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The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of…
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The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization

by D. C.A. Hillman

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Dully written, somewhat repetitive, not as revelatory as I'd hoped, but still useful for simply stating the obvious but apparently intolerable (to Classicists) news: psychotropic substances helped produce poetic and religious insights in the ancient world, and influenced Western science and philosophy as well. There seems to be little or no evidence that they were officially suppressed, and much that they were tolerated, as part of the continuum of natural substances that were used for physical healing as well.

Hillman seems to think that what this says about personal freedom in those societies vs. ours is the big issue, but to me the more interesting question is to what level did drug use actually produce the mythic cosmovision and understanding of experience that gave the Classical world its complex superstructure? Maybe certain types of drug experience are useful for more than just a nice time. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
Classicists are a stuffy breed with all kinds of imaginative fictions about the nobility of classical people. When the author included a section in his doctoral dissertation on the use of recreational drugs and hallucinogenics, his advisers had a hissy fit and he had to remove it before they granted him a degree. This book is essentially based on that section.

The author lays out a convincing case that ancient classical people enjoyed and routinely used drugs in religious rites as well as recreationally. It is only due to the prejudices of translators that this has been obscured. I am sure many are aware of the back flips bible translators go through to tone down the sexually explicit language of the bible. Well, it is no different with classical texts with regard to drugs.

If you've ever thought 'those people sound like they were wasted', well, they were. You're average run of the mill religious leader doesn't have mind blowing visions and prophesies unless they are imbibing some powerful brew. As the author points out, the use of wine in Christian rituals is a pathetic residual leftover of this practice.

The book is meant for a wide readership and doesn't require the reader to know anything but the English language. It is scholarly however and quotes from original sources. All the works he sites are available in the public domain or in wonderful annotated translations so you can look them up easily. I enjoyed it and learned a lot.

It will make you look at ancient society differently and for the better. ( )
  PedrBran | Nov 7, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312352492, Hardcover)

“The last wild frontier of classical studies.” ---The Times (UK)
The Chemical Muse
uncovers decades of misdirection and obfuscation to reveal the history of widespread drug use in Ancient Rome and Greece. In the city-states that gave birth to Western civilization, drugs were an everyday element of a free society. Often they were not just available, but vitally necessary for use in medicine, religious ceremonies, and war campaigns. Their proponents and users existed in all classes, from the common soldier to the emperor himself.
Citing examples in myths, medicine, and literature, D. C. A. Hillman shows how drugs have influenced and inspired the artists, philosophers, and even politicians whose ideas have formed the basis for civilization as we know it. Many of these ancient texts may seem well-known, but Hillman shows how timid, prudish translations have left scholars and readers in the dark about the reality of drug use in the Classical world. 
Hillman’s argument is not simply “pro-drug.” Instead, he appeals for an intellectual honesty that acknowledges the use of drugs in ancient societies despite today’s conflicting social mores. In the modern world, where academia and university life are often politically charged, The Chemical Muse offers a unique and long overdue perspective on the contentious topic of drug use and the freedom of thought.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:39 -0400)

"Citing examples in myth, medicine, and literature, D. C. A. Hillman shows how drugs have influenced and inspired the artists, philosophers, and even the politicians whose ideas have formed the basis for civilization as we know it. Many of these ancient texts may seem well known, but Hillman reveals how timid, prudish translations have actually left scholars and readers in the dark about the reality of drug use in the Classical world." "Hillman's argument is not simply "pro-drug." Instead, he appeals for an intellectual honesty that acknowledges the use of drugs in ancient societies despite today's conflicting social mores. In the modern world, where academia and university life are often politically charged, The Chemical Muse offers a unique and long-overdue perspective on the contentious topic of drug use and the freedom of thought."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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