Lysis 219e and Hemlock

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Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Sun Aug 21, 2016 5:46 pm

ἐννοήσωμεν γὰρ οὑτωσί· ὅταν τίς τι περὶ πολλοῦ ποιῆται, οἷόνπερ ἐνίοτε πατὴρ ὑὸν ἀντὶ πάντων τῶν ἄλλων χρημάτων προτιμᾷ, ὁ δὴ τοιοῦτος ἕνεκα τοῦ τὸν ὑὸν περὶ παντὸς ἡγεῖσθαι ἆρα καὶ ἄλλο τι ἂν περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῖτο; οἷον εἰ αἰσθάνοιτο αὐτὸν κώνειον πεπωκότα, ἆρα περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῖτ’ ἂν οἶνον, εἴπερ τοῦτο ἡγοῖτο τὸν ὑὸν σώσειν;
Do large quantities of wine help with Hemlock poisoning? (Ie., does this refer to saving the son by flushing the poison with wine?)

Tangentially related, while there are a number of articles about how Plato incorrectly describes the symptoms of Hemlock poisoning in Phaedo, the following article claims that acute ascending paralysis is a known symptom of certain "Hemlocks."
Were Socrates brought today to a hospital emergency room, the attending physicians would immediately recognize his ascending paralysis as a peripheral neuropathy of the Guillain-Barré type.
https://gramata.univ-paris1.fr/Plato/article9.html
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Sun Aug 21, 2016 7:47 pm

My translation of the Lysis passage above (for critique, of course):

For let us consider this. Whenever someone makes much of something, just as sometimes a father values a son before all other goods, indeed valuing him exceedingly on account of considering his son more than anything, will he make much of something else? So, if he saw the boy having drunk hemlock, would he make much of wine, if by this he thought to save his son?

I'll translate Phaedo 117e-118a in a little bit.
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Sun Aug 21, 2016 10:05 pm

Generally, you have this right. A few suggestions:

εἰ αἰσθάνοιτο αὐτὸν κώνειον πεπωκότα, -- best translated as an indirect statement: "so, for instance, if he (the father) perceived/became aware that he (the son) had drunk hemlock" (note the perfect rather than the aorist: the focus is on the continuing effects of the hemlock, not merely the fact that he drank it, which would call for the aorist). Verbs of "perception" generally take a participle construction as indirect statement.

ὁ δὴ τοιοῦτος ἕνεκα τοῦ τὸν ὑὸν περὶ παντὸς ἡγεῖσθαι ἆρα καὶ ἄλλο τι ἂν περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῖτο -- crudely: "would/might he, such as he is [τοιοῦτος], also (καὶ) value very highly something else because he considered his son more valuable than anything?" ἕνεκα τοῦ τὸν ὑὸν περὶ παντὸς ἡγεῖσθαι goes with καὶ ἄλλο τι ἂν περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῖτο, not with τοιοῦτος.

ἆρα περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῖτ’ ἂν οἶνον, -- "would value highly" this is a "future less vivid" condition in the traditional classification, in other words, ει + optative . . .optative + ἂν, so it probably should be translated "would", not "will".

εἴπερ τοῦτο ἡγοῖτο τὸν ὑὸν σώσειν -- "if he believed that this would save his son" : ἡγεομαι generally takes the acc. + infinitive construction for indirect discourse. τοῦτο is the subject of the infinitive σώσειν.

It would probably be best not to refer to the son as "the boy", since there's no indication of age in the Greek.

περι πολλου/πλειoνος/πλειστου/παντος ποιεισθαι/ηγεισθαι -- I would translate "value highly". "Make much of" for me doesn't quite convey the notion of value.

There is a kind of anacolouthon here: he begins posing the question in general terms: "when someone values something very highly". Then he gives an example: for example, for example, sometimes a father values his son very highly. Then he goes on to pose the general question in terms of the specific example: would he, just because he considers his son more valuable than anything, also value something else very highly, too? For example, if he were to become aware that his son had drunk hemlock, would he value wine very highly, if he believed that wine would save his son?
Last edited by Hylander on Mon Aug 22, 2016 2:52 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Mon Aug 22, 2016 2:34 am

Paul is better equipped than I to answer questions about neuropathies.

But these questions generally can't be answered conclusively. "What disease was Thucydides' plague?"

And "What did Mozart die of?" "What did Beethoven die of and what caused his deafness?" "Did Schubert have syphillis?" "What caused Schumann's problem with his hand--syphillis?" "Was Bach diabetic?"

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Timothée » Mon Aug 22, 2016 5:29 am

"Was Alexander the Great poisoned?"

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Mon Aug 22, 2016 7:07 am

Thank you Hylander. That's all very helpful. The only thing that I will point out is that I took τοιοῦτος as meaning "valuing highly in this way," and so I expanded on it a bit in the English.

I think that it may be a straightforward medical question to ask whether what Plato presents in Phaedo are the symptoms of hemlock poisoning or not. Also, with archaic DNA sequencing as good as it is now, we may know in a few years exactly what the plague of Athens was. The technology for this has improved rapidly.

Here is the death of Socrates section from Phaedo 117e.

ὁ δὲ περιελθών, ἐπειδή οἱ βαρύνεσθαι ἔφη τὰ σκέλη, κατεκλίνη ὕπτιος—οὕτω γὰρ ἐκέλευεν ὁ ἄνθρωπος— καὶ ἅμα ἐφαπτόμενος αὐτοῦ οὗτος ὁ δοὺς τὸ φάρμακον, διαλιπὼν χρόνον ἐπεσκόπει τοὺς πόδας καὶ τὰ σκέλη, κἄπειτα σφόδρα πιέσας αὐτοῦ τὸν πόδα ἤρετο εἰ αἰσθάνοιτο, ὁ δ’ οὐκ ἔφη. καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο αὖθις τὰς κνήμας· καὶ ἐπανιὼν οὕτως ἡμῖν ἐπεδείκνυτο ὅτι ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο. καὶ αὐτὸς ἥπτετο καὶ εἶπεν ὅτι, ἐπειδὰν πρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ γένηται αὐτῷ, τότε οἰχήσεται.

ἤδη οὖν σχεδόν τι αὐτοῦ ἦν τὰ περὶ τὸ ἦτρον ψυχόμενα, καὶ ἐκκαλυψάμενος—ἐνεκεκάλυπτο γάρ—εἶπεν—ὃ δὴ τελευταῖον ἐφθέγξατο—“ὦ Κρίτων, ἔφη, τῷ Ἀσκληπιῷ ὀφείλομεν ἀλεκτρυόνα· ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσητε.”

ἀλλὰ ταῦτα, ἔφη, ἔσται, ὁ Κρίτων· ἀλλ’ ὅρα εἴ τι ἄλλο λέγεις.

ταῦτα ἐρομένου αὐτοῦ οὐδὲν ἔτι ἀπεκρίνατο, ἀλλ’ ὀλίγον χρόνον διαλιπὼν ἐκινήθη τε καὶ ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐξεκάλυψεν αὐτόν, καὶ ὃς τὰ ὄμματα ἔστησεν· ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Κρίτων συνέλαβε τὸ στόμα καὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς.

But he walked around, after this he said that his legs were stepping heavily, and was laid on his back — for so the man ordered — and at the same time as the man was laying hold of him, this one who gave the medicine, at intervals the man was checking his feet and legs, and after the man had squeezed hard on his foot, asked if he felt it. No, he answered. And after this, again on the shins, and the man returned to the foot in the same way, demonstrating to us that it was both cold and stiff. And the man himself was feeling and said that after it should approach his heart in him, then he would depart.

Already indeed, he was barely moving his abdomen in breath, and uncovering — for he was covered — he said — indeed, what he said dying — “O Crito,” he said, “we owe a cock to Asclepius. But you all pay it and do not neglect it.”

Crito said, “but these shall be so, but see if there is something else you are saying.”

Questioning him this, he made no reply, but after a little time, he jerked and the man covered him, and this made his eyes stand open. But seeing it, Crito closed the mouth and the eyes.

****

This is considerably worse than my Lysis translation. I've been reading through Lysis the last few days (I've gotten to the point where I can read lots of Plato at once, looking up a word here and there. It has been very enjoyable, and I've read a number of his dialogues over the past few weeks.) However this section is from a dialogue that I've never looked at and was much harder.

The cock for Asclepius is because death/hemlock has cured him of, well everything? Otherwise, I'm not sure that I grasp what he meant.
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Aug 22, 2016 3:29 pm

I read the article linked by Joel. Pretty interesting, and I think I agree about what it says about the Greek: ψύχοιτό doesn't need to mean literally "grew cold" (as e.g. in inadequate blood supply), and πήγνυτο doesn't need to mean "grew stiff" (as opposed to flaccid; stiff paralysis implies a problem of the central nervous system); I think both verbs could just mean that Socrates had increasing difficulties in moving his limbs.

But there are some problems with the article that are not negligible.

Did Socrates have sensory symptoms along with motor ones? The motor weakness caused by the poison provoked a failure of the respiratory muscles, and that would have been the cause of death. What I was able to find on poison hemlock is consistent with this, and this is also what the article is saying. According to what I understand, poison hemlock affects acethylcholine receptors both in the central nervous system and (what's more relevant here) peripherally in neuromuscular junctions, which it blocks – i.e. it prevents the order to contract from passing from the nerve to the muscle. Poison hemlock poisoning simply does not cause a peripheral (poly)neuropathy, as far as I can understand. The article is simply mistaken about that. Poison hemlock should not have any effect on sensory transmission, which is unaffected when neuromuscular junctions are blocked.

Socrates says that he couldn't feel his feet (σφόδρα πιέσας αὐτοῦ τὸν πόδα ἤρετο εἰ αἰσθάνοιτο, ὁ δ’ οὐκ ἔφη). I wouldn't make too much out of this, though. Nowadays people generally know a lot more about physiology than then, but I can tell from experience that they are often surprisingly inept at telling about this sort of symptoms. For example, they confuse sensory with motor symptoms (weakness vs. loss of sensation/tingling etc.) and even with vascular ones. If, say, their hand is numb because of a nerve problem, they might say that blood isn't circulating properly, or that the hand is swollen; I've even heard someone say that the hand is cold, when it most certainly was not. Or if the problem is demonstrably only motor without sensory deficit, they still might complain that the hand is numb. The article doesn't take account of what seemed to be Socrates' sensory symptoms, though I don't think this deficit is really crucial. Anyway, I'd suppose that once Socrates was in his death throes, he could have had this sort of sensations even if his sensory nerves were intact.

However, bringing Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) at all into this was very infelicitous and confusing, for several reasons.

First, GBS isn't a problem of neuromuscular junctions, it's a problem of nerves. More exactly, it's an acute polyneuropathy, most typically an acute demyelinating neuropathy, which means that the myelin sheaths that enwrap the nerves are damaged and nerves stop working properly (myelin basically provides electrical insulation to the nerves so that they conduct impulses better and faster). GBS affects both sensory and motor nerves. Also, the onset of GBS typically takes from a few days to a couple of weeks, not minutes or hours like in Socrates' case, and GBS is often painful. So, both GBS and poison hemlock poisoning are "ascending", and both might cause death by respiratory failure because of muscular weakness, but that's about where the analogy ends.

If an analogy between poison hemlock poisoning and another disorder were really needed, myasthenia gravis would have been much better, as it affects specifically the neuromuscular junction (dropping of the eyelids, as described in Joel's article as a symptom of Hemlock poisoning, is also a typical symptom of myasthenia).

So, forget anything the article says about Guillain-Barré syndrome, it's utterly irrelevant to Socrates' death. The 19th century descriptions of poison hemlock poisoning in the article were genuinely interesting, though.

What I was left wondering is that according to some other sources, poison hemlock poisoning should also cause all sort of other symptoms, like gastric problems, tachycardia, salivation etc. I wonder if these were unimportant enough to be left out of Plato's description. Anyway, one problem with the identification is that poison hemlock poisoning seems to be excessively rare nowadays, so that we simply do not know enough.

EDIT: My post is terribly long and rambling, I'm afraid it'll be difficult to understand unless you know a lot about pathologies of the peripheral nervous system. If anyone finds this interesting, ask and I'll try to explain.

I corrected one mistake "ψύχοιτό doesn't need to mean".

EDIT2: "So, forget anything the article says about Guillain-Barré syndrome, it's utterly irrelevant to Socrates' death."
Actually, it would be better to say that Guillain-Barré is irrelevant to poison hemlock poisoning.

To summarize: Guillain-Barré has both sensory and motor symptoms and is a nerve problem (neuropathy), hemlock poisoning has only motor symptoms and is a neuromuscular junction problem. The article is unaware of this difference. It is the presence of sensory symptoms that seems to me to be the biggest problem of identifying Socrates' poison with poison hemlock, but see my post. (The symptoms as described by Plato do actually resemble Guillain-Barré syndrome, only with a much faster onset.)

What a rambling post this is!

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Tue Aug 23, 2016 3:39 am

Some comments on the Phaedo translation.

περιελθών -- "after he walked around (aor. part.)

ἐπειδή -- "when/since", not "after this" (επειτα)

βαρύνεσθαι ἔφη -- he said that his legs were heavy/growing heavy. Where did you get "stepping"?

κατεκλίνη -- this is intransitive, not really passive. Many aor. "passives", especially those without the suffix -θ-, are really intransitive, not passive forms.

φάρμακον -- better "drug" or even "poison".

διαλιπὼν χρόνον -- "after a while," literally, "leaving some time". Not "at intervals." Often in narratives, imperfects such as ἐπεσκόπει don't indicate repetition--they just carry the narrative along, "placing the reader in the midst of the action". Smyth mentions this in sec. 1908.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/tex ... 99.04.0007

κἄπειτα σφόδρα πιέσας αὐτοῦ τὸν πόδα ἤρετο εἰ αἰσθάνοιτο "and then [not "after"] he pressed his foot hard and asked him whether he felt it."

ὁ δ’ οὐκ ἔφη -- "he said that he didn't". ου φημι is "say that not/deny", not "say no". Doesn't matter much here, but you might want to keep this in mind.

"returned to the foot in the same way, demonstrating . . . " I assume you recognize that ἐπανιὼν is a participle and ἐπεδείκνυτο is the main verb.

εἶπεν ὅτι, ἐπειδὰν πρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ γένηται αὐτῷ, τότε οἰχήσεται. ἐπειδὰν is "when." "he said that when it got to the heart, he (So.) would die." οιχομαι is a euphemism for "die". This is what Dickey calls a "prospective temporal clause" (p. 152), which functions much like a future more vivid conditional: αν in the subordinate clause, future indicative in the main clause. No need for "should" in the subordinate clause in English.

ὃ δὴ τελευταῖον ἐφθέγξατο -- "which he uttered last", "which were his last words". τελευταῖον is a predicate adjective, not a form of the verb τελευταω, "to end/die".

ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσητε -- with imperatives, ἀλλὰ isn't "but", but rather it adds a note of insistence or even impatience. It's like French mais -- mais payez-le lui donc.

"Questioning him this, he made no reply," -- you've left the participle dangling: Crito questioned him, Socrates made no reply. οὐδὲν ἔτι ἀπεκρίνατο -- "he no longer made any reply".

ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐξεκάλυψεν -- this must mean "uncovered," even though he has already been uncovered and you'd expect the executioner to cover him once he was dead.

καὶ ὃς τὰ ὄμματα ἔστησεν -- literally "he (Soc.) made his eyes stand still", 'he stopped moving his eyes."

Hope this helps.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Tue Aug 23, 2016 2:27 pm

Thank you, Hylander. It makes it much more clear -- it's like having a commentary to help read it.

The part that I had the most trouble with was καὶ ἐπανιὼν οὕτως ἡμῖν ἐπεδείκνυτο ὅτι ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο.

And maybe this speaks to Paul's and the article's point about "ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο," but I couldn't tell from "οὕτως ἡμῖν ἐπεδείκνυτο" whether the demonstration entirely consisted in them watching the man poke Socrates, or whether he asked them to come up and touch the feet and legs. Ie., what does οὕτως refer to exactly?

If the person relating the dialogue did not actually touch Socrates, then it would lend some credence to the idea that "ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο" refers to paralysis rather than actual coldness and stiffness.

I should have put a poll at the top of this thread, "was Plato's description of Socrates' death an accurate account or a literary invention?"
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Tue Aug 23, 2016 3:43 pm

καὶ ἐπανιὼν οὕτως I think probably means "going up like this", i.e., from the feet to the lower part of the legs to the shins, maybe pressing and asking S. if he felt anything. It's a little obscure to me, too.

It's difficult to tell to what extent Plato's account of Socrates' death is fact or fiction. Plato tells us he wasn't there himself--he was sick that day--which may be a signal that this is more an imaginative reconstruction than a wholly accurate account of exactly what happened. Phaedo could have been alive (but living in Elis, in NW Peloponnese, not near Athens) when Plato wrote this, although the dates of Plato's dialogues are fraught with uncertainty. It's not clear how accurate an account Plato could have obtained from those who were present at Socrates' death. No doubt people had a very general understanding of the effects of poison hemlock, but whether Plato had observed someone dying from it so as to be able to give a clinical description is questionable. Frankly, I don't think there's any way to reach a conclusion and, in the end, I honestly don't think there's much point in trying to.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Aug 23, 2016 8:31 pm

Hylander is of course right.

However – if, for argument's sake, we assume that the description is accurate, I find the identification with poison hemlock problematic. Above, I said that we shouldn't make too much out of Socrates claiming he didn't feel his feet – but I feel increasingly uncomfortable about that. People often say that they don't feel their feet or that they are numb, but once you actually touch them and then ask, they say that they can feel it. If they still claim they feel nothing, it's a lot likelier that they really don't. This is part of neurological examination 101. The guard was squeezing hard and Socrates said he didn't feel it – I think that probably indicates real sensory deficit. Sensory deficit, like I said, is not consistent poison hemlock poisoning, which should only block neuromuscular junctions. What we need is an agent that block nerves, sensory and motor alike. Was there any available then?

Also, the article linked by Joel insists upon the symptoms being "ascending". I agree that the symptoms as described by Plato are ascending, and I agree that that would be the pattern to be expected if the poison affects nerves – the symptoms start at the feet because the longest nerves are first affected (this is also the pattern typically seen in (poly)neuropathy). However, I doubt that poison hemlock really affects muscles in an ascending pattern – there are, of course, some muscles that are preferentially affected, with more muscles affected as the symptoms progress, but the pattern is different, not an ascending one – I'd expect a progression that is more similar to myasthenia, where the length of nerves is not important but how neuromuscular junctions function in different muscles. For example, myasthenia preferentially affects eye muscles, and that's exactly what the 19th century descriptions quoted in the article are saying.

So, it's sort of funny that the article correctly describes Socrates' death as an ascending nerve problem (though I think calling an acute potentially reversible poisoning a neuropathy is absurd, even if the symptoms are similar), but fails to notice that this very fact is not consistent with hemlock poisoning, which is not a neuropathy, is not sensory, and is probably not even best described as ascending.

I still see no problem with ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο. Even if ψύχοιτό means "grew cold", it might mean that either Socrates' blood circulation is collapsing (hardly surprising), or if that's inconsistent with whatever poison he's had, people around him would have assumed that his limbs are growing cold, because that's what usually happens when people die.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Timothée » Tue Aug 23, 2016 8:53 pm

Why hemlock? Can this choice be explained? Or was is a go-to source for execution poison? And surely this has to be a true fact, not made up by Plato?

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by mwh » Tue Aug 23, 2016 10:17 pm

Picking up one or two odds and ends.

εἶπεν ὅτι, ἐπειδὰν πρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ γένηται αὐτῷ, τότε οἰχήσεται. "He said 'When it reaches his heart, at that moment he’ll be gone.'” οιχομαι, frequent in tragedy, means “to be gone” (as if a perfect), so not euphemistic for “he’ll die” so much as “he’ll be dead.”

καὶ ἐπανιὼν οὕτως ἡμῖν ἐπεδείκνυτο ὅτι ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο. I agree with Hylander’s interpretation, taking οὕτως with επανιών, and taking επανιων here not as meaning not “going back” to the feet but “going on up” beyond the lower leg to the upper leg and beyond.
The man who’d prepared the infusion demonstrated that he was unresponsive (by pinching and poking at him). None of his friends laid hands on him, until Crito closed his eyes post mortem.

ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο, means he was getting cold and stiff, not that he was. (Cf. ψυχόμενα just below, of the abdominal region.) But the words do mean he was getting cold and stiff, not just that he “had increasing difficulties in moving his limbs” (Paul). I think we have to accept that it’s an imprecise not to say inaccurate description of what must have been the objective actuality. It could be taken as being transferred from descriptions of the onset of rigor mortis, but I’d rather take a cue from Paul’s earlier testimony, “I've even heard someone say that the hand is cold, when it most certainly was not.” If people experiencing a gradually spreading paralysis describe themselves as getting cold and stiff (which I can well believe), then all is explained. Socrates’ condition is described as hemlock-poisoned prisoners themselves subjectively described it.

"Why hemlock?" Just because it was known to be efficacious, and avoided bloodshed, and caused little if any pain (unlike e.g. amanita phalloides)? Was there any religious significance? It must have been reserved for those few of high social standing who were too pigheaded to go into exile. The only other victim I know of is Theramenes, and that was not as a result of a proper judicial process and he'd have escaped if he could. But the guy who administered it to Socrates seems to have been familiar with it.

I’d assume Plato’s account of Soc’s death is reasonably accurate, but as Hylander points out, he takes pains to distance himself from it. He represents the account as being given by Phaedo to a third party. So obviously it’s basically fictive—it’s a lengthy dialogue, and was not recorded. Its pretence of being a verbatim account twice over (first by Phaedo, then by the composer of the dialogue, let’s call him Plato) is obviously just that, a pretense with no claim to authenticity. But no doubt Plato did hear an account of Socrates’ final hours, whether from Phaedo or from someone else, probably several—there was evidently quite a crowd in attendance. There’s certainly not the slightest reason to imagine that Plato ever witnessed death by hemlock (which I reckon was a very unusual event.) — But conspiracy theorists could have a field day. Socrates changed his mind, was smuggled into hiding and died of natural causes. Or he was never brought to trial at all: its invention was mere propaganda, well calculated to enhance Socrates’ posthumous reputation.

I rather think Plato would prefer us to be reading the rest of the dialogue, though.

Maybe I should not try to cover more than one point in one post.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by polemistes » Wed Aug 24, 2016 12:26 am

The description is similar to the one in Aristophanes' Frogs:

Dionysos asks Heracles to describe the Road to Hades but adds:
καὶ μήτε θερμὴν μήτ᾽ ἄγαν ψυχρὰν φράσῃς. (119)
And then, when Heracles suggest the road through the mortar, which is hemlock, then Dionysos rejects it because:
ψυχράν γε καὶ δυσχείμερον:
εὐθὺς γὰρ ἀποπήγνυσι τἀντικνήμια. (125-6)

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by mwh » Wed Aug 24, 2016 3:19 am

I think that's an excellent point. It’s striking that the same terms are used. The Frogs was produced only a few years before Soc’s death by this very method, and Plato may well have seen or read the play. I wonder if his description was influenced by this passage.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Wed Aug 24, 2016 5:30 am

That passage is discussed in the article, as well as use of similar terms in Hippocrates. But I find it more likely that the Frogs passage agrees with what people commonly thought about hemlock at the time, rightly or wrongly, rather than introducing the idea.
"Why hemlock?" Just because it was known to be efficacious, and avoided bloodshed, and caused little if any pain (unlike e.g. amanita phalloides)? Was there any religious significance? It must have been reserved for those few of high social standing who were too pigheaded to go into exile. The only other victim I know of is Theramenes, and that was not as a result of a proper judicial process and he'd have escaped if he could. But the guy who administered it to Socrates seems to have been familiar with it.
There's nothing that says that the φάρμακον didn't contain more than just hemlock. I imagine that they would have also included a copious dose of a good soporific or painkiller. The only effective one that they had of either was opium, as far as I know.

The Hippocratic oath prohibits death drugs, which I take it means that they were in common use:

οὐδώσω δὲ οὐδὲ φάρμακον οὐδενὶ αἰτηθεὶς θανάσιμον, οὐδὲ ὑφηγήσομαι συμβουλίην τοιήνδε: ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω.

Beyond execution, and private murders, I would imagine that it was useful for euthanasia, especially of slaves. But maybe the Greeks didn't think that way.
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Wed Aug 24, 2016 3:07 pm

mwh wrote:ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο, means he was getting cold and stiff, not that he was. (Cf. ψυχόμενα just below, of the abdominal region.) But the words do mean he was getting cold and stiff, not just that he “had increasing difficulties in moving his limbs” (Paul). I think we have to accept that it’s an imprecise not to say inaccurate description of what must have been the objective actuality.
I think you somewhat misunderstand/misrepresent me; my point was not that the meaning of the Greek was in question. I think a layperson who is unable to move could call him/herself stiff even if it was a flaccid paralysis, whereas for a neurologist "stiff" implies increased muscle tone, as in a number of problems of the central nervous system, tetanus, or indeed rigor mortis. This is how the word was apparently interpreted by some in the 19th century, and that's why I thought it was necessary to bring it up. My point was really only that "stiff" doesn't need to mean anything as precise as "rigid paralysis" (which would absolutely exclude poison hemlock, btw). So yes, I agree that ψύχοιτό τε καὶ πήγνυτο doesn't need to mean anything very precise. (Btw, for the cold metaphor: doesn't English also have expressions like "he froze in place", "the screen is frozen"?)
If people experiencing a gradually spreading paralysis describe themselves as getting cold and stiff (which I can well believe), then all is explained. Socrates’ condition is described as hemlock-poisoned prisoners themselves subjectively described it.
With the risk of repeating myself, I think herein lies the problem: hemlock causes a strictly motor paralysis, and "getting cold" is sensory symptom. (Check Harley's account in Joel's article) As you said yourself, "the guy who administered it to Socrates seems to have been familiar with it", and he was actually expecting Socrates to lose sensation from his limbs and was even monitoring that - to me that means that loss of sensation was a normal, prominent effect of the drug, not just something Socrates was saying at random. As I said, reporting strange sensations like "coldness" is a very unspecific (and common) symptom, but claiming that one isn't feeling anything when someone squeezes you is several magnitudes more likely to indicate a real sensory problem.

So my conclusions? I think the alternatives are:
1) Most likely, as others have said, Plato's account is slightly inaccurate. He wasn't there anyway and made up a few details to make the story more lively. We can't identify the drug with certitude from the account, but Hemlock is likely.
2) Poison hemlock was mixed with other drugs, as suggested by Joel.
3) Some other drug was used. But which one? Not many plants are toxic enough.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by mwh » Thu Aug 25, 2016 12:48 am

Paul, I’m sorry if I misrepresented you.
On your final alternatives. #3 I would discount: hemlock (κώνειον) is the only drug ever mentioned; if not in this passage, then everywhere else, and the Aristophanes shows that’s what the φάρμακον wd be understood to be. #2 seems unlikely to me, largely for the same reason.
So to #1: To say hemlock is merely “likely” seems an excess of caution (again see on #3). And as to the historical accuracy of Plato’s Phaedo’s account, to suggest that Plato “made up a few details to make the story more lively” seems to me to be excessively crude and casual. I don’t think liveliness was all he was aiming at, and the question of what “few details” he “made up” (let alone for what purpose) remains open. The precise manner of Soc’s death seems to me—evidently not to you, which is fine by me—a supremely unimportant question in itself. Much more interesting is what Plato did with that death. But let it go.

Joel, I agree: it may well be that “the Frogs passage agrees with what people commonly thought about hemlock at the time, rightly or wrongly.” I think that passage itself is enough to show that. The effects of κωνειον may have been something of a meme, with no better than approximate correspondence with the reality. My suggestion—perhaps fanciful, but not extravagant—was not that Aristophanes introduced the idea but simply that Plato may have been influenced by Aristophanes in the particular terms of his description (ψυχρ- and πηγνυ-). It can hardly be validated, and I don't expect it's new, given the thousands of times this passage has been worked over. It sometimes seems as if this is the only bit of the Phaedo that anyone ever reads.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Thu Aug 25, 2016 2:56 am

It sometimes seems as if this is the only bit of the Phaedo that anyone ever reads.
I'm going to take up the challenge as soon as I finish the Symposium (if I can find my copy, which is probably buried somewhere in the disordered stacks of books that are taking over my house . . .help!).

I'm really not sympathetic to Plato's philosophy (I'm reading the Symposium in Dover's edition, and he certainly isn't sympathetic, either), but Plato's writing is so compelling that he almost has me convinced, or at least, I can't put it down--in fact, I pick up the book at red lights, which isn't a good idea.

The account of Socrates' death is not "lively"--it's understated, matter of fact, and, I would say, reportorial--the art that conceals art.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:27 am

Paul Derouda wrote:As I said, reporting strange sensations like "coldness" is a very unspecific (and common) symptom, but claiming that one isn't feeling anything when someone squeezes you is several magnitudes more likely to indicate a real sensory problem.
Ah, now I understand what you were getting at! This makes a lot of sense.
mwh wrote:It sometimes seems as if this is the only bit of the Phaedo that anyone ever reads.
It is the only bit that I have read so far. I picked it up due to the Lysis mention of hemlock, and of treating hemlock with wine, and because I remembered the article from some time back. However, I hope to correct my never having read Phaedo soon. I've been reading a number of Platonic dialogues in the last month, using various commentaries. For Apology, Helms. For Crito, Emlyn-Jones. Then Bryn Mawr for Xenophon's Apology, and also for Lysis. And I have been re-reading the first book of the Republic.
Hylander wrote:I'm really not sympathetic to Plato's philosophy (I'm reading the Symposium in Dover's edition, and he certainly isn't sympathetic, either), but Plato's writing is so compelling that he almost has me convinced, or at least, I can't put it down--in fact, I pick up the book at red lights, which isn't a good idea.
My San Francisco reading group will be starting the Symposium shortly. But if you start the Phaedo and want to do a thread on it, I would participate.
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Sat Aug 27, 2016 6:18 pm

Here's another log to throw on the hemlock fire. At 63d-e, just as Socrates and Simmias are beginning to launch a discussion of why Socrates is not just not afraid of dying but actually welcomes the prospect, Crito says that the man who is going to administer the hemlock to Socrates has been telling him to explain to Socrates that they should engage in conversation (διαλεγεσθαι} as little as possible, because if they do so, they'll get heated (θερμαινεσθαι), and if that happens, sometimes those who don't comply are forced to drink the drug two or three times.

Socrates says to disregard the hemlock-administrator, but let him know that he should get ready to administer the drug two or three times.

Crito says, "I knew you'd say that, but he's been bothering me for quite some time now."

A realistic description of the properties of hemlock? Or humor?

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:43 pm

Hylander wrote:A realistic description of the properties of hemlock? Or humor?
Maybe both, or neither? It could be part of something what mwh called the κωνειον meme. It's as if the poison acted by cooling down your system; it seems like a crude quasi-physiological explanation.

Allow me to present my humblest apologies for what talking so casually about Plato! Anyway, what really prompted me to post at this length on this topic was not so much being interested about which poison killed Socrates, but rather finding such a mixture of interesting points and quite inadmissible mistakes in that article (which was direly in need of being reviewed by someone with neurological expertise). I've tried to explain which aspects of the narrative I think are in line with the identification with poison hemlock, and which ones are not.

I'll make one final remark about the guard pinching Socrates' leg: Either it did happen, in which case that's interesting in itself, because according to what I was able to find on poison hemlock, it shouldn't make your feet lose their sensation – and that would mean that the guard had is own theories about the functioning and dysfunctioning of the body, which he probably shared with his contemporaries. It's by no means obvious to link sensory loss with motor weakness like we do, as the Greeks had no concept of "nerves". In the examples I gave in my first post, I think people are often describing their symptoms inaccurately, because they let their preconceptions rule over what they are actually experiencing.

Or, it didn't happen, in which case it was Plato who added the touch of the guard asking Socrates whether he could feel his feet, and telling that once the senselessness reaches his heart, he'll be gone. I call this a lively touch if it didn't happen; others who know English better than me may perhaps find a better word.

I think there remains a slight doubt that κώνειον wasn't the plant known today as poison hemlock, but I have no better suggestion, and I don't really think it's important.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Sun Aug 28, 2016 11:37 pm

"Vivid" I think is the word you're looking for.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Aug 29, 2016 7:43 pm

Thanks Hylander, that's the word!

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Aug 29, 2016 8:47 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:
Hylander wrote:A realistic description of the properties of hemlock? Or humor?

I'll make one final remark about the guard pinching Socrates' leg: Either it did happen, in which case that's interesting in itself, because according to what I was able to find on poison hemlock, it shouldn't make your feet lose their sensation – and that would mean that the guard had is own theories about the functioning and dysfunctioning of the body, which he probably shared with his contemporaries. It's by no means obvious to link sensory loss with motor weakness like we do, as the Greeks had no concept of "nerves". In the examples I gave in my first post, I think people are often describing their symptoms inaccurately, because they let their preconceptions rule over what they are actually experiencing.

Or, it didn't happen, in which case it was Plato who added the touch of the guard asking Socrates whether he could feel his feet, and telling that once the senselessness reaches his heart, he'll be gone. I call this a lively touch if it didn't happen; others who know English better than me may perhaps find a better word.

I think there remains a slight doubt that κώνειον wasn't the plant known today as poison hemlock, but I have no better suggestion, and I don't really think it's important.
Sounds like a search for the historical Socrates.
Allow me to present my humblest apologies for what talking so casually about Plato!

Don't know who would be offended if you failed to venerate Plato.


Postscript:

Having observed some of the impact Plato, neo-Plato and Aristotle had on Church Dogmatics over the millennia ... I really don't want to study them. The Dialogues are amusing at times and the ideas embedded in them can be ignored.
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Tue Aug 30, 2016 5:31 pm

Deleted.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by mwh » Wed Aug 31, 2016 2:03 am

Paul Derouda wrote: Or, it didn't happen, in which case it was Plato who added the touch of the guard asking Socrates whether he could feel his feet, and telling that once the senselessness reaches his heart, he'll be gone.
Sorry to give you a hard time over this, but why Plato rather than Phaedo or whoever else told Plato about it? And even if “it happened” (to accept your stark either/or disjunction), events inevitably get distorted in the telling (especially at second hand), and any account is inevitably selective and shaped; that goes double for Plato, where the shaping is deliberate and calculated. It’s long been recognized that “bloss zeigen, wie es eigentlich gewesen ist” is an impossibility, even if that were Plato’s aim, which obviously it’s not.

On Hylander's query: whether or not it’s a realistic description of the properties of hemlock, it’s a realistic description (a Greek might call it ἐναργής), and the recommendation against engaging in dialogue is certainly humorous, even if it happened (as I expect it did).

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Wed Aug 31, 2016 8:59 pm

Sure, it didn't have to be Plato who distorted the account. I wasn't really focusing on the how the account might have been distorted and by whom. It doesn't matter for my purpose at hand; in that case it's not possible to identify the poison, and Plato might have claimed Socrates died of an overdose of Stilton cheese for all I care... The way it was distorted, if it was distorted, is still interesting, for reasons I've stated (I mean the confusion between sensory and motor symptoms). But I was playing, for argument's sake as I said, with the idea that the account was reliable.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by mwh » Wed Aug 31, 2016 11:53 pm

“I was playing, for argument's sake as I said, with the idea that the account was reliable.”
Well, it’s not, as I’ve pointed out. Perhaps we should play with the idea that Socrates died from an overdose of stilton, or that the moon is made of blue cheese?

Speaking of playing, that cross-talk about not dialoguing is more than humorous, it’s positively comic. It lightens or even inverts a tragic scene, which for Plato’s Socrates was not tragic at all. The Phaedo itself explains why, and the death scene makes an appropriate coda.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Fri Sep 02, 2016 8:04 am

You know, we have an account from Plutarch of Demosthenes' death by poison too.

ταῦτ᾽ εἰπὼν, καὶ κελεύσας ὑπολαβεῖν αὐτὸν ἤδη τρέμοντα καὶ σφαλλόμενον, ἅμα τῷ προελθεῖν καὶ παραλλάξαι τὸν βωμὸν ἔπεσε καὶ στενάξας ἀφῆκε τὴν ψυχήν.

This is much less reliable than Plato's account of Socrates -- Plutarch even says that there are many conflicting stories -- but I see tremors, staggering, followed by collapse, pain, and then respiratory failure. This seems much more similar to the classic Hemlock symptoms described by Paul.

It's possible, that if the symptoms of Hemlock poisoning were well known in classical Athens (and later), that Plato's account may depart from a literal account in ways that he expects the reader to pick up on, and he therefore expects the reader to take the details as (mystically?) significant, rather than mundane.
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Hylander » Fri Sep 02, 2016 1:14 pm

I found Paul's discussion of the description of Socrates' death by hemlock interesting, particularly coming from a medical professional, and, if my suspicions are not too wide of the mark, a neurologist. It's no wonder he has taken a keen interest in this passage.

And this is interesting, too, for a different reason:

ταῦτ᾽ εἰπὼν, καὶ κελεύσας ὑπολαβεῖν αὐτὸν ἤδη τρέμοντα καὶ σφαλλόμενον, ἅμα τῷ προελθεῖν καὶ παραλλάξαι τὸν βωμὸν ἔπεσε καὶ στενάξας ἀφῆκε τὴν ψυχήν.

In "good" Greek (5th-4th century Attic purity), we would have ἓ instead of αὐτὸν, wouldn't we?

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Fri Sep 02, 2016 6:24 pm

Two caveats to everything I've said above:
1) I haven't done any serious research on the actions of poison hemlock. What I'm saying is based on random googling. Those random sources say that poison hemlock acts by blocking acethylcholine receptors. Also, I'm largely basing my comments on Harley's account, which I have no reason to disbelieve; however, I would not look for any serious medical advice on sources that are 150 years old. :) Anyway, with today's boring ethical committees and such, there probably isn't a modern account as detailed as Harley's; at least I couldn't find one. While Harley's account of symptoms seems plausible, his notions of physiology are completely obsolete, as he doesn't even know the difference between central and peripheral nervous system.
2) Modern sources mention "burning sensations in the mouth followed by vomiting", which aren't mentioned by Harley. Harley's experiments were made after ingesting a preparation called "succus conii", which isn't necessarily exactly the same as taking the crushed plant "as it is".
jeidsath wrote:You know, we have an account from Plutarch of Demosthenes' death by poison too.

ταῦτ᾽ εἰπὼν, καὶ κελεύσας ὑπολαβεῖν αὐτὸν ἤδη τρέμοντα καὶ σφαλλόμενον, ἅμα τῷ προελθεῖν καὶ παραλλάξαι τὸν βωμὸν ἔπεσε καὶ στενάξας ἀφῆκε τὴν ψυχήν.

This is much less reliable than Plato's account of Socrates -- Plutarch even says that there are many conflicting stories -- but I see tremors, staggering, followed by collapse, pain, and then respiratory failure. This seems much more similar to the classic Hemlock symptoms described by Paul.

It's possible, that if the symptoms of Hemlock poisoning were well known in classical Athens (and later), that Plato's account may depart from a literal account in ways that he expects the reader to pick up on, and he therefore expects the reader to take the details as (mystically?) significant, rather than mundane.
These doesn't seem like classical Hemlock symptoms at all – tremor is a symptom I'd expect with about any sort of death except hemlock. Tremor originates from the central nervous system, and you can't have tremor if the message from the nerves to the muscles doesn't get through. All the muscles are flaccid and the person is unable to move even his eyelids. What is conspicuous about death by hemlock poisoning is the lack of any sort of agitation, gasping for breath, groaning (so στενάξας doesn't fit either) etc. With almost any death you see some sort of struggling, but not with hemlock, or this is what I expect. So Plutarch's description is a very generic one, and is consistent with almost anything, but not really poison hemlock.

I was able to find Harley's book, the account begins on page 1: https://archive.org/stream/oldvegetable ... 6/mode/2up.

He says (p. 4): "An hour and a quarter after taking the dose, I first felt decided weakness in my legs. The giddiness and diminution of motor power continued to increase for the next fifteen minutes. An hour and a half after taking the dose, these effects attained their maximum; and at this time I was cold, pale, and tottering."

I now think that ψυχρὰν and ψύχοιτό are easy to explain as part of the action of poison hemlock: normally, muscle activity is an important part of maintaining body temperature (shivering when you're cold is an extreme example); it's only natural that a total loss of muscle tone makes you cold (and not just feel cold). The lack of muscle tone and basically any kind of struggling (unusual when one is dying) would explain the πήγνυτο part.

The only inconsistency that remains in Socrates' narrative is the ascending lack of sensation (Socrates not feeling when the guard was pinching him), as I've said from the start.
Hylander wrote:I found Paul's discussion of the description of Socrates' death by hemlock interesting, particularly coming from a medical professional, and, if my suspicions are not too wide of the mark, a neurologist. It's no wonder he has taken a keen interest in this passage.
I'm not an actual neurologist, though I did work about a year in a neurology department. Nowadays I'm specializing in clinical neurophysiology, which is lab nerd medicine; in many countries it's part of neurology, but in Finland it's a speciality of it own. Bart (about whom we haven't heard for a while...) is, I think, a real neurologist. I wonder what he would say about this.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by jeidsath » Sat Sep 03, 2016 2:44 am

I think that the main point about Plutarch's description being very general is spot on. However there seems to be an initial tremor (associated with the motor weakness?) reported with hemlock ingestion in humans and animals.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4909876/
https://books.google.no/books?id=Ui5nEQzC9usC&pg=PA421

I also found the following case report, which seems to back up what you have been saying about flaccid paralysis:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1303274/
On neurological examination there was semipurposeful response to noxious stimuli in the upper extremities and withdrawal in the lower extremities.
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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Sun Sep 04, 2016 8:51 am

Thanks for the links. The symptoms as described in the first article are slightly different; I wonder if it's because the doses were bigger than what Harley self-administered or because Harley used a preparation. I also wonder whether what the authors describe as ataxia (lack of coordination, i.e. clumsiness) is not really just weakness, as differentiating the two is not always easy.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Bart » Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:24 am

Guillain-Barré-syndrome was apparently a major cause of death for ancient Greek celebrities, killing not only Socrates but also Alexander the Great: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2 ... 115006.htm

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Paul Derouda » Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:10 pm

A collegue pointed this out to me, actually. I didn’t have the time to check it out yet.

I don’t know which one is more ridiculous - to call an acute poisoning with an agent that blocks neuromuscular junctions a ”polyneuropathy”, as is done in the article that was the original subject of this thread, or this new theory about Alexander also succumbing to GBS (Guillain Barré Syndrome) - and what’s more, a variant of GBS particularly fashionable right now in certain circles of neurologists called AMAN (acute motor axonal neuropathy).

Posterity glorifies Great Men, and it’s especially common to come up with all sorts of legends about their birth, childhood and death. The most usual glorifying stories about death are (or so it seems to me): 1) ”the person was lucid right to the end”, 2) ”the person’s corpse didn’t decompose as usual”. Certainly legends such as these would have abounded about Alexander. Yet it’s on such evidence that these people basing their theory!

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to access the original article. I’d like to know on which text passages their theories are based. But I’d be surprised if they know Greek. I hope I’m proved wrong.

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Re: Lysis 219e and Hemlock

Post by Bart » Sat Feb 02, 2019 12:40 pm

Yes, it's pathetic.

The body not decomposing after death (incorruptibility is the official term I think) is a sign of sainthood in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Christ's body didn't decompose after all according to official dogma. I don't know if this (i.e. the body not decaying) was an established sign of divinity in ancient Greece. If so it would fit rather nicely with Alexander's godlike status.

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