Everybody knows that the ancient Greek word pharmakon means both healing drug and poison. So how could you tell the (rather important!) difference? In Latin, the equivalent term venenum was similarly used in both senses, and Roman law codes tried to tie down that ambiguity by making it clear whether a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’… Continue reading Poisons and love potions
“Do you want to know a secret?” Knowledge is power, but who knew what about women's bodies in the ancient world?
This is a story of illness and magic from the fourth century CE. Even though Constantine had converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, paganism didn’t just lie down and die. One of the most famous pagan intellectuals was Libanius, a distinguished orator who taught rhetoric to famous Christian figures such as Basil the Great and… Continue reading The Chameleon in the Classroom
What’s your favorite plot line? One of my friends is a genius when it comes to recommending science fiction and fantasy books, and not just on the ‘If you loved that, you’ll like this’ principle. I remember once saying to her: ‘Human lost in alien universe, not much happens beyond trying to get used… Continue reading The King Must Die?: Favorite Plot-lines
No, this isn’t a telescope, it’s a stethoscope. René Laennec (1781-1826) invented this device in 1816, as a way to solve the ethical dilemma of having to put his ear to the chest of a young woman patient. He started with a rolled up piece of paper to help him hear her heart and her breathing, but… Continue reading Le bruit de diable: gunpowder, tops and purring cats