Nepenthe // (Ancient Greek: νηπενθές, nēpenthés) is a fictional[dubious ] 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-, nē-, i.e. "not" (privative prefix), and πενθές, from πένθος, pénthos, i.e. "grief, sorrow, or mourning".
In the Odyssey, νηπενθές φάρμακον : nēpenthés phármakon (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.
Quoting the passage cited above 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 problem with identifying the drug as opium, however, is that by the time of Homer, it already had a long history of use by the Greeks, whereas nepenthe was something unknown to them.
- νηπενθές. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- Homer (1919). "4.219-221". Odyssey. Translated by Murray, A.T.; from Homer. Odyssey (in Greek) – via 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.