Nepenthe // (Ancient Greek: νηπενθές, nēpenthés) is a fictional medicine for sorrow – a "drug of forgetfulness" mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt.
In the Odyssey
ἔνθ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἐνόησ᾽ Ἑλένη Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα:
|—Odyssey, Book 4, v. 219–221|
Figuratively, nepenthe means "that which chases away sorrow". Literally it means 'not-sorrow' or 'anti-sorrow': νη-, ne-, i.e. "not" (privative prefix), and πενθές, from πένθος, penthos, i.e. "grief, sorrow, or mourning". In the Odyssey, nepenthes pharmakon (i.e. an anti-sorrow drug) is a magical potion given to Helen by Polydamna the wife of the noble Egyptian Thon; it quells all sorrows with forgetfulness.
Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides believed nepenthe to be the medicinal herb Borage. In modern times prior to the 20th Century it was accepted that Indian Hemp was the nepenthe. Quoting this passage in his 2015 novel Boussole (Compass), French writer Mathias Énard identifies nepenthe with opium. Likewise, in Forbidden Drugs, Philip Robson writes: "What else could Helen of Troy’s nepenthe have been but opium?" The issue with the identification of opium, however, is that by the time of Homer the Greeks already had a long history of its use, and nepenthe was something unknown.
- νηπενθές. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- Homer; Murray, A.T. (translator) (1919). "4.219-221". Odyssey. "4.219-221". Homer, Odyssey (in Greek). At the Perseus Project.
- νη-. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
- πένθος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- "The American cyclopaedia: a popular dictionary of general knowledge. Edited by George Ripley and Charles A. Dana : Ripley, George, 1802-1880 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2020-08-10.
- Compass, trans. Charlotte Mandell (NY: New Directions, 2017), pp. 73–74.
- Philip Robson (1999). Forbidden Drugs. Oxford University Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-19-262955-5.