This section is from the book "Aphrodisiacs And Anti-Aphrodisiacs", by John Davenport. Also available from Amazon: Love Stimulants, Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs.
Speaking of the plant Eryngium, the elder Pliny says: "The whole variety of the Eryngium known in our (the Latin) language as the centum capita has some marvellous facts recorded of it. It is said to bear a striking likeness to the organs of generation of either sex; it is rarely met with, but if a root resembling the male organ of the human species be found by a man, it will ensure him woman's love; hence it is that Phaon, the Lesbian, was so passionately beloved of Sappho."‡ If it be true, as is asserted by medical writers, that the above root contains an essential oil of peculiarly stimulating qualities, the fact would account, not only for Sappho's passion for Phaon, but also for the high value set upon it by the rival wives of Jacob.
For the same reason as that suggested by Calmet, Columella calls the mandrake semikomo:
"Quamvis semihominis vesano gramine faeta Mandragorae pariat flores,"*
"Let it not vex thee if thy teeming field The half-man Mandrake's madd'ning seed should yield;" and qualifies its seed by the epithet vesanus, because in his time (the first century after Christ) it was still supposed to form one of the ingredients of philters or love-potions. The super- stitious ideas attached to the mandrake were indeed so current throughout Europe during the middle ages, that one of the accusations brought against the Knights Templars was that of adoring, in Palestine, an idol to which was given the name of Mandragora.† Even, comparatively, not very long ago, there might be seen in many of the continental towns quacks and mountebanks exhibiting little rudely-carved figures, which they declared to be genuine mandrakes, assuring their gaping auditors, at the same time, that they were produced from the urine of a gibbeted thief, and seriously warning those who might have to pull any out of the ground to stop their ears first, for otherwise the piercing shrieks of these plants would infallibly strike them with deafness.
Wier thus describes the manufacture of these interesting little gentlemen:"Impostors carve upon these plants while yet green the male and female forms, inserting millet or barley seeds in such parts as they desire the likeness of human hair to grow on; then, digging a hole in the ground, they place the said plants therein, covering them with sand till such time as the little seeds have stricken root, which, it is said, would be perfectly effected within twenty days at furthest. After this, disinterring the plants, these impostors, with a sharp cutting knife, so dexterously carve, pare, and slip the little filaments of the seeds as to make them resemble the hair which grows upon the various parts of the human body."* "I have seen," says the Abbe Rosier,"mandrakes tolerably well representing the male and female parts of generation, a resemblance which they owe, almost entirely, to manual dexterity. For the intended object, a mandrake is chosen having a strong root, which, at the end of a few inches, bifurcates into two branches.
As the root is soft, it easily takes the desired form, which it preserves on becoming dry."† The author then describes the process of producing the resemblance of human hair, and which is similar to that given above.
* Columella De hortorum Cullu., v. 19, 20.
† See a manuscript Interrogatory still preserved in the "Bibliotheque Nationale," Fonds de Baluze, Rouleau 5.
In the year 1429, a Cordelier by name, Brother Richard, fulminated from the pulpit a vigorous sermon against the amulette then much in vogue, and called "Mandragora." He convinced his auditors, both male and female, of its impiety and inutility, and caused hundreds of those pretended charms which, upon that occasion, were voluntarily delivered up to him, to be publicly burnt. It is, no doubt, to these mandragoras that an old chronicler alludes in the following strophe:
* See "De Vimposture des Diables," par Jacques Gre'vin, Tom. 1V„ p. 359. † From Weir "De Mag: demonia:" Cours Complet d'agriculture par l'Abbe Rosier, Tom. VI., p. 401.
J'ai puis vu soudre en France Par grant derision, La racine et la branche De toute abusion. Chef de l'orgueil du monde Et de lubricite; Femme ou tel mal habonde Rend povre utilite.* In the 15th century the mandrake enjoyed in Italy so great a reputation as an erotic stimulant, that the celebrated Mac-chiavelli wrote a much admired comedy upon it, called"La Mandragora." The subject of this piece, according to Voltaire, who asserts "qu'il vaut, peut etre, mieux que toutes les pieces d'Aristophane, est un jeune homme adroit qui veut coucher avec la femme de son voisin. Il engage, avec de l'argent, un moine, un Fa tutto ou un Fa molto, a seduire sa maitresse et a faire tomber son mari dans un piege ridicule. On se moque tout le long de la piece, de la religion que toute l'Europe pro-fesse, dont Rome est le centre et dont le siege papal est le trone." †
Callimaco, one of the dramatis-personse of this comedy, thus eulogizes the plant in question," Voi avete a intendere che non e cosa piu certa aingravidare, d'una pozione fatta di Mandragola. Questa e una cosi sperimentata da me due para di volte, e se non era questa, la Reina di Francia sarebbe sterile, ed infinite altre principesse in quello Stato,"‡ George Chastelain, Edition de Coustelier, p. 150. † Lettres d'Amabed, Vol. XXXIV., p. 261. Edition Beuchot, Paris, ‡ Mandragola, Atto II. Scena 6. See also La Fontaine's tale of "La Mandragore," founded upon the above comedy.
* Recollections des choses merveilleuses Advenues en notre temps par.
"You must know that nothing is so sure to make women conceive, as a draught composed of Mandragola. That is a fact which I have verified upon four occasions, and had it not been for the virtues of this plant, the Queen of France, as well as many noble ladies of that kingdom, would have proved barren." By the Venetian law the administering of love-potions was accounted highly criminal. Thus the law "Dei maleficii et herbarie." Cap. XVI. of the code, entitled"Delia Commis-sione del maleficio" says, Statuimo etiamdio che se alcun homo o femina harra fatto maleficii, iguali so dlmandono volgarmente amatorie, o veramente alcuni altri maleficii, che alcun homo o femina se havesson in odio, sia frusta et bollade, et che hara consigliato, patisca simile pena."*
The notion of the efficacy of love powders was also so prevalent in the 15 century in our own country that in the Parliament summoned by King Richard III., on his usurping the throne, it was publicly urged as a charge against Lady Grey, that she had bewitched King Edward IV. by strange potions and amorous charms.