In the Odyssey
ἔνθ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἐνόησ᾽ Ἑλένη Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα:
Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, took other counsel.
|—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. Quoting this passage in his 2015 novel Boussole (Compass), French writer Mathias Énard identifies nepenthe with opium. Likewise, in Forbidden Drugs, Philip Robson, Senior Research Fellow and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at Oxford University Department of Psychiatry, writes: "What else could Helen of Troy’s nepenthe have been but opium?" Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides believed nepenthe to be the medicinal herb Borage.
- 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.
- 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.