Mithridate, also known as mithridatium, mithridatum, or mithridaticum, is a semi-mythical remedy with as many as 65 ingredients, used as an antidote for poisoning, and said to be created by Mithradates VI Eupator of Pontus in the 1st century BC. It was one of the most complex, highly sought-after drugs during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, particularly in Italy and France, where it was in continual use for centuries. An updated recipe called theriac (Theriacum Andromachi) was known well into the 19th century.
Mithridate takes its name from its inventor, Mithradates VI, King of Pontus (134 to 63 BC) who is said to have so fortified his body against poisons with antidotes and preservatives, that when he tried to kill himself, he could not find any poison that would have an effect, and, according to some legends, had to ask a soldier to run him through with a sword. The recipe for the reputed antidote was found in his cabinet, written with his own hand, and was carried to Rome by Pompey. It was translated into Latin by Pompey’s freedman Lenaeus, and later improved upon by Nero’s physician Andromachus and Marcus Aurelius’s physician Galen. It likely underwent considerable alterations since the time of Mithradates.
In the Middle Ages, mithridate was also used as part of a regimen to ward off potential threats of plague. According to Simon Kellwaye (1593), one should “take a great Onyon, make a hole in the myddle of him, then fill the place with Mitridat or Triacle, and some leaues of Rue“. Until as late as 1786, physicians in London could officially prescribe mithridate. According to historian Christopher Hill, Oliver Cromwell took a large dose of mithridate as a precaution against the plague and found it cured his acne.
The term mithridate has come to refer to any generally all-purpose antidote.
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