From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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.

In culture[edit]

  • In the Incubus song "Calgone", on their S.C.I.E.N.C.E. album, it is referenced in the hopes of forgetting the day's series of negative events, "I heard a voice say, come sail aboard S.S. Nepenthe!"
  • In Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, book 4, canto 3, the effect of the drink is extended: "such as drinck, eternall happinesse do fynd" (verse 43). Spenser likens Nepenthe to the magic potion from Ariosto's Orlando furioso.
  • Erasmus mentions Nepenthe in the opening paragraphs of In Praise of Folly.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven": "Quaff, oh quaff this kind Nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
  • In Chapter Four, "The Interview", of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter, Roger Chillingworth administers a soothing medicine to the sickly infant Pearl, saying to Hester Prynne: "I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe [. . .] but I have learned many new secrets in the wilderness [. . .] Drink it! It may be less soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannot give thee. But it will calm the swell and heaving of thy passion, like oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous sea."
  • Norman Douglas's novel "South Wind" takes place on a fictional island named Nepenthe, which seems to exert a drug-like effect on the residents.
  • Sentenced's song "Nepenthe" revolves around the wish to forget via alcoholic means "All the tears and the fears and the lies and the cries of the past."
  • Uttered during host segment 1 by Bill Corbett's character Brain Guy in Season 9, Episode 1 (The Projected Man) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a protective invocation against angry ghosts, which turned out to be the howling hunger-pangs of Kevin Murphy's character Professor Bobo.
  • The band Opeth wrote a song called "Nepenthe" on their album Heritage.
  • In H.P. Lovecraft's "The Outsider", "But in the cosmos there is balm as well as bitterness, and that balm is nepenthe." and "For although nepenthe has calmed me, I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men."
  • Kostas Karyotakis' second poetry collection was called "Nepenthe".
  • Adam Lindsay Gordon's Ye Wearie Wayfarer refers to "respite and nepenthe bringing" (verse 22)
  • In Shelley's Prometheus Unbound the Spirit of the Hour invokes nepenthe in a description of the earthly effects of the liberation of Prometheus (Act 2, Scene 4, Verse 61).
  • American singer-songwriter Julianna Barwick's second album is called Nepenthe.
  • Producer Seven Lions wrote a song called "Nepenthe" on his EP Worlds Apart.
  • The protagonist of the movie Equilibrium (film) at one point refers to Prozium, a plot-crucial drug, as "The great nepenthe. Opiate of our masses."
  • The album, Fresh Aire VI, by Mannheim Steamroller, includes a song titled "Nepenthe".
  • "Lethe," a poem in Fleurs du Mal by French poet, Charles Baudelaire contains the line "Come; I would drink Nepenthe and long rest."
  • James A. Michener's "The Drifters" (p 629), "And Ilha de Moçambique exceeded their hopes. It was nepentheland, an enclave in history where days drifted by under a flawless sun, beside a controlled sea."