Detail from Bad Medicine by Adriaen Brouwer (1606-1638), Musée Des Beaux-Arts, Dijon. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images via aeon.co
Witches, doctors, Newton! Willow bark! Quinine! LSD! Snail water! Coffee!
Catching up on our reading, we wonder how many of the above we’ve ingested today, and note that the traditions of 17th century apothecaries, Enlightenment scientists, and psychedelic enthusiasts are not so different. Be it in 21st century laboratories or 18th century poets’ homes, Benjamin Breen reminds us that drug experimentation has always served both recreational, medicinal, and inspirational ends, at least since the Renaissance.
The fun of the piece is in the stories and ancient recipes, but the thesis is sound: “The clash between alternative and Western medicine might not be a clear-cut contest between ancient, ‘traditional’ remedies and modern, scientific ones.”