Overview

Nicander


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Of Colophon, (c.130 bc) was probably a priest of Apollo at Claros as well as a poet.

Works

Surviving intact are two didactic poems in hexameters, the Thēriaca (‘Antidotes against Poisonous Bites’) and Alexipharmaca (‘Antidotes’). Forming the subject‐matter of the Theriaca are snakes, spiders, scorpions, presumably poisonous insects, and related creatures, accompanied by remedies for their bites and stings; the Alexipharmaca retails botanical, animal, and mineral poisons and antidotes. Nicander is neither zoologist nor toxicologist: the lost tracts Poisonous Animals and Poisonous Drugs by Apollodorus of Alexandria (early 3rd cent. bc) were plagiarized for specifics. Noteworthy are descriptions of several cobras, the black widow spider, a number of scorpions, the blister beetle (from which came the aphrodisiac kantharis), the velvet ant (a wingless wasp), the wind scorpion or solifuge. Important are the accounts of opium, aconite, hemlock, and the thorn apple, showing careful study of widely known poisons.

Nicander has little poetic talent. His borrowing from Apollodorus indicates near‐slavish dependence. Yet as a grammarian and commentator, Nicander is among the most diligent of the Alexandrians in searching for puns, double meanings, and allusions in the Homeric epics.

Nicander's two poems became standard for later students of toxicology, and these obscure hexameters owe their survival to their ease on the memory: one recalled Nicander's metrical lines far more easily than (e.g.) the lengthy treatises of Apollodorus. Nicander's poems were authoritative until the Renaissance. The delicious replication of superstitions about snakes, spiders, toads, frogs, salamanders, wasps, and so on are lodes for the folklorist and the historian of medicine, who note the meld of magic and therapeutics. See pharmacology.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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