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Love Potions Through the Ages: A Study of Amatory Devices and Mores

188 pages
Library of Alexandria
The amatory motif is pervasive, timeless, and universal. In some of its phases and manifestations it has presented age-old provocations and, not infrequently, problems that are still unresolved. Among such problems are involved the faculty of physiological potency, the urge to attract amorously, and, conversely, the problem of preventing such attraction in a designated instance, or of diverting it to another objective. That, in brief, is the essence of the material means of effecting such a realization. In its various mutations, its protean diversities, it is the love-potion, the philtre, the mystic concoction that, once quaffed, will instil love and passion and desire and lust, that will replenish erotic inadequacies, that will awaken the ancient fons vitae, the symbol of animate being, the source, as the antique Hellenes sensed and exemplified, of all cosmic creation, of the totality of living generation. The potion, then, is at least a hypothetically efficacious instrument for securing and preserving the amorous interests of the desired object. It also serves as an apotropaic device for diverting misplaced love, as the agent sees it, and redirecting it to the proper and preferred channel. The actual means for the fulfilment of these erotic purposes vary with the ages, with ethnic groups and demographic alignments, with legendary and folk traditions and mores, with the disparate levels of culture of a specific region. They present variations and adaptations in correspondence with climatic and epichorial conditions. But they retain the essentially common characteristic, the unchanging property, of attempting to shape and mould the amatory esurgences, in whatever degree, and whether transitory or of more enduring permanence, by impersonal, palpable, mechanistic and visual means. It should be observed, as a terminus a quo, that the term philtre itself stems from the Greek philtron, a love-potion (from philein, to love, and tron, an instrumental suffix). It means, then, a love-charm. The term potion is derived immediately from the Latin potio, a draught, whether of medicine or even of poison. The ultimate source is the Greek potos, a drink. In a general sense, therefore, a love philtre or potion is a concoction, usually liquid in form, but not necessarily so, intended to produce or promote amatory sensibilities. In a wide and comprehensive denotation, the philtre will include any object or charm or periapt that serves the same erotic purpose. This present survey touches on the use of the potion in the course of the centuries, in varying circumstances and disparate countries: on the fantastic factors that composed the final preparations; and on anecdotes, both apocryphal and authenticated, and episodes and occasional allusions that point up the treatment, its hazards, and even its humors.