“The Herbary of Apuleius Platonicus which he received from Chiron the centaur, the
teacher of Achilles, and from Aesculapius”
(131) Effects of the herb mandrake (mandragorae)
Because its sight and beneficial properties are so powerful, it must be collected in the
following way: Wenn you come to it, you will recognize it by this: at night, its head glows like a lantern. When you see it, you must immediately put iron (objects) around it, so that it cannot flee. Its power (virtus) is of such kind and extent that it immediately flees any impure person16 that is coming toward it; therefore you must put iron around it; and you must dig around it in such a way that you do not touch it with iron, and you have to carefully remove the earth around it with a stake of ivory; and when you see the feet of this herb, the mandrake, and its hands, then you can go on to binding a new(ly made) rope around the herb, and after you have bound the herb, then you also bind it around a dog’s neck, and having let the dog go hungry before, throw dog food at a some distance, so that it can pull up the herb in running after it. But if you do not want it to ‘seize/trap’ (=kill?) the dog – seing that this herb has such divine power17 (divinitatem) that, when someone pulls it up, it ‘seizes’ them in the same moment – therefore, as I said already, if you do not want it to ‘seize’ the dog, you should make a machine (manganum) instead; if you want (to do this, you should) erect a long stick and bind the new rope, which is bound around the herb, to its point, so that the stick is bent over; you make a kind of mouse trap from the long (stick), so that, by virtue of its natural rigor (sua pertica), it snaps back up and suddenly pulls the herb mandrake up. And as soon as undamaged herb has come into your power, that is, into your hands, you ought to immediately give the juice from its leaves into a glass bottle, and when need for it arises with people, do the following:
After this fantastic text we get this utterly mundane recipe (along with some others):
For epileptics, that is, daemoniosi and such as suffer from spasms, do the following: Grind up 1 scruple (124 of an ounce) from the body of this herb, the mandrake, and give it to drink in hot water, so long as it is(?) pure;18 marvellously, (patients) will be healed immediately.
16 But no conditions of purity are detailed; so is the point that humans in general are immundi (‘impure’)?
17 Of course the sense here is not that the plant has “godhood” but that it has what we might call miraculous or
(anachronistically) supernatural power; but the vocabulary with which plants and stones are described, especially
in the more “magical” texts, shows a degree of parallelism with “theological” vocabulary that would be worth
18 The phrasing seems odd, but merus (pure) can hardly be merum (“so long as it contains unmixed (!) wine”), as
Kai Brodersen’s translation has it.