Episode 112 - Yeast and Ship-Slime, PI (Medicine Week)
Welcome to Bill and The Patronizer to the Order of the Bathroom. Welcome back Brennan too.
Topper's Unpleasantries recommended patois.
I’ve gone Ancient Egyptian this week, which I’m very happy with because I don’t feel like I’ve chosen to discuss anything really old for quite a while; I’ve been a bit stuck in the Victorian period.
A quick honorary mention from Ancient Egypt; Iri Keeper of the Royal Rectum. I won’t say any more about that.
I also got a bit stuck trying to research dreckapothecary, which is the use of shit in medicine to drive off demons, presumably because they are so disgusted that you’d ingest that stuff that they decide to piss off to someone who prefers eating haribo, crisps and haggis, also known as a Scottish Undergraduate. As a topic, it was so niche that there were only a few secondary sources and I was unable to find English translations of any of the primary sources referenced. Damn it. However, what I did eventually find is outstanding. One of the best primary sources and modern commentaries I have ever found. I’m talking about the Ebers Papyrus and a wonderfully amusing translation and commentary from 1930 by Cyril P. Brian. It’s been written in a slightly confusing way; Bryan skips from his commentary to the translation of the document rather erratically instead of just introducing the document and then letting it speak for itself, but as you will find out, I’m delighted he did things in his own unique way.
The Ebers Papyrus is one of Ancient Egpyt’s most detailed documents on medical matters. It dates from around 1500BC but some of the content is probably thousands of years older than this; Ancient Egypt being well-old. The Early Dynastic Period, which is a useful starting point for Ancient Egyptian history, began in 3100BC. Cyril Brian actually claims that this is the oldest book ever written. He notes that there were older papyri in 1930, but only odd scraps, nothing that was one whole document. When Brian was translating this document, academic understanding of Ancient Egyptian medicine, horticulture, biology etc. was very limited, so much of the document was intelligible. For example, there are references in the document to plants or herbs but academics didn’t have accurate translations of these words. As you’ll soon find out, some of these ingredients in the 700 or so potions are bonkers. Regardless, this translation of a German translation of the original document was the best anyone had attempted at the time. I think that the most recent translation is from the late 80s.
There’s quite a cool story about how this papyrus came to be found: a German Egyptologist called Georg Ebers was excavating in Thebes when a wealthy Egyptian approached him. This Egyptian opened his trench coat to revel numerous worthless artefacts that Ebers had no interest in (Osiris in a snow dome, I HEART Luxor shirts etc). However, the Egyptian’s constant winking, nodding and utterances of ‘you know what I’m saying mate,’ led Ebers to realise what this Egyptian was really wanting to show him something else. So Ebers responded with a wink, a nod and a (GERMAN ACCENT) ‘I know what you are saying mine kumpel. If you have anything worth more, nod, wink, I am willing to pay handsomely for it.’
The next day the Egyptian returned with what later became known as the Eber Papyri. It took Eber’s breath away. It was formed into a roll, a foot in width and sixty-eight feet in length. But the Egyptian wasn’t selling it cheap. Luckily, a wealthy German turned up a little later and agreed to pay for it. Eber then returned to Germany and translated the document over the course of a few years. It turns out the document was discovered around 14 years earlier in a tomb near Thebes between the legs of a mummy. However, the man who found it rather discourteously died shortly after so the full provenance of the document is lost to history in the deepest recesses of a mummy’s crotch.
The document was written in Hieratic, which is a cursive form of hieroglyphics. Basically hieroglyphics are great for big buildings and monuments, but naff for shopping lists and scolls. So Hieratic evolved. It was deciphered after the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 and deciphered in 1822; not directly though, the Rosetta Stone contains script in Greek, hieroglyphics and Demotic, but not Hieratic.
Let’s start as Brian does, with being bunged up:
“A GLANCE at the Papyrus Ebers dispels once for all any idea that Constipation is a scourge of the modern world brought about by modern conditions of living and eating. For page after page from the very beginning of the Papyrus the Scribe sets down purgative after purgative, all remedies designed to cure constipation or as he more crudely puts it 'to drive out the excrement in the body of a person.’”
Here’s an example:
Mix into one and let the Person drink.
Another has a list of ridiculous ingredients and has the following instructions: “Keep moist and take for four days.” A few things to note here; quite why it is four days and not three, or even five, is boggling. The word ‘arbitrary’ spring to mind. It is also not clear whether it is the potion that needs to keep moist or the patient.
Now from constipation to diarrhoea:
Oil and Honey
Cook and take for four days.
The wax would probably do it. I’m not sure the green onions would though. Here’s another with a quite wonderful comment at the end by Brian:
Bread - dough
pit - corn
Fresh Lead - earth
SING: O , HETU!
Again: O , HETU!
Which in the circumstances appears to be a very appropriate word to chant. (From what I could make out, Hetu was a god. So it’s like shouting oh god!)
Here’s another wonderful commentary from Brian after a few simple recipes for indigestion.
“Thereafter the Scribe panics. Having tried Onions and Dates separately he next prescribes them together, cooked in Milk. If this failed, as indeed it may have done, one could essay a sort of sundae prepared by crushing Wonderfruit in cooked Cow's Milk, and adding Cream to it. The dyspeptic with perverted cravings was not overlooked; he was catered for with a sundae prepared by crushing Wild Lettuce in a sauce composed of Oil, Beer and Sour Milk, cooked together in a basin. While much ink has been used up throughout the ages in setting down remedies upon remedies for Indigestion, it was only in Ancient Egypt that the ink - bottle itself was spilt into the remedy:”
Brian continues to detail remedies for indigestion and then tapeworm and ringworm. One of which involved cat shit, another involved cow bile amongst other ridiculous ingredients. Once again I had over to Brian:
“That some of the patients after a course of treatment on the lines indicated in the foregoing (and succeeding) pages should complain of anal discomfiture is not a thing for wonder. Consequently it occasions no surprise to find a large section devoted to relieving this sequela.”
REMEDY TO COOL THE ANUS
Strain and take for four days.
ANOTHER TO REDUCE THE SMARTING IN THE ANUS
Roll into a Pill and put in the Anus.
ANOTHER TO COOL AFTER THE OTHER MEDICINES
Strain and pour on the anus for a day.
ANOTHER REMEDY AGAINST SORES IN THE ANUS
Clap on the anus.
“For the most part his Headache remedies are repulsive messes, their sole redeeming feature in our eyes being that they were not to be taken internally but rubbed in externally:”
Inner - of - Onions
Fruit - of - the - am - tree
setseft - seeds
Bone - of - the - Sword - fish, cooked
Redfish , cooked
Skull - of - the - Crayfish, cooked
abra - ointment
Smear the Head therewith for four days.
Here are a selection of other silly medicines:
For a splinter, apply male and female semen.
If you need your urine regulated:
Crocus - from - the - South
Put in Oil and anoint the Phallus therewith.
“To regulate menstruation the patient was douched with a mixture of Garlic and Wine. If this failed, a douche composed of Fennel, Wonderfruit, Honey and Sweet Beer was substituted and persisted in for four days.”
REMEDY TO ALLOW THE WOMB OF A WOMAN TO SLIP INTO ITS PLACE
The-Film-of-Dampness-which-is-found-on–theWood-of-Ships (mould) Rubin Yeast-of-Fermented-Beer and let her drink it.
Dried Human excrement Put in Incense; the woman bends herself over the same and lets the fumes thereof penetrate into her sex-organs.
Here’s another great commentary from Brian. Note: scruff is dried skin like dandruff.
“If the scurf was complicated by ‘ Hardenings in all the Limbs of a Person,' heroic measures in the shape of a poultice composed of Pieces-of-excrement, Cat's dung, Dog's dung, and Berries-of-the-Xet –plant were taken. “IT DRIVES OUT ALL THE SCURF,' the Scribe added reassuringly. One devoutly hopes so.”
Here’s another great commentary on a remedy for a sore eye:
Mix in Water and apply around the Patient's eyes so that he recovers quickly.
“The remedy does not sound very convincing but it has the merit of being clean and as such is infinitely to be preferred to the ‘ remedy ' employed by a recent patient of the writer who for the three weeks preceding had been vigorously (and to his surprise unavailingly) bathing his bleary eyes, night and morning, with his own urine!”
More funny commentary:
“Finally—with a thoroughness that does them credit—we find the cosmetic preparations supple mented by a remedy for Sweaty Feet:
REMEDY TO DRIVE AWAY SWEATY FEET IN A PERSON
uadu - plant - of - the - Fields
Eel - from - the - Canal
Warm in Oil and smear both feet therewith.”
Here’s my final quote from Brian:
REMEDY TO STOP THE CRYING OF A CHILD
Pods - of - the - Poppy - plant ( Opium )
Fly - dirt - which - is - on - the - Wall
Make into one , strain , and take for four days . IT ACTS AT ONCE !
This is startling ! No other word can convey the amazement with which one finds that the means employed to quell the squalling infant five thousand years ago are identically the same as many a modern mother employs today. Let us compare them:
REMEDY TO STOP THE CRYING OF A CHILD (New Style)
Mix in the Child's mouth.
IT ACTS AT ONCE!
Only slightly less startling is another recipe from out that far-distant past:
TO KEEP MICE AWAY FROM CLOTHES
Smear on everything possible.
Nowadays our expansive wardrobes, not to mention other prejudices, prohibit this method, but it is still the cat which we employ to keep the mice away.