Citrus, an antidote to poison

ὅτι δὲ καὶ προλαμβανόμενον τὸ κιτρίον πάσης τροφῆς ξηρᾶς τε καὶ ὑγρᾶς ἀντιφάρμακόν ἐστι παντὸς δηλητηρίου εὖ οἶδα, μαθὼν παρὰ πολίτου ἐμοῦ πιστευθέντος τὴν τῆς Αἰγύπτου ἀρχήν. οὗτος κατεδίκασέ τινας γενέσθαι θηρίων βορὰν κακούργους εὑρεθέντας, καὶ ἔδει αὐτοὺς ἀσπίσι τοῖς ζῴοις παραβληθῆναι. εἰσιοῦσι δὲ αὐτοῖς εἰς τὸ τοῖς λῃσταῖς εἰς τιμωρίαν ἀποδεδειγμένον θέατρον κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν κάπηλίς τις γυνὴ κατ᾽ ἔλεον ἔδωκεν οὗ μετὰ χεῖρας εἶχεν ἐσθίουσα κιτρίου, καὶ λαβόντες ἔφαγον καὶ μετ᾽ οὐ πολὺ παραβληθέντες πελωρίοις καὶ ἀγριωτάτοις ζῴοις ταῖς ἀσπίσι δηχθέντες οὐδὲν ἔπαθον. ἀπορία δὲ κατέσχε τὸν ἄρχοντα, καὶ τὸ τελευταῖον ἀνακρίνων τὸν αὐτοὺς φυλάττοντα στρατιώτην εἴ τι ἔφαγον ἢ ἔπιον, ὡς ἔμαθε κατὰ ταὐτὸν ἐξ ἀκεραίου τὸ κιτρίον δεδομέναν, τῇ ἐπιούσῃ τῶν ἡμερῶν τῷ μὲν πάλιν ἐκέλευσε δοθῆναι κιτρίου, τῷ δ᾽ οὔ: καὶ ὁ μὲν φαγὼν δηχθεὶς οὐδὲν ἔπαθεν, ὁ δὲ παραυτίκα πληγεὶς ἀπέθανε. δοκιμασθέντος οὖν διὰ πολλῶν τοῦ τοιούτου εὑρέθη τὸ κιτρίον ἀντιφάρμακον παντὸς δηλητηρίου φαρμάκου. ἐὰν δέ τις ἐν μέλιτι Ἀττικῷ ὅλον κιτρίον ὡς ἔχει φύσεως συνεψήσῃ μετὰ τοῦ σπέρματος, διαλύεται μὲν ἐν τῷ μέλιτι, καὶ ὁ ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ λαμβάνων ἕωθεν δύο ἢ τρεῖς δακτύλους οὐδ᾽ ὁτιοῦν ὑπὸ φαρμάκου πείσεται.

Athenaeus 3.28

As for the fact that citrus fruit when taken before any food, wet or dry, is an antidote to any deleterious effect, I know having learnt from my fellow citizen who was entrusted with the governorship of Egypt. He had condemned some men shown to be villains to be food for wild animals. They were to be thrown into living snakes. When they were entering the arena designated for the punishment for felons, a woman selling stuff by the road out of pity gave then some citrus fruit she was eating and had in her hands. They took them and ate them and not long after were thrown into among huge and very savage snakes. They were bitten but suffered no ill effects. The governor was at a loss and in the end he asked the soldier guarding them If they had ate or drunk anything and when he learnt from him they they had been given citrus fruit quite innocently, the next day he ordered one of them to be given some citrus again but not the other. Now the one who ate it although bitten didn’t suffer anything, but the other one died as soon as he had been struck. When this had been shown on many occasions, it was discovered that citrus fruit was an antidote to anything harmful. And if you boil a whole citrus fruit just as it is together with its seeds in Attic honey, it dissolves in the honey, and anyone taking two or three teaspoonfuls first thing in the morning won’t have any ill effects from poison.

Citrus fruit came quite late to the ancient world. Here Athenaeus describes one of its amazing effects. It seems a bit unfair that having survived the pit of snakes the first time, the man was still put to death. I don’t know quite what citrus fruit is referred to – possibly citrons.

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