Ophiussa

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"Snake Plant"

Pliny provided us with a description of this plant,

which comes from the island of Elephantine on

the Nile, renowned as the place where the

mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) was found:

The ophiussa on Elephantine in the same

Ethiopia has a lead-colored and unsightly

appearance and is said, when drunk, to produce

such dread and such terror of snakes that

people would kill themselves out of fear; this

is why the desecrators of temples are forced to

drink of it. Palm wine is an antidote. (24.163)

This information inspired the film Young

Sherlock Holmes (from the studio of Steven

Spielberg). In this film, an Egyptian sect of

murderers kills its victims by shooting an arrow

that has been treated with an unidentified hallucinogen

into the carotid artery. The victims experience

such terrible visions, including snakes, that

they commit suicide. Today, many people continue

to believe that people will throw themselves

out of windows because they have been driven to

madness by psychedelics. This motif, which is

quite popular in the yellow press, appeared in a

novel that Leo Perutz (1882-1957) wrote in 1923,

Der Meister des jungsten Tages [The Master of

Judgment Day] (cf. Claviceps purpurea).
Literature

Perutz, Leo. 1990. Der Meister des jungsten Tages.

Reinbek: Rowohlt.