Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The first Danish Apoteks - Mummy Powder and Scorpion Oil

Danish Apotek, 1700s
Medieval pharmacy
The Danish
apotekerskilt, Tønder, foto: gb
word Apotek comes from the Greek word apothéke which means storage or repository. (English: pharmacy).
The history of the Danish apotek is linked to the common cultural history.The medieval church was encompassing, the medieval Chapters were cultural centers with tasks in administration, education, justice and disease control. Far back in time church people were engaged in medicine and many of those are known by name. Many medical and herbal books were published, but most of them are lost. The development of the apotek/pharmacy is seen in the Pharmacopoeia (= the authorized lists of the medcine which an apotek had to hold). The Pharmacopoeia of 1772 is a turning point. Although some uneffective medicine still was accepted after this time  - like the scorpion oil - the deciding principle was from now on a medical science which rested upon experience, and the old folk-remedies had to give way. The change must be seeen in connection to the interest of natural science and the new discoveries which grew up in the 1700s.

Apotekerhaven, Viborg,

Already in the 1400s were the first traces of an independent pharmacy state in Denmark. Before the permanent apoteks were established, the medicine were procured in other ways. The relict flora by the Danish klosters show the cultivation of medical herbs,  but herbs were also imported and sold in common trade. In the Hanseatic tariff lists from 1368-69 are fx mentioned cloves, sapphron, cumin, poppy oil and ginger. Although some of it was sold as spice, a big part was probably meant for medicine. The border between medicine and spice was undeterminable, also later in time. The oldest Danish apoteks/pharmacies did not look like a pharmacy of today, they were storages and sales of medicine , herbals, details and much more, fx wine. A command from king Hans in 1510 informs that his pharmacist had to send some wine for the king's use.
Viborg Bymuseum
Not until late in the 1700s a more rational production of medicine began to build upon a practical scientific experience, but it never displaced the ineffective compositions and folk remedies, which had great confidence among people, like frk. Thunes balsam (Miss Thune's balm) which uncritically was used for all kinds of diseases and small ailments.  A detailed description was printed in a medical paper in Copenhagen 18 March 1767:  "This balm is a safe healing remedy for all appropiate, wounds by fire or boiling materia , or where the skin is scraped. It also cures frost-boils in hands and feet. It cleans and heals all deep wounds either if they are chopped, cut, encountered, even fistuleuse or desperates, when it is hot injected or injected in another way."

Mortars in the serpentine stone were used in the Danish apoteks since they would supposedly jump into pieces if they came in contact with poison.

Lapis-pin, Museum, the pin in the top is the hell-stone
The primitive stage of the pharmacy and medicine is also seen in king Chr. 6's medical history.  4-5 years before his death he had an abscess on the gums, which was treated with Lapis infernalis, helvedessten (hell's stone). His valet got the dubious task to treat the king, and it went completely wrong. The stone passed down the king's throat, and the valet became so frightened that he concealed the thruth. A borax powder could have saved the situation, but the valet was so scared of the king's eventual rage that he just advised him to take laxative in order to drive out the rest of liquid from the abscess. This accident might have been a cause of the king's later sickness and death.

Mummy Powder

One of the oddest medical remedies, which was popular from the 12th to the 18th century in Europe, involved powdering the remains of the ancient dead. Mummy powder was among the first of the old medicines which the new medical science rejected. Nevertheless this strange médicament  - like the scorpion oil - was used in Denmark almost up till present. In 1866 Assens Apotek (in Denmark) sold mummy powder, and still in 1927 a German medical firm sold mummy. Asphalt - which was used by the embalming  - was higly recommended as a medicine from old times, and it was probably the confidence in this substance which was transferred to the mummy medicine. The belief in the eternal conservation of the mummy was also a part of it. People might have imagined that the embalmed body contained a substance which might secure them something like an everlasting life. In accordance to this the mummy medicine was also the part of a powder which could help against death itself. In the later folk medicine mummy was together with other substances used in a means against dropsy. At the Danish Apoteks (pharmacies) mummy was sold in the name armesynderkød ( poor sinner's meat). Several samples of the fabric have been preserved, some contains without doubt real mummy, while others probably consists of asphalt.

Mummy. Louvre
Mummy powder was obtained by raiding ancient tombs and plundering the corpses found inside. These could include the most famous mummies in history, Egyptian mummies, or other less well known corpses. Once the corpse was obtained, it would be ground down into dust. The powder could be mixed with various other substances and was prescribed to treat everything from headaches, stomach ulcers, to tumors. It could be taken orally or used as a plaster or salve. It was so popular that any apothecary carried mummy powder among its stock. Humans weren't the only beings alleged to benefit from mummy; sick hawks were thought to benefit from their own grade of mummy powder.

Ærø Apotek, Skorpionolie, Wikipedia
In ancient Danish medical books is mentioned a means against the poison of the scorpion - and this is obvious a loan from the South. In ancient times medicine against the scorpion's bite was sought after in the southern countries where the poisonous insect lived. Among the recommended means were some which used the animal itself as an antidote. The scorpion played a big role for the medical science up high in time, also in Denmark.
Common scorpion oil was produced by soaking 20 scorpions in oil from 1 pound of bitter almonds.

Besides this there was a medicine like the mixed mathiols scorpion oil for internal use which was used against plague-abscesses, smallpox, fever and paralysis. About year 1800 the scorpion slipped out from the part of the recommended medicine, but it lived on in folk medicine - and the scorpion oil was still sold at the Danish apoteks. In "Den gamle By" (Museum) in Århus is kept a bottle with scorpions found at Frijsenborg Apotek (established 1842) at the village Hammel. A pharmacist at Odder Apotek says in 1961 that it might still happen that someone asks for scorpion oil.
This medicine was from ancient times connected to the astrology. The scorpion gave name to a constellation, and it must be a reflection of this connection between medicine and astrology when the medical doctores at the University of Copenhagen were made responsible for making an almanac. The astrology had also its oppponents though, one was the archbishop in Lund (1201-23) Andreas Sunesøn, who said that "the stars do not show us future events as if man was in the happy possition of the gift of reason and was dependent on a star without feeling and life." Still today 800 years later some people might remember his sensible words.

Source: Danish Archaological Magazine: Skalk, nr. 2, 1961, Sundhed til Salg, Helge Søgård. 

photo from Viborg and Tønder: grethe bachmann
other photos from wikipedia.

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