THE MELLIFIED MAN
In ancient times very rare things have been used as medicine. From excrements, as well as smoke inserted in the body through an enema, and even the mummy dust; or one closer to our times, which began to be used in the early 1900s until about 1930, the radioactive water, known as Radithor, which was even put into toothpaste and chocolate.
But what about the innocent honey? known and used since ancient times precisely for its beneficial properties. Well, that’s right, on some occasions it has hidden inside a rather peculiar added medicinal ingredient, today we would call it, a “nutritional supplement”. Melted between its syrupy and sweet appearance hid the corpse of an old man.
Although the existence of this “medicine” has sometimes been questioned, there are enough historical references to show that it has been developed and used precisely for this purpose, that of being a medicine.
A LEGENDARY MEDICINAL SUBSTANCE
The entire process of making this strange medicine is related in a work of Chinese literature, from the end of the Yuan period (1279-1368), specifically from 1366, the “Nancun Chougeng Lu“, or “Retire to the countryside.” As the title indicates, the author, then considered one of the greatest sages of that time, wrote it when he retired to live in a quiet place to remember and write his memoirs.
It was a compilation work that lasted approximately 10 years, its author was Tao Zongyi , an eminent scholar of the late Yuan period. In the work, the author recounts in detail everything he had heard and seen in the southern territories of China during the years he had lived there.
The Chougenglu, as the book is also known, is written in an essay style. Although the writing shows many aspects of society, the writing is a work classified in Chinese literature traditionally as a novel, and not as a properly historical treatise, since it lacks a political focus.
However it is considered one of the most important landmarks in what concerns the life political, social and cultural during the Yuan Dynasty, offering an overview, but also detailed the customs and events that occurred in the regions from southern China during those decades prior to his retirement.
Of particular interest are the narratives on the customs in urban and peasant life during his time, where he narrates the daily activities that his contemporaries used to do. Work activities in the fields and in the towns, and also recreational, such as painting, poetry, songs, and even operas and plays.
Also of great use have been the narratives on medical knowledge and descriptions of the natural remedies used at that time. Among them, the curious “honey”, enriched with the properties offered by the body of an old man, which we talk about in this article. Apparently such a practice originally dates back to a custom among the Arab population. In which an elderly Arab, near death, volunteered to be mellified.
This concept of sacrifice to the community was well known among the community, we find it in the Buddhist philosophical and spiritual doctrine, so widespread in China already at that time. This practice offered a special medicine, a venerable honey, considered even sacred, since its healing properties were the result of a voluntary human sacrifice. Unlike, for example, mummy meat and powder, which on the contrary were silent and involuntary victims.
There were many different editions of the Tao Zongyi book , the oldest being an engraving from the late Yuan period, and there are several from the Ming period (1368-1644). In 1958, the Zhonghua Shuju press published a more modern version, based on the oldest original version from the Yuan period. The Chuogenglu is included in the Siky and Sibu Congkan Sanbian series of reprints.
Sources li xuegin, lu wenyu 1996, siku da cidian, changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2 p. 2152. Qiu Shusen 1992, “Chougenglu, in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu, Zhongguo lishi, vol. 1.page 126. Beijin / Sanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
“THE HUMAN BEING TREATED AS MEDICINE” AN ANCESTRAL MEDICATION
This is what Li Shizhen, a doctor of medicine and pharmacology, who lived in 16th century China, called it in his famous book “Bencao Gangmu“. Some 200 years after the sage Tao Zongyi we have talked about before. In addition to being a physician, he was an expert herbalist, a specialist in natural medicine, and a leading scholar in traditional Chinese acupuncture.
In his medical treatise “Bencao Gangmu“, a book on itinerant medicine that was carried out at that time, he narrates the process of human mellification used for the first time in Arabia. ” The human being treated as medicine “, as he called it.
The “Bencao Gangmu” is a compendium of medical topics that took him 27 years of research, the publication of which he never saw. Li Shizen, also called Dongbi, also wrote dozens of medical books and a formulary on medicinal herbs, detailing the healing effects of plants with magnificent precision.
It is not surprising that he was together with Avicenna, another great of knowledge, in this case Persian, one of the reference points par excellence on medical, philosophical and scientific knowledge for the Greeks and Romans of the West.
WHAT THE MELLIFICATION PROCESS CONSISTED OF
The human mummy confection was a legendary medicinal substance, made from a honey base, in which a human body had been macerated.
This legendary medicine was related in the oldest Arab legends. According to these ancient legends, some Arab elders, men and women close to death, volunteered to be the medicinal ingredient to be elaborated along with honey, this healing molasses, very special and also very expensive. So expensive that it was intended only for the few who could afford it, usually people of high dynasty, emperors and high-ranking monks.
The volunteers who offered to be mellified, began with a purification process, in which they followed a diet exclusively based on honey. That is, they did not consume any food, nor did they drink any liquid, not even water.
They only ate honey. Until a point came that both the sweat and the excrement were composed of honey. To this strict diet, a daily honey-based bath was added.
When the moment of death came, the body of the deceased old man was placed in a coffin full of honey. There inside, the body rested in maceration for about a century, a hundred years.
After one hundred years, the sigil was open. The body had generally been totally or largely dissolved, thus releasing all of its healing properties into the resulting honey or molasses.
THE NOBLE HONEY THAT NEVER EXPIRES
As we know, honey has been prized since ancient times. Our prehistoric ancestors already knew it and surely even went on excursions to find this precious substance that beloved bees made.
In the “Cueva de la Araña”, the “Spider Cave” in Bicorp (Valencia-Spain), a cave painting from the Mesolithic period, that is to say from 8,000 to 6,000 BC. C, recreates a scene in which a female figure collects honey from a tree, while bees fly around her.
In those days, you can imagine, it was not as simple as now. They must have been tracking the flight of bees in their busiest season, summer, until they found the hive. Then it was time to collect the precious delicacy. If possible, they had to collect the entire hive, or at least most of it.
It would not always be in an accessible place, surely they would have to risk, in addition to bites, scratches, wounds and falls, sometimes serious or fatal. As we know, bees tend to place their hive in safe places, where they know that access is difficult, and thus avoid that sweet-tooth animals steal their supplies for the winter. The rocky cliffs of difficult or impossible access are their favorites. They are solid and safe, more than a tree branch, where any bear could reach without effort.
The ancestors would manage to reach the hive, hanging, perhaps, from a makeshift rope made of lianas. Can you imagine the risk? Now it is much easier, we place boxes in the home garden, or even better, we open a ready-made jar.
What is evident is that honey was so highly prized that it was worth any effort or risk. Perhaps because of its difficult recollection and its meager harvest, it was so respected and valued, until some very creative ones, used it no longer as a food, but the basis for a legendary medicine.
Today we know that our ancestors were right, honey is an extraordinary substance, except for one, made with the azalea flower.
The nectar of the azalea is poisonous to humans, although harmless to bees. The resulting honey is highly toxic, and even deadly. In some farms where honey is collected, the precaution is taken to discard the honey after the flowering of said flower, and empty the hives, to leave them clean of toxic residues.
In fact it is believed that in ancient times it has been used as a poison. Fortunately, the configuration of the azalea flower makes it difficult for bees to extract their nectar, so bees prefer other flowers.
That been an exception, honey has many therapeutic properties. The ancestors knew in some way its antimicrobial and antiseptic power, that is why they used it on wounds to promote their healing and prevent infections, as well as for colds and skin, due to its softening and astringent action.
It was an excellent natural preservative, it does not expire itself, its high concentration of sugar, in addition to its sweet taste, provided a low level of humidity, so it is not surprising that in Egypt and Assyria, they used it for the preservation of bodies of the deceased.
Agesilaus II, king of Sparta, was preserved in honey after his death in 358 BC precisely to prevent the rotting of the body during his journey from Cyrene, a Greek city in present-day Libya, to his hometown Sparta. A few years later, in 323 BC Alexander the Great was also immersed in a coffin filled with honey after his death, to be transferred from Babylon to Alexandria in Egypt.
In Egypt and Assyria, honey was used not only to preserve the bodies of the deceased for transfers, but also to embalm the bodies, that is, mummify them. In fact, the resin with which they sealed the bodies, smearing them, was often composed of beeswax and honey, in addition to oils and other resinous substances. Testimony of this technique is found in some historical references to Erodotus, a Greek historian of Western culture who lived between 484 and 425 BC
It was even used as a currency or better said exchange product, to pay taxes. Thus its value was high, let us imagine then, a honey that also had in its interior healing substances from the body of an elderly volunteer. Who knows what supernatural powers they attributed to it? What we know from historical references was that it cured all kinds of diseases and ailments. A legendary healer.
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