Moly (herb)

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Snowdrop, perhaps the herb moly

Moly (Greek: μῶλυ, [môly]) is a magical herb mentioned in book 10 of Homer's Odyssey.[1]

In the story, Hermes gave this herb to Odysseus to protect him from Circe's magic when he went to her home to rescue his friends.[2] These friends came together with him from the island Aiolos after they escaped from the Cyclops. "The plant 'moly' of which Homer speaks; this plant, it is said, had grown from the blood of the Gigante killed in the isle of Kirke; it has a white flower; the ally of Kirke who killed the Gigante was Helios (the Sun); the combat was hard (Greek malos) from which came the name of this plant".[3] Homer also describes Moly by saying "The root was black, while the flower was as white as milk; the gods call it Moly, Dangerous for a mortal man to pluck from the soil, but not for the deathless gods. All lies within their power".[4]

There has been much controversy as to the identification. Philippe Champault decides in favour of the Peganum harmala (of the order Rutaceae),[5] the Syrian or African rue (Greek πἠγανον), from the husks of which the vegetable alkaloid harmaline is extracted. The flowers are white with green stripes. Victor Bérard relying partly on a Semitic root,[6] prefers the Atriplex halimus (atriplex, a Latin form of Greek ἀτράφαξυς, and ἅλιμος, marine), order Chenopodiaceae, a herb or low shrub common on the south European coasts. These identifications are noticed by R. M. Henry,[7] who illustrates the Homeric account by passages in the Paris and Leiden magical papyri, and argues that moly is probably a magical name, derived perhaps from Phoenician or Egyptian sources, for a plant which cannot be certainly identified. He shows that the "difficulty of pulling up" the plant is not a merely physical one, but rather connected with the peculiar powers claimed by magicians.[7] In Tennyson's The Lotos-Eaters, the moly is coupled with the amaranth ("propt on beds of amaranth and moly").[2]

Medical historians have speculated that the transformation to pigs was not intended literally but refers to anticholinergic intoxication.[8] Symptoms include amnesia, hallucinations, and delusions. The description of "moly" fits the snowdrop, a flower of the region that contains galantamine, which is an anticholinesterase and can therefore counteract anticholinergics.


  1. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 681 cites: Homer, Odyssey, x. 302–306.
  2. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 681.
  3. ^ HELIUS : Greek Titan god of the sun 
  4. ^ Homer & Butler 1898, Book X.
  5. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 681 cites: Phéniciens et Grecs en Italie d'après l'Odyssée (1906), pp. 504 seq.
  6. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 681 cites: Victor Bérard Les Phéniciens et l'Odyssee, ii. 288 seq.
  7. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 681 cites: R. M. Henry Class. Rev. (Dec. 1906), p. 434.
  8. ^ Andreas Plaitakis & Roger C. Duvoisin (1983). "Homer's moly identified as Galanthus nivalis L.: physiologic antidote to stramonium poisoning". Clinical Neuropharmacology 6 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1097/00002826-198303000-00001. PMID 6342763.