THE CHEMICAL MUSE by D.C.A. Hillman

THE CHEMICAL MUSE

Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In ancient Greece and Rome the right to use recreational drugs was not just accepted, but an important aspect of personal freedom.

Conservative academics don't want this to get around, claims debut author Hillman, asserting that he was told to delete material on recreational drug use from his dissertation for a doctorate in classics from the University of Wisconsin. That incident provided the incentive for this book, which argues that psychotropic drugs played a crucial role in the history of Western intellectual development. The earliest Greek philosophers, Hillman avers, “flourished in a society that embraced the intellectual, social, and political freedoms associated with recreational drug use.” They understood the value of mind-altering substances in assisting creativity and advocated their use. In the ancient world, he continues, such botanical medicines as opium and belladonna were a comfort and a source of hope; they were often mixed with wine, or inhaled, or applied as suppositories to provide relief from pain and illness. Knowledge of their powerful effects—euphoria, sedation, states of altered perception, temporary psychosis—was widespread, and ancient myths are replete with instances of their power. The author combs the writings of Homer, Virgil and Ovid for references to narcotics and the effects of various stimulants, seeking to demonstrate their familiarity to those authors and their audiences. Among the personal freedoms valued highly by the founders of Western civilization, he contends, was the right of the individual to use drugs of any kind; Hillman views the loss of this right as deplorable. Apparently still stinging from his academic experience, he claims that classical scholars have a moral bent that has led them to ignore this subject, making “the Greco-Roman fascination with narcotics, stimulants, and depressants…the last unexplored frontier of ancient history.”

If the movement to legalize marijuana is looking for an irate classicist as spokesman, Hillman is it.

Pub Date: July 24th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-35249-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2008