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For other meanings of "nepenthe", see Nepenthe (disambiguation).

Nepenthe /nɨˈpɛnθ/ (Ancient Greek: νηπενθές) is a medicine for sorrow, literally an anti-depressant – a "drug of forgetfulness" mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt.[1]

The carnivorous plant genus Nepenthes is named after the drug nepenthe.

Description in the Odyssey[edit]

The word nepenthe first appears in the fourth book of Homer's Odyssey:

ἔνθ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἐνόησ᾽ Ἑλένη Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα:
αὐτίκ᾽ ἄρ᾽ εἰς οἶνον βάλε φάρμακον, ἔνθεν ἔπινον,
νηπενθές τ᾽ ἄχολόν τε, κακῶν ἐπίληθον ἁπάντων.[2]

Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, took other counsel.
Straightway she cast into the wine of which they were drinking a drug
to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill.
Odyssey, Book 4, v. 219–221[2]

Figuratively, nepenthe means "that which chases away sorrow". Literally it means 'not-sorrow' or 'anti-sorrow': νη, ne, i.e. "not" (privative prefix),[3] and πενθές, from πένθος, penthos, i.e. "grief, sorrow, or mourning".[4] In the Odyssey, in the passage quoted above, 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.