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Recently Translated Papyrus Details 1,900-Year-Old Hangover Cure

Those disappointed by the effectiveness of this 1,900-year old remedy can instead peruse the eye surgery techniques in other ancient texts

Illustration of a Greek vase shows Dionysus leading three revelers toward likely hangovers ( Stapleton Collection/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Coping with the aftereffects of imbibing a bit too much seems to be a universal human challenge (at least until brewers and vinters figure out how to take the hangover out of beer or the headache out of wine). Cultures around the world have recommendations for what to do to end the headache and queasy stomach. Bite into a sour pickle in Poland or sup some tripe soup in Romania. And it turns out that even the ancients had a plan, according to a recently translated 1,900-year old papyrus.

The hangover cure lies among about 500,000 documents unearthed in 1898 from a Greco-Roman dump at the edge of what was an ancient Egyptian town called Oxyrhynchus, Rossella Lorenzi reports for Discovery News.

According to these ancient papers, hangover sufferers should simply garland their neck with leaves from the Alexandrian laurel — the same plant that adorned athletes and orators. The plant isn’t known now for its medicinal properties, but it appears that people once thought it could relieve headaches. The text, written in Greek, specifically dubbed the remedy a "drunken headache cure," writes Owen Jarus for Livescience

Historians are filing this among many other ancient cures for a bit too much booze. Dave Hall reports for The Guardian that in ancient Mesopotamia, a physician wrote: "If a man has taken strong wine and his head is affected ... take licorice, beans, oleander, [with] oil and wine ... in the morning before sunrise and before anyone has kissed him, let him take it and he will recover." The ancient Roman poet Horace apparently recommended roasted onions and African snails.

This particular hangover cure comes as part of a new volume translating 30 of those 500,000 medical papyri. The other texts lay out courses of treatment for ulcers, tooth issues, hemorrhoids and detail techniques for eye surgery. The last is particularly gruesome considering surgical anesthesia wouldn’t be properly discovered and used until the mid-1800s

Fortunately, modern knowledge of eye surgery is much more refined and hangover cures have advanced somewhat. Even though scientists still don’t know exactly what causes the pounding headache they have some ideas. Although dehydration may not be the main culprit, staying hydrated is key and replacing electrolytes is helpful. Of course, simply avoiding the excessive alcohol in the first place works too, but even the ancients knew and ignored that advice.

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