Monday, October 6, 2008

Mellified Man

Mellified Man, or human mummy confection, refers to a legendary medicinal substance created by steeping a cadaver in honey. Allegedly from Arabia, mellified man was reported by 16th-century Chinese pharmacologist Li Shizhen in his Bencao Gangmu. It is described in the final section under the entry for ''munaiyi'' . Both European and Chinese pharmacopeias employed medicines of human origin, for instance urine therapy. Read suggests,
The underlying theories which sustained the use of human remedies, find a great deal in common between the Arabs as represented by Avicenna, and China through the . Body humors, vital air, the circulations, and numerous things are more clearly understood if an extended study be made of Avicenna or the Europeans who based their writings on Arabic medicine. The various uses given in many cases common throughout the civilized world, Lemery also recommended women's milk for inflamed eyes, feces were applied to sores, and the human skull, brain, blood, nails and "all the parts of man", were used in sixteenth century Europe.

Mary Roach publicized the pharmacological use of honeyed mummies in her book .
In the grand bazaars of twelfth century Arabia, it was occasionally possible if you knew where to look and you had a lot of cash and a tote bag you didn't care about to procure an item known as a mellified man. The verb "to mellify" comes from the Latin for honey, ''''. Mellified man was dead human remains steeped in honey. Its other name was "human mummy confection," though this is misleading, for unlike other honey steeped confections, this one did not get served for dessert. One administered topically, and, I am sorry to say, orally as medicine. The preparation represented an extraordinary effort, both on the part of the confectioners, and more notably, on the part of the ingredients.

Roach then quotes part of Read's translation, given below in full.

Li : According to 陶九成 in the 輟耕錄 , it says in Arabia there are men 70 to 80 years old who are willing to give their bodies to save others. The subject does not eat food, he only bathes and partakes of honey. After a month he only excretes honey and death follows. His fellow men place him in a stone coffin full of honey in which he macerates. The date is put upon the coffin giving the year and month. After a hundred years the seals are removed. A confection is formed which is used for the treatment of broken and wounded limbs. A small amount taken internally will immediately cure the complaint. It is scarce in Arabia where it is called mellified man.

Mr. has recorded it in this way but Li the author of this does not know whether it is true so he is recording it for others to verify.
Roach observes that Li Shizhen "is careful to point out that he does not know for certain whether the mellified man story is true."

Li uses Chinese ''tianfangguo'' for the location and ''miren'' for the name . ''Miziren'' is a modern synonym. Chinese ''minaiyi'' , along with "mummy" loanwords in many languages, derives through Arabic ''mūmīya'' from Persian ''mūm'' "wax" . Note that Japanese words of Portuguese origin says ''miira'' was borrowed from Portuguese ''mirra'', comparable with English ''myrrh''.

Citing Le Fèvre , Pomet , Wootton , and Thompson , Roach says the medicinal use of mummies, and the sale of fake ones, is "well documented" in chemistry books of 16th-18th centuries Europe, "but nowhere outside Arabia were the corpses volunteers."

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