How to Mellify a Corpse: And Other Human Stories of Ancient Science and Superstition

Vicki León, Walker, $17 paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1702-3
In this delightful follow-up to IX to V, her entertaining look at work in the ancient world, León explores the tangled webs of science and superstition in Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and other ancient societies. With her characteristic deadpan humor, verve, and wit, she brings to life the practices of ordinary folks as they sought practical ways to avoid the evil eye, battle stronger enemies, and understand strange and marvelous astronomical events. Copulating during a strong north wind and ingesting magical potions were believed to guarantee a male child. Greeks and Romans placed gouty limbs on electric eels in order to ease their pain. Scythian warriors dipped their arrows in snake venom, human blood, and feces to ensure their targets would die a slow and gruesome death. Many ancient cultures touted the antiseptic properties of honey, using honey-soaked bandages to bind wounds. Many Greeks attributed the visions of soothsayers and diviners to "mad honey" made from the nectar of laurel and oleander plants. León’s rollicking tour helps us see that the daily lives and worries of the ancients were not far removed from our own. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/10/2010
Release date: 07/01/2010
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