This section is from the book "Aphrodisiacs And Anti-Aphrodisiacs", by John Davenport. Also available from Amazon: Love Stimulants, Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs.
WHEN it is considered how strongly the sexual desire is implanted in man, and how much his self-love is interested in preserving or in recovering the power of gratifying it, his endeavours to infuse fresh vigour into his organs when they are temporarily exhausted by over-indulgence, or debilitated by age cannot appear surprising.
This remark particularly applied to natives of southern and" eastern climes, with whom the erotic ardour makes itself more intensely felt; since it is there that man's imagination, as burning as the sky beneath which he first drew breath, re-awakens desires his organs may have long lost the power of satisfying, and consequently it is there more especially that, notwithstanding the continual disappointment of his hopes, he still pertinaciously persists in searching for means whereby to stimulate his appetite for sexual delights. Accordingly it will be found that in the remotest ages, even the vegetable, animal, and mineral kingdoms have been ransacked for the purpose of discovering remedies capable of strengthening the genital apparatus, and exciting it to action.
But however eager men might be in the above enquiry, their helpmates were equally desirous of finding a means whereby they might escape the reproach of barrenness, - a reproach than which none was more dreaded by eastern women. Such means was at last discovered, or supposed to be so, in the mandrake,* a plant which thenceforth became, as the following quotation proves, of inestimable value in female eyes.
"And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother, Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes.
"And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to-night for thy son's mandrakes.
"And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me. for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.
"And God harkened unto Leah, and she conceived and bare Jacob the fifth son."*
There is only one other passage in the Bible in which this plant is alluded to, and that is in Solomon's song:
* From μavδpa, relating to cattle, and aγnpos, baneful, injurious.
† Genesis, Chap. xxx., v. 14, 15, 16, 17. The last verse must be considered as decisive of the efficacy of the mandrake.
"The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved."*
All that can be gathered from the former of the above quotations is that these plants were found in the fields during the wheat harvest, and that, either for their rarity, flavour, or, more probably, for their supposed quality of removing barrenness in women, as well as for the stimulating powers attributed to them, were greatly valued by the female sex. In the quotation from Solomon's Song, the Hebrew word Dudaim expresses some fruit or flowers, exhaling a sweet and agreeable odour, and which were in great request among the male sex.†
According to Calmet, the word Dudaim may be properly deduced from Dudim (pleasures of love); and the translators of the Septuagint and the Vulgate render it by words equivalent to the English one - mandrake. The word Dudaim is rendered in our authorized verson by the word mandrake - a translation sanctioned by the Septuagint, which, in this place, translates Dudaim by μήλa μavōρaγoρώυ, mandrake - apples, and in Solomon's Song by oi μavδρaoρar (mnandrakes). With this, Onkelos ‡ and the Syrian version agree; and this concurrence of authorities, with the fact that the mandrake (atropa mandragora) combines in itself all the circumstances and traditions required for the Dudaim, has given to the current interpretation, its present prevalence.
* Solomon's Song, chap. vii. v. 13.
† See the word Dudaim, in Dr. Kittio's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature. The learned doctor has given a sketch of the plant Mandragora, a copy of which the reader will find in plate VI.
‡ Onkelos was a celebrated rabbin contemporary wifh St. Paul, and to whom the Targum, that is, a translation or paraphrase of the Holy Scriptures, is attributed.
Pythagoras was the first (followed by Plutarch) who gave to this plant the name of άv0pwπομορфоs (man-likeness), an appellation which became very generally used; but why he gave it is not precisely known: Calmet, however, suggests as a reason the partial resemblance it bears to the human form, from the circumstance of its root being parted from the middle, downwards.
The opinion respecting the peculiar property of the mandrake was not confined to the Jews, but was also entertained by the Greeks and Romans, the former of whom called its fruit - love-apples, and bestowed the name of Mandragoritis upon Venus. Dioscorides knew it by that of Mavδρaγορas, and remarks that the root is supposed to be used in philters or love-potions;* and another writer lauds it as exciting the amorous propensity, remedying female sterility, facilitating conception and prolificness, adding the singular fact that female elephants, after eating its leaves, are seized with so irresistible a desire for copulation, as to run eagerly, in every direction, in quest of the male, †
* Lib. IV., cap. 76.
† Quoted by Oct. Celsius in his "Hierobotanicon," Part I., par 5. art. Dudaim, from Epiphan: Physiolog. c. 4. ‡ Pliny's "Natural History," Vol. IV., p. 397 (Bohn's Classical Library).