Society for Economic Botany/BSA Economic Botany Section
Merlin, Mark D. .
Cultural ecology, mythology and the use of the opium poppy in the Ancient Hellenic World.
The major psychoactive drug plant in ancient Greece was Papaver somniferum L., the opium poppy. Use of this true narcotic was certainly of great medical importance more than two millennia ago in the Hellenic world. It also had ritual and ecstatic use in the region that predated the ancient Greek use in the eastern Mediterranean. The ecological relationships of the key cereals and the poppy in ancient Greek agriculture were symbolized in the pantheistic mythology of ancient Greece, specifically of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. This well-known story was a symbolic rendering of the seasonal cycle of grain farming in the ancient Mediterranean world which connected the mind-altering and therapeutic use of the opium poppy with nutritional basis of the society. The linkage of this alkaloid-rich poppy with the great cereal crops of the region was a hallmark of Demeter's appearance, informing the Greek people about the conscious cultivation of wheat and barley and fortuitous commensal association of the opium poppy and its tiny seeds in the grain fields of Hellenistic farmlands. A combination of up-to-date ethnobotany, ecology, archaeobotany, archaeology,mythology and history remind us of what key species fed and helped heal people in the ancient eastern Mediterranean world and underscore their basic ecological relationships.
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1 - University of Hawaii at Manoa, Botany, Department of Botany, St. John 101, Honolulu, Hi, 96822, USA
Presentation Type: Oral Paper:Papers for Sections
Location: Maryland Room/Chase Park Plaza
Date: Monday, July 11th, 2011
Time: 5:15 PM