A Peculiar Late Babylonian Recipe For Fumigation Against Epilepsy

Strahil V. Panayotov, BabMed Project, Free University Berlin.

Fumigation is a term for healing through the power of smoke. It is a wide-spread therapy in many traditional healing systems and it was also used in Ancient Mesopotamia.

Through fumigation the Babylonian medical practitioner could heal different illnesses: depression, epilepsy, troubles with the ears and the eyes, or even hemorrhoids. A solution of potent drugs produced the smoke. To produce each blend, different substances were mixed with plant’s sap and/or oil in special vessels [fig. 1].

Panayotov Fig 1

Image drawn by Ann Searight. Walker, C.B.F. 1980. Some Mesopotamian Inscribed Vessels. IRAQ 42: 84-86.

Then, in order to produce the smoke, the medical practitioner poured out this mixture over hot cinders. Afterwards the sick body parts were exposed to the smoke. Fumigation has a quick-acting physical effect, especially when the smoke is inhaled. This is due to the swift way of administering drugs that is much faster then internal medication. Furthermore, using aromatics for fumigation (Babylonian medical practitioners often mentioned conifers, and especially their pleasant smell) most likely induced psychological effects, which are comparable to aromatherapy.

Well, this is only one kind of fumigation. Yet, when a demon had to be expelled stinky and pungent fumigants came into play, as it is the case for the translated recipe below. It dates to the time around or shortly after the death of Alexander the Great, at the end of the 4th century BC. The cuneiform tablet was found in ancient Uruk – nowadays in South Iraq. The fumigatory mixture is extraordinarily interesting. It was prepared to cure epilepsy as well as the demonic attacks causing it. The main ingredient consists of parts of the head of a dead young male goat. The whole ritual process could be reconstructed as follows: the medical practitioner recited a spell ‘O, evil, evil’ in the both ears of a young male goat. Perhaps, in this way the flesh of the young male goat was magically activated to produce the potent substance, needed to fumigate out the demonic presence. Then the practitioner slaughtered the young male goat. He took different parts of the head of the young male goat mixed them with naphtha, saps of plants, oils and plants. He prepared a solution, which he first gave to the patient to drink and eat. Then, with that very same mixture, the body of the patient was anointed and at the end he was fumigated [fig 2].

Thureau-Dangin, TCL 6 no. 34 (photo courtesy of the author).

Thureau-Dangin, TCL 6 no. 34 (photo courtesy of the author).

TRANSCRIPTION:
If [ep]ilepsy, Lugalurra-epilepsy-demon, Hand of God, Hand of Goddess befall a man: in order to remove it – it’s ritual: you take a young male goat, you recite [in] its right and left [e]ar the incantation ‘Oh, evil, evil’, (and) you slaughter (it). You take blood of the eye, the pupil of the eye, the covering-tissue of the depressions of the head and the neck, the dark fluid of his two eyes, naphtha, fish oil, cedar blood, maštakal[1]-plant, seed of maštakal-plant, owl blood, skin of a qiššû-cucumber,[2] tendril of qiššû-cucumber – pure fumigants, taramuš-lupine plant, imhur-līm[3]-plant, imhur-ešrā[4]-plant, [you (crush and?) m]ix [(them) together.] He shall eat it (and) drink it, you anoint him and fumigate him over cinders, and then he will get better. [14 drugs for] fumigation with a young male goat.

The peculiar substances mentioned in this recipe have certainly also symbolic significance, which, we may assume, sometimes go along with the chemical usefulness of the substances, since Babylonian traditional medicine was based on empirical experiments that had lasted for thousands of years. Some of the substances, such as ‘owl blood,’ were alternative names for drugs and some were not. We know this because some passages of the text were discussed in ancient commentary, which helped healers understand the extraordinary substances better.

Further reading:
Frahm, E. 2011. Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries, Origins of Interpretation. Münster: Ugarit.

Geller, M. 2010. Ancient Babylonian Medicine, Theory and Practice. Chichester (GB) & Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell.

Labat, R. 1961. A propos de la fumigation dans la médecine assyrienne. Revue d’assyrologie et d’archéologie orientale 55: 152-153.

Stol, M. 1993. Epilepsy in Babylonia. Groningen: Styx.

Thureau-Dangin, F. 1922. Textes Cunéiformes VI. Tablettes d’Uruk. (TCL 6) Paris: Paul Geuthner.

Walker, C.B.F. 1980. Some Mesopotamian Inscribed Vessels. IRAQ 42: 84-86.


[1] Unknown plant used often for purification. Scholars often translate it as soapwort, which is not certain at all.

[2] Qiššû-cucumber, written dKu-ši ‘God Kušu’ is most probably syllabic secret writing of kuš8 =qiššû-cucumber. Suggestion is courtesy of Prof. Andrew George. Furthermore, the reading makes very good sense in the light of the fact that tillatu ‘tendril’ of dKu-ši was used. On the on hand, it is possible that the qiššû-cucumber could be deified; on the other the god Kušu could be symbolically represented by the qiššû-cucumber.

[3] The name means ‘it resists thousand (ailments)’.

[4] The name means ‘it resists twenty (ailments)’.

A Modern Culinary Manuscript from Russia’s Ural Mountains

Aleksandra Ippolitova

Everyday literacy and literate folklore from the twentieth century has for a long time been on the periphery of scholarly interest. One of the most widespread genres of everyday literacy is the culinary manuscript collection, but even this genre has attracted almost no attention thus far.

Sverdlovsk Oblast, where Verkhnee Dubrovo is located (Wiki Commons)

Sverdlovsk Oblast, where Verkhnee Dubrovo is located
(Wiki Commons)

In the late 1990s, I came across one such text in the home of a woman named Valentina Petrovna Ovchinnikova, who lives in the town of Verkhnee Dubrovo, some 35 km east of Ekaterinburg. The text was put together by Ovchinnikova’s mother, Maria Semenova Morozova, during the early twentieth century, in the years before the Russian Revolution of 1917, and gives a fascinating insight into the collection of culinary recipes in the modern period.

A Gift to Young Housewives  (kolovrat7520.ru)

A Gift to Young Housewives
(kolovrat7520.ru)

Many of the recipes in Morozova’s collection were copied from A Gift to Young Housewives [Podarok molodym khoziakam] by E. I. Molokhovets, a hugely popular printed recipe book in pre-Revolutionary Russia, with around 300,000 copies being printed between 1861 and 1917. The collection is not just a copy of the Molokhovets text, but also includes a number of recipes Morozova added herself. These additional recipes give us an insight into Morozova’s culinary interests: the majority of the additional recipes are for feast-day dishes, not everyday staples. It is also interesting that many of them seem unusual for village life: who would expect that biscuits would be a common dish in a village in the Urals?

 

Other aspects of the text give more of a local flavour: several recipes are named after people, very likely the people from whom Morozova had recieved the recipe. One such recipe is Admirer’s Cake [tort Bakhterki], from a local dialect word meaning “dear one” or “admirer.” Such dialect words are not used in the Molokhovets text, and are unlikely to be found in any printed work. Was this the nick-name of one of Morozova’s friends? Other recipes more obviously come from Morozova’s friends and family, like Tat’iana Ivanova’s Spicecakes and Dunia’s Lazy Cake. This use of social networks to acquire culinary recipes seems to have been common, as discussed by Alun Withey.

Morozova's Recipe Book (Aleksandra Ippolitova)

Morozova’s Recipe Book
(Aleksandra Ippolitova)

Interestingly, some of these recipes are very specific about when they should be made. The recipe for Petia’s Braga states:

“On Friday evening stew the hops, on Saturday morning boil half a pail of water, then add to the water 5 funt of sugar and 1 funt of yeast. Pour in the hops, and add a pail of cold water, 1/2 funt of cherries and 1/2 funt of honey. Put it on the stove, fasten it tightly closed, and on Sunday morning take it off the stove and it will be ready to drink in a week.”

Recipe for 'Petia's Braga' (Aleksandra Ippolitova)

Recipe for ‘Petia’s Braga’
(Aleksandra Ippolitova)

The Morozova text thus brings together traditions often seen as separate: printed works available across the country are put next to locally-collected recipes written in a dialect, big-city dishes appear in village life. Works such as that of Morozova help remind us of the importance of modern manuscripts: far from being a textual-historical dead-end, they were (and are) a central part of people’s everyday lives.

Translation by Clare Griffin.

This post is the fifth in this month’s series of posts on Russian recipes. Previous posts have introduced early modern Russia, told us how to feed our servants, how to get over hangovers, and how to heal foreigners.

Exploring CPP 10a214: Lady Honywood, Continued; or On E. Layfield’s Gout

Rebecca Laroche, with Hillary Nunn

In my entry in April, I introduced a medical practitioner, Lady Honywood, who had recipes attributed to her in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia manuscript owned by Anne Layfield.  Lady Honywood’s reputation as a devout nonconformist and medical practitioner have been recorded in the diary of Ralph Josselin. Her recipes appearing in another recipe book not only give us more evidence of her practice, but also reveal something new about the Layfield manuscript.

Three recipes attributed to Lady Honywood appear in the 1680 manuscript compiled by Johanna St. John, which has been discussed at length in a previous post by Elaine Leong.  These recipes are scattered throughout the St. John manuscript and are treatments for three very different conditions.  The initial Honywood attribution, which appears early on in the manuscript, is an “admirable thing for a cancer.”  This was the second time that Johanna St. John had recorded a recipe for cancer on that page – the first being attributed to a Lady Temple:

 
Honywood recipe in St John copy

Wellcome MS 4338, digital image 0010.

As the two recipes that frame these are for the sore breast, the implicit location of this canker is on the breast as well.

The next lies amongst a series of cough medicines, “For the Cough of the Lungs, / which has cured thos that have died one gene / ration after another”:

Wellcome MS 4338 digital Image 0068

Wellcome MS 4338, digital image 0068

The recipe record, while short, gives testimony not only to the recipes efficacy, but also to Lady Honywood’s acumen.  She, after all, has cured a disease that had been plaguing a family for decades.  The final recipe bears full transcription because so brief and carries a tinge of magical thinking (see posts by Laura Mitchell on this site),  “Lady Honywood to prevent miscarying,” which reads simply “A dryed Toad & hang it about the wast.”  [1]

In isolation, these three Honywood recipes are of a piece with many we have seen:  two medical practitioners exchange their knowledge, and one, under different topics, has organized that knowledge along with others she has gleaned.  When we put these recipes next to the Layfield manuscript, however, we gain new insight into how and why the Layfield recipes were collected.

The Honywood recipes in the Layfield manuscript are not the same as those that are found in the St. John recipes.  As a reminder, the first two of the three Honywood recipes collected by E. Layfield were for the gout, the second for the King’s evil.  While E. Layfield and his wife Anne may have practiced medicine among their acquaintances, this document begins to reveal itself as a more local document, as gout seems to be one of its central concerns.  While only four recipes address gout in the Downing half of the manuscript, and then often amongst a list of other ailments, seven recipes are listed specifically for gout in the smaller Layfield section, and one of these (within three pages of the Honywood recipes), “An excellent Receite for the Goute, to giue ease,” ends with this attribution and testimony: “Master Rob. Wingfeld gaue it me with / much adoe, & great intreaty, at  / Sir Rich. Wingfelds at Easton / Its singular good, I haue tryed it.”[2]

Who the Wingfelds were and where they lived are subjects for further research and another post, but what we can tell from this entry and the collection of Honywood recipes is that the compiler E. Layfield suffered from gout himself, and he asked for recipes from members of his circle for some insight toward relief.

[1] Wellcome MS 4338, fol. 206.

[2] The Historical  Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, MS 10a214, fol. 224.

How to Heal a Foreigner in Early Modern Russia

Clare Griffin

One of the big questions for me when reading recipes is, did anyone actually use these? This is always a tricky point, especially when we consider the range of ‘recipes’ and recipe collections out there. One group of texts which circulated in early modern Russia, usually referred to as the ‘Satirical Leechbooks’, gives an interesting perspective.

Moscow's Foreign Quarter

Moscow’s Foreign Quarter
(Wiki Images)

The most well-known starts like this:

A leechbook for foreigners.

A leechbook by Russian people, how to heal foreigners and people of their land; [using] very appropriate medicines from various and expensive ingredients.

 

 

The ingredients mentioned in this leechbook are odd:

- Part of a white bridge

- Chopped women’s folk dancing

- Light-colored screeching of a cart

- A fat eagle’s flight

- The voice of a bass violin

Bridge theft aside, these ingredients seem difficult to source. Would the peddler of the famous Russian folk song Korobeiniki – better known to non-Slavicists as ‘the Tetris song’ – have had such wares in his tray? It seems unlikely.

Korobeiniki (Peddlers)

Korobeiniki (Peddlers)
(Wiki Images)

Some of the accompanying therapeutic activities also seem unrealistic:

- Sweat for three days naked in ice

- Rise early, just after vespers

Reading these recipes, it does seem that the author might not have been entirely serious about healing his foreign patient; indeed, ‘healing’ itself here seems to be a joke, although the foreigner might not have seen it like that. The text itself notes: ‘those it does not kill it will surely heal’ – not perhaps the most assuring of claims. The ‘very appropriate medicines’ mentioned in the introduction really seem to be ‘just desserts’ for the foreigners as prescribed by a less-than welcoming Russian.

The text also seems to be mocking medicine in general. In seventeenth-century Russia, official court medicine was practiced by Western European medical practitioners, often using Western European medical books available in Latin and other foreign languages. This use of foreigners and foreign medicine seems to be the focus of the ‘joke’ being made here.

So, these recipes are more for entertainment than therapy, a type of recipe found across Europe, but do they actually tell us anything about Russian medicine? Perhaps happily for any sickly foreigners in seventeenth-century Russia, the Leechbook for Foreigners was not the only medical-style text available in Russia; by the 1700s, there were several medical recipe books circulating in Russia, and in Russian, which a rather kinder healer of foreigners would have selected.

In fact, the unknown author of the Leechbook for Foreigners seems to have been rather familiar with such texts. Leaving aside his idiosyncratic collection of ingredients, his recipes do make sense in the context of a medical recipe: he uses the same kinds of measures, and recommends combining ingredients in the same way, as ‘serious’ medical books of the time. On one level, this seems to be a part of his mocking of healing: by aping a format, he derides it as ridiculous. But on another level, it reveals that he has in fact read such recipes, in order to be sufficiently familiar with them to parody them. Our anonymous author may not have approved of foreigners and their foreign healing, but he seemed well versed in what he criticised.

This post is the fourth in this month’s series of posts on Russian recipes. Previous posts have introduced early modern Russia, told us how to feed our servants, and how to get over hangovers.