nepenthe, n

nepenthe
nepenthe, n. A potion supposed to make persons forget their sorrows; any draught or drug capable of removing pain or care.

Is it just a coincidence that every time I come across this elegant word I can’t remember its meaning?
Yet each time I look it up, I realise we’ve met before. And it wasn’t on sad occasions – as far as I can recall.

From the Greek nepenthes: “ne (no, not) + penthos (pain, grief), nepenthes was slipped into the English language in the 1570’s.  In 1595 the ‘s’ was dropped perhaps through the mistaken belief it formed a plural.

An Egyptian herbal remedy to soothe the mind of all troubles through forgetfulness, Homer wrote about nepenthes pharmakon:

Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, took other counsel.
Straightway she cast into the wine of which they were drinking a drug
to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill.
Odyssey, Book 4, v. 219–221

Recreational drugs have been making the nepenthes promise ever since.
As someone who doesn’t rate avoidance for dealing with the shit life throws at us, I’m all for saying NO to nepenthes… unless the language gets tricky.

Botanist and father of modern taxonomy, Linnaeus referenced Homer’s work when naming the genus of carnivorous plants (commonly known as pitcher plant or monkey cups):

If this is not Helen’s Nepenthes, it certainly will be for all botanists. What botanist would not be filled with admiration if, after a long journey, he should find this wonderful plant. In his astonishment past ills would be forgotten when beholding this admirable work of the Creator! [translated from Latin by Harry Veitch][22]

Linnaeus was describing the species  Nepenthes distillatoria but the whole family are distracting in appearance:

nepenthes
Nepenthes somethingorother

photo source

Sources:

Oxford English Dictionary Online

Online Etymology Dictionary

Perseus Digital Library

Wikipedia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s