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Nicander: Theriaca


'Theriaca' is the longest surviving poem by Nicander of Colophon ; it deals with the bites and stings of venomous creatures, and describes antidotes to them. Translations of Nicander's other surviving poems can be found elsewhere on this site.

This translation is by A.S.F.Gow & A.F.Scholfield (1953). Because all of Nicander's poems contain a bewildering number of plant names, wherever possible links have been provided to the relevant wikipedia articles, in line with the translators' notes in their 'Index of Fauna, Flora etc.'   The Greek text of the 'Theriaca' can be found on the Poesia Latina website.


Readily, dear Hermesianax, most honoured of my many kinsmen, and in due order will I expound the forms of savage creatures and their deadly injuries which smite one unforeseen, and the countering remedy for the harm. And the toiling ploughman, the herdsman, and the woodcutter, whenever in forest or at the plough one of them fastens its deadly fang upon him, shall respect you for your learning in such means for averting sickness.

Now I would have you know, men say that noxious spiders, together with the grievous reptiles and vipers and the earth's countless burdens, are of the Titans' blood - 10 if indeed he spoke the truth, Ascraean Hesiod on the steeps of secluded Melissēeis by the waters of Permessus. And it was the Titan's daughter who sent forth the blighting scorpion with sharpened sting, when she compassed an evil end for Boeotian Orion, and attacked him after he had laid violent hands upon the immaculate raiment of the goddess. Thereupon the scorpion, which had lurked unobserved beneath a small stone, struck him in the ankle of his strong foot. But Orion's wondrous sign is set conspicuous, fixed there amid the constellations, 20 as of one hunting, dazzling to behold. 

You for your part will easily chase and dispel all creeping things from farmstead and cottage, or from steep bank, or from couch of natural herbage, in the hour when, to shun parching summer's fiery breath, beneath the sky you make your bed on straw at nightfall in the fields and sleep, or else beside some unwooded hill or on the edge of a glen, where poisonous creatures feed in multitudes upon the forest, or beside the levelled perimeter of the threshing-floor, and where the grass 30 at its first burgeoning brings bloom to the shady water-meadows, at the time when the snake sloughs the withered scales of age, moving feebly forward, when in spring he leaves his den, and his sight is dim; but a meal of the fennel's sappy shoots makes him swift and bright of eye.

You may expel the hot and harmful doom that snakes bring, if you char the tined horn of a stag, or else set fire to dry lignite, which not even the violence of a fierce flame consumes. Cast also upon the fire the foliage of the male fern with its cloven fronds, 40 or take the heated root of the frankincense-tree mixed with an equal measure of garden-cress; and mingle the fresh, pungent horn of a roe, putting an equal weight of it in the balance. Burn also a portion no less heavy of the strong-smelling black cumin, or else of sulphur, or again of bitumen. Or you may ignite in the fire the Thracian stone, which when soaked in water glows, yet quenches its brightness at the least smell of a drop of oil. Herdsmen gather it for themselves from the river of Thrace which they call Pontus, where the Thracian shepherds 50 who eat ram's flesh so follow after their leisurely flocks. Again, the heavy-scented juice of all-heal stimulated over a fire, and the stinging nettle, and cedar cut with saws and ground to dust by their many-toothed jaws, produce in burning a smoky and repellent stench. With these means you may clear hollow clefts and couches in the woods, and may sink upon the ground and take your fill of sleep.

But if these things involve trouble, and night brings bed-time near, and you are longing for rest when your work is done, then gather to yourself among the eddies of some rushing river 60 the water-loving, leafy mint, for it grows in plenty by streams and is fed with the moisture about their edges, as it delights in gleaming rivers. Or you should cut and strew beneath you the flowering willow, or the strong-smelling hulwort, which has a most offensive odour; so too have viper's bugloss and the leaves of marjoram, aye, or of wormwood, which grows wild upon the hills in some chalky glen, or of tufted thyme from pasture-lands : tenacious of life it draws sustenance from a damp soil, deep-rooted, ever furnished with hairy leaves. 70 And you should mark the pale spikes of the low-growing fleabane and of the agnus castus, and the pungent stinking bean-trefoil. Likewise cut the rough twigs of the pomegranate, or else young and flourishing shoots of the asphodel, and deadly nightshade, and the horrid hypericum which injures the herdsman in the springtime when his cows are poisoned by eating the stalks; and further stems of the heavy-scented sulphurwort whose very odour scares snakes and chases them away should they approach you. so place some of these by you wherever you make a casual couch in the fields; others where snakes lurk, and a double quantity at their holes.

80 Now make in an earthen vessel or an oil-flask a paste of juniper berries and anoint your supple limbs - or of the heavy-scented sulphurwort; or else pound thoroughly in oil the dried leaves of fleabane from the hills, and likewise the healing salvia, adding the root of silphium, which the grater's teeth should grind small - many a time too have noxious creatures fled in terror from the scent of a man's spittle. But if you rub a caterpillar from the garden in a little vinegar, the dewy caterpillar with a green back, or if you anoint your limbs all about with the teeming fruit of the marsh mallow, 90 then you will pass the night unscathed. Also cast in and rub down in the stony heart of a mortar two leafy sprays of wormwood mixed with garden cress - an obol's weight is suitable - and with a pestle pound therein to smoothness a handful of fresh berries from the bay; then mould into rounds and put to dry in a shady, wind-swept spot; when dry break them in pieces in an oil-flask, and you can anoint your limbs with it at once.

If however you can cast snakes coupled at a crossroads, alive and just mating, into a pot, and the following medicaments besides, 100 you have a preventive against deadly disasters. Throw in thirty drachmas' weight of the marrow of a freshly killed stag and one-third of a chous of rose-oil, - essence which perfumers style 'prime' and 'medium' and 'well-ground' - and pour on an equal measure of raw, gleaming oil and one-quarter of wax. These you must quickly heat in a round, bellying pot until the fleshy portions are softened and come in pieces about the spine. Next take a shaped, well-made pestle and pound up these many ingredients in a mixture with the snakes; 110 but cast aside the vertebrae, for in them a venom no less deadly is engendered. Then anoint all your limbs, be it for a journey or for a sleep or when you gird yourself after work at the threshing-floor in summer's drought and with pronged forks winnow the high pile of grain.

But if you should chance to come upon biting creatures when your skin is un-medicined and you are fasting - that is the time when disaster strikes a man - you may readily save yourself by our precepts. It is the female snake that attacks with its bite those who encounter it; besides, it is thicker right down to the trailing tail, 120 and for that reason the doom of death will come more swiftly. But chiefly in summer must you be on your guard against harmful snakes, observing the rising of the Pleiads, those smaller stars which graze the tail of the bull in their course, when the dipsas either sleeps unfed with the young it broods, lurking in the recesses of its hole, or when it makes eagerly for its feeding-ground, or when therefrom, sated with the forest, it goes sleepily to its lair. Beware of meeting at the crossroads the dusky male viper when he has escaped from her bite and is maddened by the blow of the smoke-hued female, 130 in the season when, as the male covers her, the lustful female fastens upon him, tearing him with her foul fang, and cuts off the head of her mate; but forthwith in the act of birth the young vipers avenge their sire's destruction, since they gnaw through their mother's thin flank and thereby are born motherless. For alone of snakes the female viper is burdened with pregnancy, whereas oviparous snakes of the forest warm a membrane-enclosed brood. Beware too when the viper, having doffed the wrinkled scales of age, comes abroad again exulting in his new-found youth; beware when, after escaping in his hole from the trampling feet of deer, 140 he darts in fury his limb-corroding venom at men; for red deer and roe cherish a special anger towards long reptiles and track them down, exploring on every side stone-heaps, walls, and lurking-places, following hard after them with the dreadful breath of their nostrils.

Furthermore the snow-capped crags of Othrys too bear deadly serpents, and hollow gully and rough crags and woodland scaur, where haunts the thirst-provoking seps. It has a varying hue and not one alone, ever taking the colour of the place wherein it has made its hole. 150 Those that live in stony ground and cairns are smaller but fierce and irascible: no bite of theirs can fail of effect on man, but is malignant. Another's body is like a land-snail; yet another has scales of greenish hue which variegate its huge coil; and many there are that frequent dusty places and make their coils rough by wriggling in the sand.

Consider now the murderous asp, bristling with dry scales, the most sluggish of all snakes. 160 Its form is terrifying, but when in movement, it uncoils its weight slowly and ever seems to wear a fixed look in its drowsy eyes. Yet when it hears some strange noise or sees a bright light, it throws off from its body dull sleep and wreathes its coil in a circular ring upon the ground, and in the midst it rears its head, bristling in deadly fashion. Its length, horrible beyond that of any other of earth's creatures, measures a fathom, and its thickness is seen to be that 170 which a spear-maker fashions for a hunting-spear for fighting bulls and deep-voiced lions. Sometimes the colour spread over its back is dust-like, sometimes it is the yellow of a quince and sheeny, at other times an ashen hue, but often, when it grows dark with Aethiop soil, a smoky brown like the sludge which the many-mouthed Nile in flood pours into the sea, as it dashes against the waves. Above the brow over the eyes there appear, as it were, two calluses, while its eye beneath them glows bright red aloft over its coil and its dust-coloured neck swells up as it hisses continuously, 180 when in the violence of its wrath it fastens death upon wayfarers who meet it. It has four fangs, their underside hollow, hooked, and long, rooted in its jaws, containing poison, and at their base a covering of membranes hides them. Thence it belches forth poison unassuageable on a body. Be they no friends of mine whose heads these monsters assail. For no bite appears on the flesh, no deadly swelling with inflammation, but the man dies without pain, and a slumberous lethargy brings life's end.

190 Now the ichneumon alone escapes unharmed the asp's onset, both when it comes to fight and when it breaks on the ground all the baneful eggs which the deadly serpent is brooding, as it shakes them out from their membranes by biting them and crushes them in its destroying teeth. The form of this snake-tracking creature is that of the puny marten which seeks the destruction of domestic fowls, snatching them from their perches as they sleep, where they roost upon a beam or foster their feeble chicks, keeping them warm beneath their breast. 200 But when amid Egypt's rush-grown water-meadows they join with the wriggling asps in a fearsome struggle, forthwith the Ichneumon leaps into the river, strikes the slimy bottom with its paws, and rolling its small body smears its limbs at once with the mud, against the time when the Dog-Star's heat has dried its fur and made it so that no fang may rend it. And then it either springs upon the frightful head of the reptile with the flickering tongue and bites it, or seizing it by the tail, sends it rolling into the weedy river.

You would do well to mark the various forms of the viper. It may be long, it may be short; 210 for so Europe and Asia breed them, but you will not find them alike. Thus, in Europe they are smaller, and above the tip of their nostrils they are horned and white, those, that is, beneath the mountains of Sciron and the Pambonian steeps, Rhype, and the hill of Corax and hoary Aselenus; whereas Asia breeds snakes a fathom long and even more, such as are about rugged Bucarterus or are contained within the strong headland of Aesagea and in Cercaphus. The front of their heads is flat, and at the trailing end of its coil 220 the creature wriggles a stunted tail which is abundantly rough with dry scales. And this way and that through the brakes it strays with sluggish coil. But every male viper is seen to have a pointed head. In length he is sometimes larger, sometimes short, and in breadth of belly he is slimmer, while his tail stretches tapering away, and may be flattened towards the end of its trailing length or rubbed smooth of scales. But the eyes in his face turn blood- red when he is angered, and as his forked tongue flickers rapidly, he lashes the end of his tail. 230 Wayfarers call him the snaky Cocytus. Two fangs in his upper jaw, as they spit poison, leave their mark upon the skin, but of the female always more than two, for she lays hold with her whole mouth, and you can easily observe that the jaws have opened wide about the flesh. And from the wound she makes there oozes a discharge like oil or, it may be, bloody or colourless, while the skin around starts up into a painful lump, often greenish, now crimson, or again of livid aspect. At other times it engenders a mass of fluid, and about the wound small pimples 240 like slight blisters rise flabbily from the skin, which looks scorched. And all around spread ulcers, some at a distance, others by the wound, emitting a dark blue poison; and over the whole body the piercing bane eats its way with its acute inflammation; and in the throat and about the uvula retchings following fast upon one another convulse the victim. The body is oppressed also with failures of sense in every part, and forthwith in the limbs and loins is seated a burdening, dangerous weakness, and heavy darkness settles in the head. Meantime the sufferer 250 at one moment has his throat parched with dry thirst, often too he is seized with cold from the finger-tips, while all over his frame an eruption with wintry rage lies heavy upon him. And again a man often turns yellow all over his body and vomits up the bile that lies upon his stomach, while a moist sweat, colder than the falling snow, envelops his limbs. In some cases his colour is that of sombre lead, in others his hue is murky, or again it is like flowers of copper.

You would do well also to learn of the crafty cerastes, who attacks like the male viper, which he resembles in equality of size. 260 True, the viper is hornless, whereas the cerastes boasts sometimes four horns sometimes two, and his dust-coloured skin is rough, and it is his habit to sleep in the sand or in the ruts down a road. The viper writhing himself darts swiftly forward on a straight course with the long winding of his belly, whereas the cerastes rolls on with clumsy movements of his middle, meandering on a crooked path with his scaly back, like to the dinghy of a merchantman dipping its whole side in the brine when the wind is contrary, 270 as it forces its way to windward when driven back by the south-westerly gale. When the cerastes bites, the disfiguring wound turns callous all around like a wart, and livid blisters like drops of rain move round about the bite, dimly discernible to the eye. True, the man in whom the deadly cerastes strikes his mischief-working fang goes through less acute pain, but nine suns of suffering does he behold. And in either groin and the hams the trouble festers persistent ever, while his skin has a livid appearance. 280 And from their suffering little strength is left in the joints of those afflicted, and with difficulty do they escape death.

Next I will tell you what marks the blood-letting snake, which always sleeps in rocky ascents, making a small, rough lair under a hedge. There it has its lurking-place when it has gorged its fill. It equals a footprint in length, but as to breadth it dwindles tapering from the fiery head down. At times it is of a sooty hue, or again a reddish brown. It narrows moderately at the neck, and its tail is sharply compressed 290 and stretches flattened from the middle onward. In its forehead beneath its snow-white horns are planted two eyes, of which the irises are somewhat like those of locusts, and on high rises terrible its devouring head. And with an oblique and halting movement it ever steers its little body on its brief journeys from the middle of the back like the cerastes, scraping its belly over the earth, and with its scaly body it makes a slight rustling as though crawling through a heap of straw. But when first it bites, a swelling of dark, unhealthy hue rises, and a sore pain freezes the heart, 300 and the stomach's content turned to water gushes out, while on the first night after, blood wells from the nostrils and throat and ears, freshly infected with the bile-like venom; urine escapes all bloody; wounds on the limbs break open, hastened by the destruction of the skin. May no female blood-letter ever inject its venom into you! For when it has bitten, all together the gums swell from the very bottom, and from the finger nails the blood drips unstaunchable, while the teeth, clammy with gore, become loose.

If the tale be true, Bane-Helen coming from Troy was angered with this species 310 when her company beached their vessel by the tumultuous Nile as they fled before the dread onset of the north wind, what time she beheld Canobus, the helmsman, swooning on the sands of Thonis; for as he slept a female blood-letter, on which he had pressed, struck him in the neck and belched forth its deadly poison into him, turning his rest to ruin. Therefore Helen crushed the middle of its trailing shape, breaking the ligatures of the back about the spine, so that the backbone started from its body. From that day forward the blood-letter and the crooked-roving cerastes alone of snakes move haltingly, oppressed by their injury.

320 You would do well to recognise the form of the sepedon, which in other respects resembles the blood-letter in appearance, but it steers a straightforward path; moreover it is almost without horns, and its colour, like that of a carpet, is spread over a rough surface. Its head is heavy, but its tail appears short as it moves, for it curls the end like the rest of its body. Truly the wound of the sepedon is deadly and agonising, and its black, destroying poison pervades the entire body: upon the parched skin everywhere the hair withers and is dispersed like the down of a thistle when it is rubbed. 330 For from the head and the brows of the man who has been bitten the hairs break off and from the eyelids the dark lashes perish, while round spots bespeckle his limbs and leprous eruptions swiftly spread a chalk-like rash.

Again, the form of the dipsas will always resemble that of a small viper; yet death will come quicker to those whom this grim snake assails. Its thin tail, darkish throughout, grows blacker from the end forward. From its bite the heart is inflamed utterly, and in the fever the dry lips shrivel with parching thirst. 340 Meanwhile the victim, bowed like a bull over a stream, absorbs with gaping mouth drink past measuring, until his belly bursts his navel, spilling the too heavy load. Now there is a tale of ancient days current among men how, when the first-born seed of Cronus became lord of heaven, he apportioned to his brothers severally their illustrious realms, and in his wisdom bestowed upon mortals youth, honouring them because they had denounced the fire-stealer. The fools, they got no good of their imprudence: for, being sluggards and growing weary, they entrusted the gift to an ass for carriage, 350 and the beast, his throat burning with thirst, ran off skittishly, and seeing in its hole the deadly, trailing brute, implored it with fawning speech to aid him in his sore plight. Whereat the snake asked of the foolish creature as a gift the load which he had taken on his back; and the ass refused not its request. Ever since then do trailing reptiles slough their skin in old age, but grievous eld attends mortals. The affliction of thirst did the deadly brute receive from the braying ass, and imparts it with its feeble blows.

Come now and learn that the forms of the chersydrus and of the asp are alike in appearance. 360 Signs of a malignant nature follow on his bite: all the skin upon the flesh, dry, loathsome, and bloated with putrid sores, breaks out from below, disclosing a clammy wound, while innumerable and fiery are the pangs which overcome the man, and sudden swellings are raised upon his limbs, plaguing him by turns now in this quarter now in that. This is the snake that first beneath some shallow mere wreaks his truceless malice upon the frogs; but when the Dog-Star dries up the water and drought is upon the floor of the lake, then upon dry land he becomes dust-like and shabby, 370 as he warms his grim body in the sunshine, and with hissing tongue he haunts the thirsting ruts along the highways.

After him you shall learn of the amphisbaena, less in bulk and slow of gait, two-headed, ever dull of eye. From either end a blunt chin protrudes, the one far from the other. Its body is earth-coloured and wears a skin ragged, speckled, and sheeny. This snake, when it comes to full growth, do wood-cutters, as though they had cut for a walking-stick a stem of twisted wild-olive, strip of its skin as soon as it appears, 380 before the note of the cuckoo in spring. The amphisbaena benefits those with afflicted skin when crippling chilblains break out upon the hands of men overcome with cold, also when the bonds of their sinews slacken and weary.

You shall learn too of the scytale, like in appearance to the amphisbaena, though thick, and bulkier down to its useless tail, for the skytale is of the thickness that men make the haft of a mattock, while the amphisbaena's bulk is that of a maw-worm or of such earth-worms as the earth breeds after a shower. Nor at spring's oncoming, after it has quitted gully and hollow cleft 390 in the season when earth brings reptiles to light, does it browse upon the waving shoots on the fennel's branch, when it clothes its limbs with their new skin beneath the sun; rather does it retire to hedges and glades and lurk deep in slumber and feed upon what the earth may chance to yield, nor does it stave off its thirst for all its desire.

Consider too the king of snakes {basilisk}, small indeed yet far excelling all others: his head is pointed; he is golden-hued and three palms' width in outstretched length. Truly none of the heavy-coiled monsters of earth 400 abide his hissing when to feeding-ground or forest or in craving for a watering-place they dart forth at noontide, but they turn and flee. His bite swells a man's body, and from the limbs the flesh falls away livid and blackening. Nor even will a bird pursuing its track above the corpse, be it eagle or vulture or raven that croaks of rain, nor yet any species of wild beast that pastures upon the hills, feed upon it; such the terrible stench that it sends forth. Yet if so be that fatal greed draws one of them near in ignorance, 410 death and a swift ending are wrought for it on the spot.

Learn now the doom inflicted by the dryinas, which others call chelydrus. It makes its home in oaks or maybe Valonia oaks and dwells in mountain glens. For after it has deserted the water-weeds, the marsh, and the congenial lake, and is hunting molurides and small frogs in the meadows, it is sent speeding in expectation of the gadfly's distasteful onslaught; whereat slipping swiftly into the stem of some hollow oak it coils itself and builds its lair in the depths of the wood. 420 Its back is of a smoky hue, but in the flatness of its head it resembles the hydrus, and from its skin exhales a hateful air, as when about the damp horse-skins and hides the scraps of leather ooze beneath the paring of the tanner's knives. And truly, when it strikes the hollows of the knee or on the sole of the foot, a stifling smell is diffused from the flesh; also there rises up a dark swelling about the victim's wound; moreover he is distraught, hateful distress shackles his mind, and his body is parched with suffering. His skin hangs loose about him, so consuming is the fierce poison 430 which feeds ever upon him. and an encircling mist, veiling his eyes, overcomes him in his sore affliction. Some men scream and choke, and their urine is stopped; or again they fall asleep and snore, oppressed with frequent retchings, or from their throat discharging a bilious or sometimes a bloody vomit; and last of all a dreadful plague of thirst sheds a trembling upon their limbs.

Learn and consider the green and dark-blue dragon, which once on a time the god of healing fostered in a leafy oak upon snow-capped Pelion 440 in the vale of Pelethronius. Radiant indeed does he appear, but in his jaw above and below are arrayed three rows of teeth; gleaming eye are beneath his brows, and lower down beneath his chin there is ever a beard of yellow stain. Yet when he fastens on a man he does not hurt as other snakes, even though his rage be violent, for the wound upon the skin of one whose blood is drawn by his slender fang seems slight as that of a meal-nibbling mouse. From his earliest days the king of birds, the eagle, grows up cherishing fierce wrath against him, and against him with his beak 450 he wages a war of hate whenever he espies him moving through the forest, for every nest he lays desolate, devouring alike the young and the cherished eggs of birds. Nevertheless when the eagle has just snatched in his talons a lamb or a swift hare, the dragon will easily rob him, springing up from a thicket. The eagle avoids him: and then there is a battle for the feast. But as the eagle hovers round, the writhing snake is after him without cease, watching him with sidelong glance and grim eyes.

Should you chance to walk in some valley of limping Hephaestus's isle {Lemnos} or go to storm-beaten Samothrace - these lie far off in the Thracian Gulf, 460 where are Hebrus, the river of Hera of Rhescynthium, and the snow-crested mountains of   Zone and the oaks of Oeagrus's son, where too is the cave of Zerynthus - you will find the long monster cenchrines, which men call the spangled lion, dappled with scales. His bulk and his length vary, but in a twinkling he sends upon the flesh a shower of putrid sores which will not heal, and these with their consuming poison feed upon the limbs; and ever deep in the belly the dropsy with its load of pain settles about the mid-navel. At the hour when the sun's rays are at their hottest 470 this snake eagerly resorts to rugged mountains, athirst for blood and on the watch for the gentle sheep, while beneath the tall pines of Saüs or Mosychlus the shepherds cool themselves, forsaking the tasks of herdsmen. Do you not dare, bold though you be, to face him in his fury, for fear he wind about and strangle you as he lashes your body all around with his tail, and gorge your blood after he has broken both your collar-bones. But in fleeing weave ever a crooked, manifold track, and baulk the beast's course by starting aside. 480 For by the many turnings and twistings of the spine he injures its ligaments; whereas he moves rapidly and at his swiftest when his path is straight. Such is the serpent which haunts the isles of Thrace.

There too are the bites of the gecko, hateful, though he is of no account. Of him the tale is current how the Sorrowing Demeter did him injury when she marred the limbs of him as a boy by the well Callichorum, after wise Metaneira of old had received the goddess in the dwelling of Celeus.

Harmless reptiles also there are however which feed in the forest, the brakes and thickets and gullies in the country; 490 and men call these Elopes, Libyans, and curling Mouse-hunters; and with them all the Darters and Moluri and Blind-eyes too which are reported innocuous.

Now all the simples and remedies for these ills, the herbs and the time to cut their roots, I will expound to mankind thoroughly and in straightforward fashion,- herbs by whose aid a man may heal the urgent pain of sickness. While the wound is still bleeding and painful, pluck your herbs freshly (this excels all other remedies) from some place where snakes feed in the thick wood. 500 Choose first the medicinal root of Chiron {centaury}; it bears the name of the Centaur son of Cronus, and Chiron once on a snow-covered col of Pelion found and took notice of it. Its waving leaves, like sweet marjoram, encompass it about, and its blossoms are golden to view; its root, at the surface and not deep-set, is native in the dell of Pelethronius. This when dry or while still green, after crushing in a mortar, mingle in a cotyle of pleasant wine, and drink. It is of service in every case; therefore men call it Panacea {"all-healing"}.

Assuredly let birth-wort which grows in the shade be commended; 510 the leaves it bears are like those of the woodbine with its ivy-shaped leaves, but its flowers are red with scarlet, while the odour diffused from it is heavy, and the fruit in the midst you will see to be like the wild pear upon the cordate pear-tree or the common pear. The root of the female shrub is rounded into a lump, but that of the male is lengthy and extends down as much as a cubit, and in colour it resembles the boxwood of Oricus. This you will search after as a surpassing aid against the dread blow of male and female viper. From it let a portion of a drachma's weight be mixed in a draught of tawny wine.

520 Furthermore take to yourself the treacle-clover as a protection against snakes, be it on some stony hill or in some steep glen (some call it Brief-flower, others would call it Trefoil) ; its leaves are like the melilot, but its scent is like rue. When however it sheds all its blossoms and its mottled leaves, it exhales a smell of bitumen. Then cut off enough seeds to fill the sauce-boat on your table, pound them in a mortar, and take to  drink as a remedy against snakes.  

Attend now and I will rehearse some compound remedies against disease. Grind down and take the strength-giving  Sicilian root of fustic; 530 add a heap of the seed of the brightflowered agnus castus, savin, and the luxuriant rue, and pluck a shoot of the earth-pillowed savory, which in the forest spreads abroad fronds like those of the tufted thyme. Again take the root of the  double-flowered asphodel, or else the upper portion of its stem; often with them too the seed which the enclosing pod ripens; or else helxine, which men call Clybatis and which delights in streams and flourishes ever in water-meadows. Drink them after crumbling them into a cotyle of vinegar or of wine which you have drawn. 540 Even with water you might easily escape death.

Consider now the excellent root of Alcibius's bugloss: its prickly leaves grow ever thick upon it, and it puts out a coronal of flowers like violets, but beneath them in the soil the root grows deep and slender. Alcibius a male viper wounded above the lowest part of his groin as he lay asleep upon a mound of uncleansed grain by the margin of a piled threshing-floor, straightway rousing him by the violence of the pain. Whereat he pulled the root from the ground and first broke it small with his close-set teeth as he sucked it, and then spread the skin upon his wound.

550 Again, if you pluck off the shoots of the sprouting horehound and drink them with bright wine you may ward of snakes : this is the plant which draws down the udder of a young cow which mothers not her first-born calf, and anon, swollen with milk, she cares for it. Herdsmen call it Meliphyllon {"honey-leaf"}, others Melictaena, for all about its leaves the bees lured by the fragrance of honey buzz busily.

Or else you should peel off the thin membranes of the brain of a domestic fowl, or pare fine some field basil and marjoram, or cut from a boar's liver 560 the tip of the lobe which grows  from the 'table' and inclines towards the gall-bladder and the portal fissure. These then you should drink, mixed together or separate, with a draught of vinegar or wine, though a fuller cure will attend wine. And snip the foliage from the evergreen cypress for a potion, or all-heal, or the testicle which is fatal to the beaver, or that of the river-horse which the Nile beyond Sais with its black soil nurtures, and launches, a ruinous sickle indeed, upon the plough-lands. (For the beast, emerging from the muddy ooze of the river when the pastures grow green and the fallow has put forth grass, 570 tramples and leaves behind a deep track as long as that which it devours with its jaws as it cuts its returning swathe.) From it cut off a drachma's weight to match, and soak in water, shredding all together in a vessel.

And do not forget the wormwood or the berries of the slenderer bay; very serviceable too would sweet marjoram be, which flourishes in garden-plots and borders. And include curd from a nimble leveret or from a fawn of roe or red deer after separating the impurities, or the seminal purse which you have cut from a stag, or his paunch, which some indeed call the 'urchin' but others the 'intestinal snood'. 580 Take of them portions of two drachmas' weight and throw them into four cyathi of old wine and mix well. And do not overlook the succour afforded by the hulwort and the cedar-tree, the juniper berry and the catkins of the plane that invites to sleep in summer, and the seeds of the bishop's weed and the cypress of Ida; for all these will heal you and will banish untold suffering.

Next consider another means of escape and protection from death, and take helxine and grind it in a round mortar 590 and pour in a cotyle of barley gruel, adding two cyathi of wine of ancient vintage, adding also an equal portion of gleaming olive oil; mix them by pounding and you will keep at bay the poison that bites like gall.

Take also to the sixth of a cotyle fragrant pitch and cut out the central pith from the green giant fennel; or grate the full-grown root of horse-fennel into juniper berries, also the seeds of the marsh-bred celery. The full depth of an alexanders 600 and two drachmas' weight of pungent myrrh: cut too the fruit of cummin that grows in summer and weigh them, or pour in at random and shake up unweighed. Then draw thrice a cyathus of wine and mix with them before drinking. Take to yourself a drachma's weight of fruitful spikenard and with it crumble into fresh-drawn milk an eight-footed crab ravished from the river ; some iris too which Drilon has fostered and the banks of Naron, the abode of Sidonian Cadmus and Harmonia, where as two fearsome snakes they move about the pastures.  610 Take next the thick-growing heath when in flower, round which the thronging bees crawl and feed; take too a young frond of the tamarisk that bears no fruit, an honoured prophet among mortals, which Apollo of Corope endued with prophetic properties and authority over men; with these green marjoram leaves and blossom in plenty, and tree-medick and the milky spurge. Bray all these in a mortar, and in the containing vessels medicate wine with them and take in one-tenth of a chous620 But of a truth the tadpoles' all too noisy parents, frogs, are excellent when boiled with vinegar in a pot; often the liver of the biting snake itself if drunk in common wine, or the poisonous head administered sometimes in water, at other times in a small quantity of wine, will help you.

You must not neglect the blossom of the sweet blue pimpernel with its closed eye, nor the all-healing marjoram, which men honour as Heracles's Organy; and with the Marjoram you should rub small a leaf of pot marjoram, and dry pellets of the savory that muzzle evil disease.  

630 Be sure and take the well-watered rhamnus, like to the little Wild Lettuce; it ever clothes itself in blossom of white. The name whereby men call it is Good Companion, the men who dwell about the tomb of Tmolus and of Gyges on the steep of Parthenius, where horses that toil not pasture upon Cilbis, and where the Caÿster rises.

Attend now and I will tell you of roots that are a help against Serpents. First, learn the two kinds of viper's bugloss : of one the prickly leaf is somewhat like alkanet, since it is small, and the root which it extends is short and on the ground.  640 The other kind has robust leaves and stalks, is tall, grows purple with small blossoms all over, and puts out a head like that of a viper but rough on top. Of these two kinds cut off an equal portion and use as a remedy after shredding them on a block of wood or in a mortar or a hollow stone. Also you should make a paste of the roots of the eryngo and the flowering bearsfoot, and to these two add an equal weight of the campanula that flourishes about the hedgerows. Take too the heavy foliage of the field-basil upon the mountain and seed of the evergreen celery from Nemea;  650 with them let the double burden of anise raise the scale that sinks with the weight of roots. These should you knead, and having mixed them in a single vessel you may cure  one time the deadly bane of Male Vipers, at another the scorpion's wound, at another the bite of the poisonous spider, if you will crumble three obols' weight in wine.

Consider too the white pine-thistle and the dark kind also. The two are distinct: the dusky is like golden thistle in appearance; it puts forth a circle of leaves, its root is strong and dark, and it grows beneath shady mountain spurs  660 or in glades, shunning the sun. But the other you will find ever in the pride of its leaves, while the head lies low and bloated in the middle of them, and its root is whitish and honey-sweet to the taste. Reject the dark root of these plants, but of other stir a piece of a drachma's weight in river water and drink.

Take herbage of another kind that also bears the name of Alcibius, fill your hand full, and drink in a little wine. it was that when hunting beneath Phalacra's cliff, on Crymna's plain and about Grasus, and where lie the meadows of the horse, 670 as he hallooed to his Amyclaean whelps, he discovered through the anguished whimpering of his lion-hearted hound; for as it followed up a goat's trail along some woodland path it had received the female viper's stab in the watering corner of its eye. And with a howl it flung her off and readily ate the leaves of this herb and escaped deadly destruction.

Administer plenty of the sappy, oily bark of the castor oil tree, together with the leaves of the thick balm, or else the plant whose name is that of the sun's turnings, and which, like the glaucous leaves of the olive, 680 marks the path of the retreating scion of Hyperion. Take likewise the root of the navelwort, which in frosty weather draws out the painful chilblains on the feet of those with broken skin. Sometimes you may take the green leaves of the tall bindweed, or of hart's tongue, shearing off the stalk. Take too the Phlegyan all-heal, even that which the God of Healing was the first to pluck by the brim of the river Melas, when ministering to the wound of Iphicles Amphitryon's son, what time with Heracles he was burning the evil Hydra.

Now lay sudden hold on the marten's young or their mischievous mother, 690 and strip their fur over the flame of a fiercely blazing fire, and after rejecting all the inwards and the stomach's excrements, dress with holy salt, and then dry away from the light of the sun, so that its swift shafts do not shrivel the fresh carcase. But, when necessity comes upon you in anguish, rub the desiccated beast thoroughly with a rasp as though it were frail silphium or a round cake of dried milk, grating it into wine. That will be a most excellent protection, for you will stave off death in all forms alike.

700 Learn also that the powerful aid of the sea-turtle is a defence against the bite of all the long, crawling creatures that injure distressful mortals; and may you find it a strong protection. Thus, when fishermen draw the murderous Turtle up out of the sea on to the dry beach, do you, having turned it on its back, strike the life from its head with a bronze knife and let the coarse blood pour forth into an earthen jar newly baked in the furnace; but draw of the livid, thin serum with a well-made colander and on this dry and break up the dots of blood, 710 taking for your mixture four drachmas by weight. And add two drachmas of wild cummin, and to each two drachmas a quarter by weight of the curd in a Hare's stomach. From this cut off one drachma and drink in wine.

Against Snakes these remedies, you will find, will protect you.

Consider now the operations of the dangerous spider and the symptoms that attend its bite. The one which is the colour of pitchy smoke is named the grape ; it moves its feet in succession, and in the centre of its stomach it has hard and deadly teeth. But even when it has fastened on a man, his skin nevertheless remains as though unwounded; 720 yet the eyes above turn reddish and a shivering settles on his limbs, and straightway his skin and his genitals below grow taut, and his member projects, dripping with foul ooze, and at the same time numbness descending upon him overcomes his hips and the support of his knees.

Learn of one different from these - the starlet, on whose back striped bands gleam radiant on the skin. When it has bitten, a shivering comes unexpectedly upon the victim, a torpor is in his head and breaks the bonds of his knees beneath him.

Another kind is the blue spider : it darts about off the ground and is covered with hair. 730 Even on his flesh the victim of this spider carries a terrible wound: his heart is heavy within him and night is about his temples, while from his throat he discharges a deadly vomit like a spider's web; and he thinks that death is near to him.

Yet another is the huntsman, and he is like the Wolf-Spider in form, the destroyer of blue-bottles; he lies in wait for bees, gall-insects, gadflies, and whatsoever comes into his toils. But the bite he inflicts upon man is painless and without consequence.

But another kind is an aggressive foe, the one men call the wasp-spider, reddish and like the ravenous Wasp, 740 which resembles the horse in its high spirit, for horses are the origin of wasps and bulls of bees [which are engendered in their rotting carcases]. When this creature has inflicted a wound, sever swelling ensues and various forms of sickness, and in some cases  a quivering, in others powerlessness in the knees; and the wasting man is overcome by an evil sleep that brings the final alleviation.

The antlet - now mark - which in truth resembles the ant, has a fiery neck, though its body is dust-coloured; its broad and spangled back is all speckled, 750 and its dusky head is raised but little on its neck, yet it inflicts as much pain as the spiders aforenamed.

Where men go plucking with their hands, not using sickles, gathering pulse and other legumes amid the fields while still green, there in swarms, wrapped in fiery colour and like to blister-beetles, dart small spiders. But for all their size around the troublesome bite of one blisters always rise, and the mind wanders and is crazed; the tongue shrieks disordered words and the eyes squint.

Consider now monsters which the grim land of Egypt fosters, 760 like the moth which the evening meal-time brings in to flutter round the lamps. All the wings are dense and are covered with down, even as a man appears who may chance to touch dust or ashes. Such in appearance, it is reared among the leaves of Perseus's tree {Persea}. Its terrible head nods ever in grim fashion and is hard, and its belly is heavy ; its sting it plants in the top of a man's neck or on his head, and it may easily and on the spot bring the doom of death.

Come now, and I will speak of the scorpion, armed with an agonising sting, 770 and of its disgusting brood. The white kind is harmless and does no hurt. But the red inflicts a swift and burning fever on men's mouths, and the victims struggle convulsively beneath the wound as though caught by fire, and there rises a mighty thirst. The black kind on the other hand, when it has struck, causes a fearful agitation in a man: victims go out of their wits and laugh without reason. But another kind is greenish, and when it strikes a limb it inflicts shivering fits, and after them a horrid eruption appears, even though the Dog Star burn scorching hot. 780 Such in effect is the sharp edge of its sting, and behind such a sting nine-jointed vertebrae extend above its head. Another is livid; it carries beneath it a broad and hungry belly, for in truth it is ever an insatiable eater of grass and of earth; and it deals a stroke incurable upon the groin, so ravenous the hunger in its hard jaws. But another kind you will find like the crab on the sea-shore, which feeds in the delicate seaweed and the noisy surf. Others again, like the bandy-legged common crab to look at, are heavy-limbed and their weighty claws are hard, 790 and serrated as in the rock-haunting crabs. It is from them that they have their allotted being, whenever they quit the rocks and the delicate wrack of the pebble-strewn sea. The fishermen with their baits draw them from the salt water; but directly they are caught they slip into mouse-holes, and there the scorpions, the deadly offspring of these dead crabs, are born, to work ruin from wall and fence. Learn too of the honey-coloured scorpion: its end joint is black at the tip, and it dispenses doom unassuageable and most deadly. But the worst enemy of man is the one whose crooked legs are like fire: 800 to children it instantly brings death. Upon its back white wings unfold themselves like those of the corn-devouring locusts, which flitting over the tops of the corn feed on husked grain, and haunt Pedasa and the vales of Cissus.

I can tell you however of remedies against the scorpion's strokes, just as for those of the buzzer from the hills, or of the bee, whose death follows from its very sting when it has stabbed a man as he labours around the hive or in the fields; as it implants its sting, it leaves it in the wound, 810 and to the Bee the sting is both life and death. Yes, and I know too the devices of the woodlouse, and of the deadly wasp, and of the tiny tree-wasp, and of the two-headed centipede, which from both ends can bestow death upon a man, and as the creature moves there speed beneath it as it were the winged oars of a ship; also of the blind and fearsome shrew-mouse, which brings destruction upon men and meets its death in the wheel-tracks of carts. You should certainly avoid the seps, which resembles the squat lizards; and that treacherous and ever detestable beast the salamander, which makes its way through unquenchable fire [unharmed] and without pain; 820 nor does the unquenchable flame injure its tattered skin or its extremities. Furthermore I have knowledge of all the creatures that the sea whirls amid its briny surges, and the horror of the murry, since many a time has it sprung up from the fish-box and striking them with panic has hurled toiling fishermen from their boat to seek refuge in the sea . . . if it be true that this creature couples with deadly-biting vipers on the land, forsaking its salt pasturage. Again, from the death-dealing sting-ray and the ravening sea-snake I can protect you. The sting-ray causes trouble when it strikes with its sting 830 the toiler labouring at his hauled drag-nets; or if the sting is fixed in the trunk of some tree which is flourishing in pride, then, as though the tree were stricken by the fierce beams of the sun, its roots and with them its leafage wither; on a man his flesh rots and wastes away. Indeed the story tells how Odysseus of yore perished from the baneful sting of this monster from the sea.

Now will I rehearse the several remedies for these afflictions. You should take at one time the leaves, like wild-lettuce, of alkanet, at another potentilla, or the crimson flowers of the bramble; bearwort, sorrel, 840 and the long-stemmed viper's herb, cicamum, the luxuriant hartwort, and you may well include ground-pine and thick bark which you have broken off from the oak tree; with them too hedge-parsley, and seeds gathered from the carrot, and the fresh and variegated berries from the terebinth. Moreover you should store up the purple orchella-weed from the sea, and the unspotted maiden-hair, on whose leaves the fine moisture falling from the bursting rainstorm does not settle. Note too, you should cut the everblooming cretan alexanders or the tufted root of the dead-nettle and of the eryngo, 850 together with the fruit-bearing rosemary frankincense. Let there be present also cleavers and helxine and the heavy-headed poppy, capsuled or horned, to protect you. Cut off also a budding shoot of the fig-tree or the actual fruit of the wild fig which appears orbed and  swelling before other fruit. Take too the fiery thorn and the blossoms of the bright mullein, and with them leaves of havergrass, and celandine, wild carrot, and the root of bryony, which wipes away freckles and the rash abhorrent to women's skin. 860 Powder also the leaves of vervain, or pluck the twigs of a the protective rhamnus, for by itself it is efficacious to ward off death from a man. Again, gather freshly plucked branches of feverfew, blue pimpernel, or hart's tongue, or take a portion of Lemnian ruddle, which is soothing in all afflictions. Sometimes too you may cut the bitter root of the squirting cucumber; to a stomach even sore oppressed with anguish also fruit of the prickly paliurus affords relief; so too its spiky leaves, and the young fruits of the pomegranate 870 with scarlet on its neck-like, closing sepals where it reddens about the slender flowers; at another time hyssop and the many-branched rest-harrow and the leaves of love-in-absence and the fresh tendril on the grape cluster, cloves of garlic, and the seed of the mountain-born coriander, or even the downy leaves of the delicate fleabane. Often too you may cut of some fresh pepper or Persian garden-cress and administer it in a drink; and the flowering pennyroyal and deadly nightshade and mustard too may save one in evil plight. Take also the green leak from the garden-plot, or else the hurtful seed of the nettle itself 880 with which boys play tricks. With these too perhaps the snow-white head of a squill and the dried coats of purse-tassels and the stalk of the dragon's namesake {dracunculus}, and the shoots of the shrubby rhamnus, and what the wildwood pines in the valleys nourish at the heart of their cones. Look you, you should lop the green root of the feeble herb scorpius that men liken to the poisonous sting of the beast, or waterlilies from Psamathe, and those which Traphea and Copae foster by the waters of their lake, wherein discharge the streams of Schoeneus and Cnopus, 890 and the pistachio nuts which look like almonds upon the boughs by the Indian flood of the roaring Choaspes. Collect hedge-parsley and the red-brown, astringent myrtle berries and slips of sage and of the  flourishing fennel; collect also hedge-mustard and the seeds of the wild chick-pea, including with its green shoots the heavy-smelling leaves. Again, water-cress alleviates sickness; so too a fresh garland of melilot; also the white blossoms of the spongy dropwort which shepherds pound in a mortar, and those seeds which the corn-cockle and the red plantain and the rose foster within them, 900 and the tiny seed of the gilliflower. Or cut some knot-grass from the tangled watermeadows, depilatory, and the seed of the mournful hyacinth, over whom Phoebus wept, since without willing it, hard by the river of Amyclae he slew with a blow the boy Hyacinthus in the bloom of youth ; for the iron mass rebounding from a rock smote upon his temple and crushed the sheath beneath it. Mix too some trefoil and gum of silphium equal in scale to the weight of three obols; or else pluck the horn-shaped tufted thyme, often too samphire or lavendar-cotton, 910 and along with them grate into some drink anise and libyan roots. Having shredded them into a bowl, sometimes together sometimes separately, drink them mixed with vinegar or else with wine or water; these help too when shredded into milk.

If however some bite should call for haste as you are on your journey and among waterless glades, the moment you are overcome chew with your jaws some roots or leaves or seeds growing by the way, and sucking out the sap, lay the half-eaten remains of the food upon the wounds 920 in order that you may avoid suffering and imminent death.

Again, by applying to some deadly wound a brazen cupping vessel you will drain the poison and the blood together; or by pouring on the milky juice of the fig, or by using an iron heated in the heart of a hot furnace. Sometimes the skin of a grazing goat filled with wine will be of service at a time when the wound is in ankle or hand. You will fix the sufferer in the wineskin to the mid forearm or ankle and wind the fastening cord about the groin or armpit until the strength of the wine has drawn out the pain from the flesh. 930 At times moreover let leeches feed on wounds and drink their fill. Or drip onion juice, or else pour lees of wine or of vinegar, upon sheep's droppings, make a paste, and plaster the wound with the fresh dung.

But that you may with instruction compound a general panacea,-  it will be very serviceable after you have mixed all the simples together - let there be birthwort, root of iris and of spikenard, of all-heal too with dried pellitory, of all-curing wild carrot, and of black bryony, 940 and with them the spongy roots of a freshly dug peony, sprigs of the black hellebore, and mingled with them native sodium carbonate. Pour in too cummin and a sprig of fleabane mixed with the husks of stavesacre; and grate down an equal quantity of the bay's berries and tree-medick and the lowly horse-moss, and gather in some cyclamen. Cast in also the juice of the gleaming poppy, and over all the seeds of the agnus castus, balsam too and some cassia, and with them cow-parsnip and a bowlful of salt, mingling them with curd and a crab; but the former should come from a hare, 950 the latter should be a dweller in pebbly streams. Now all these you should throw into the belly of a capacious mortar, kneading them with the blows of stone pestles. And on the dry ingredients pour at once the juice of cleavers and mix well together; then prepare round cakes of a drachma each, limiting the weight precisely with a balance; then shake them up in two cotylae of wine and drink.

So now you will treasure ever the memory of the Homeric Nicander, whom the snow-white town of Clarus nurtured.


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