The mandrake root and the Viennese Dioscorides
Peduto VA.
Dipartimento di Medicina Clinica e Sperimentale,
Universita degli Studi,
Perugia, Italy.
Minerva Anestesiol. 2001 Oct;67(10):751-66


Pedanius Dioscorides of Anazarba in Cilicia lived in the first century. He was a Greek physician who served as a surgeon in Neros army. He wrote several books on materia medica. One of his manuscripts with drawings of medicinal herbs was copied down in the fifth century. In this book on Greek Herbal, still kept in the National Library of Vienna, Dioscorides gave a detailed description of mandragora (mandrake). Over the ages, the mandrake has been endowed with a wonderful and mystical aura. Examples are superstitions regarding harvesting of the plant. While being torn from the ground, the mandrake would emit a horrible shriek, that would be fatal to the harvester who hears it. So, if someone simply pulled the plant, they would either die or go mad. To avoid that fate, the plant could be partially dug with a few remaining roots staying in the ground. Then a starved black dog was tied to the mandrake with a rope. The harvester, with plugged ears, would throw some scraps to the hungry dog. When the unsospecting animal lunged for food, the mandrake would be completely unrooted and the ensuing shriek would kill the dog and spare the man. According to different legends quoted by Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder, other dire consequences of unrooting a mandrake could be avoided by making circles around the plant on the ground with a sword and then facing west while digging. If there were a true Anaesthetic of Antiquity it would have been mandragora. Dioscorides describes how the wine made from mandragora produces anaesthesia: Using a cyathus of it on those who cannot sleep, or are grievously pained, or are being cut, or cauterized they will not feel pain. Here Dioscorides used for the first time the word anaesthesia as absence of sensation as we mean it today.
Inhaled anaesthetics
Obstetric anaesthesia
Molecular mechanisms
Chloroform anaesthesia
A thalamocortical switch?
Anaesthesia and the spinal chord
History of anaesthesia apparatus
Consciousness, anaesthesia and anaesthetics
Anaesthesia: mutants in yeast, nematodes, fruit flies and mice

and further reading
Future Opioids
BLTC Research
Utopian Surgery?
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World