, together with the egg of a toad smeared with blood, the plumage of the screech owl, various herbs brought from Thessaly and Georgia, and bones torn from the jaws of a famished dog, to be burnt in flames fed with perfumes from Colchis. One assistant, whose hair stands stiff and erect like the quills of the sea-hedgehog or the bristles of a hunted boar, sprinkles the ground with drops from the Avernus, while another, who is reputed to have had the faculty of conjuring the stars and moon down from heaven, assists in other ways.

The fourth witch is busy digging a hole with a spade, in which is to be plunged up to his chin the beardless youth stripped of his purple robe—the emblem of his noble descent—and naked, that from his marrow, already dry, and his liver (when at length his eyeballs, long fixed on the still renovated food which is withheld from his famished jaws, have no longer the power to discern), may be concreted the love potion from which the witches promise themselves the most wonderful results.

Canidia, unmoved by his sufferings, works herself into a great rage, and calls upon the night and the morn to help in her infamous incantation. But her victim manages to evade destruction by means of some magical antidote. She then resolves to prepare a still more powerful charm, exclaiming, “Sooner shall the sky be swallowed up in the sea and the earth be stretched a covering over both, than thou, my enemy, shalt not be wrapped in the flames of love as subtle and tenacious as those of burning pitch”.