If you are trying to ease a bad hangover, the solution is simpler than anyone could imagine. Newly translated 1,900-year-old Egyptian papyrus written in Greek revealed that a leafy necklace seems to be the remedy for the “drunken headache”. The key ingredient for the cure is the slow-growing evergreen shrub, Danae racemosa, commonly known as Alexandrian laurel or Poet’s laurel. According to Dr. David Leith, a historian at the University of Exeter, who took part in the translation project, “ancient Egyptians made a garland of leaves from a shrub called Alexandrian laurel and wore it around their necks, because it was thought this plant could relieve headaches”.
The Oxyrhynchus papyrus that contains the remedy for hangover was discovered among 500,000 documents. The papyrus fragments were discovered in 1898 after continuous excavations in the ancient Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus, located about 160 km south-southwest of Cairo. As it seems, the Oxyrhynchus inhabitants had the habit of throwing their trash in the Sahara. The excavations, led by Oxford archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, began in 1896. A huge collection of lost gospels, Greek authors’ works (including Sophocles’), public and personal records and medical treatises were unearthed among other papyrus fragments, all of them dating from the first to the sixth century A.D.
A newly published book includes 30 translated medical papyri and represents “the largest single collection of medical papyri to be published”, as Professor Vivian Nutton at University College London writes in her introductory note. It is the 80th volume to be released during this continuous researchers’ effort to translate the total of scraps and contains medical treatises and complex treatments for a wide range of ailments such as hemorrhoids, ulcers, tooth problems, even various eye conditions. “The remedies appear to cross what we might see as the boundary between magic and medicine – and although some ancient doctors disliked making use of “magical” remedies, this was far from always the case,” Dr. Leith says.
Studying and publishing all these papyri is a demanding and long lasting task that has been going on for over a century. The scraps were translated by researchers at the University of Oxford and University College London. They are currently housed in Oxford University’s Sackler Library, but its owner is the Egypt Exploration Society. Professor Nutton believes that the writers of these ancient papyri were strongly influenced by the Greek knowledge, which was rather reasonable since, after the conquest of Egypt and the wider Middle East by Alexander the Great, the ancient Egyptians embraced the Greek culture. Researchers are now feverishly working on the ongoing translation of this enormous collection of texts in order to reveal more hidden secrets of the past.
By Rena P.