Chap. VII.

Of the Mandrakes of Leah.

WE SHALL not omit the Mandrakes of Leah, according to the History of Genesis. And Reuben went out in the daies of Wheat-harvest, and found Mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah; then Rachel said unto Leah, give me, I pray thee, of thy sons Mandrakes: and she said unto her, is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband, and wouldest thou take my sons Mandrakes also? and Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee this night for thy sons Mandrakes.[1] From whence hath arisen a common conceit, that Rachel requested these plants as a medicine of fecundation, or whereby she might become fruitfull. Which notwithstanding is very questionable, and of incertain truth.

For first from the comparison of one Text with another, whether the Mandrakes here mentioned, be the same plant which holds that name with us, there is some cause to doubt. The word is used in another place of Scripture,2 when the Church inviting her beloved into the fields, among the delightfull fruits of Grapes and Pomegranates, it is said, The Mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits. Now instead of a smell of Delight, our Mandrakes afford a papaverous and unpleasant odor, whether in the leaf or apple, as is discoverable in their simplicity or mixture. The same is also dubious from the different interpretations: for though the Septuagint and Josephus do render it the Apples of Mandrakes in this Text, yet in the other of the Canticles, the Chaldy Paraphrase termeth it Balsame. R. Solomon, as Drusius observeth, conceives it to be that plant the Arabians named Iesemin. Oleaster and Georgius Venetus, the Lilly, and that the word Dudaim, may comprehend any plant that hath a good smell, resembleth a womans breast, and flourisheth in wheat harvest. Tremelius interprets the same for any amiable flowers of a pleasant and delightfull odour: but the Geneva Translators have been more wary then any: for although they retain the word Mandrake in the Text, they in effect retract it in the Margin, wherein is set down the word in the Original is Dudaim, which is a kind of fruit or Flower unknown.

Nor shall we wonder at the dissent of exposition, and difficulty of definition concerning this Text, if we perpend how variously the vegetables of Scripture are expounded, and how hard it is in many places to make out the species determined. Thus are we at variance concerning the plant that covered Jonas;[3] which though the Septuagint doth render Colocynthis, the Spanish Calabaca, and ours accordingly a Gourd: yet the vulgar translates it Hedera or Ivy; and, as Grotius observeth, Jerom thus translated it, not as the same plant, but best apprehended thereby. The Italian of Diodati, and that of Tremelius have named it Ricinus, and so hath ours in the Margin, for palma Christi is the same with Ricinus. The Geneva Translators have herein been also circumspect, for they have retained the Original word Kikaion, and ours hath also affixed the same unto the Margin.

Nor are they indeed alwayes the same plants which are delivered under the same name, and appellations commonly received amongst us. So when it is said of Solomon, that he writ of plants from the Cedar of Lebanus, unto the Hysop that groweth upon the wall, that is, from the greatest unto the smallest, it cannot be well conceived our common Hysop; for neither is that the least of vegetables, nor observed to grow upon wals; but rather as Lemnius well conceiveth, some kind of the capillaries, which are very small plants, and only grow upon wals and stony places. Nor are the four species in the holy oyntment, Cinnamon, Myrrhe, Calamus and Cassia, nor the other in the holy perfume, Frankinsence, Stacte, Onycha and Galbanum, so agreeably expounded unto those in use with us, as not to leave considerable doubts behind them. Nor must that perhaps be taken for a simple unguent, which Matthew only termeth a precious oyntment; but rather a composition, as Mark and John imply by pistick Nard, that is faithfully dispensed, and may be that famous composition described by Dioscorides,4 made of oyle of Ben, Malabathrum, Juncus Odoratus, Costus, Amomum, Myrrhe, Balsam and Nard; which Galen affirmeth to have been in use with the delicate Dames of Rome, and that the best thereof was made at Laodicea; from whence by Merchants it was conveyed unto other parts. But how to make out that Translation concerning the Tithe of Mint, Anise and Cumin,[5] we are still to seek; for we finde not a word in the Text that can properly be rendred Anise; the Greek being ἀνηθόν which the Latines call Anethum, and is properly Englished Dill. Lastly, What meteor that was, that fed the Israelites so many years, they must rise again to inform us. Nor do they make it out, who will have it the same with our Manna; nor will any one kind thereof, or hardly all kinds we reade of, be able to answer the qualities thereof, delivered in the Scripture; that is, to fall upon the ground, to breed worms, to melt with the Sun, to taste like fresh oyl, to be grounded in Mils, to be like Coriander seed, and of the colour of Bdellium.6

Again, It is not deducible from the Text or concurrent sentence of Comments, that Rachel had any such intention, and most do rest in the determination of Austin, that she desired them for rarity, pulchritude or suavity. Nor is it probable she would have resigned her bed unto Leah, when at the same time she had obtained a medicine to fructifie her self. And therefore Drusius who hath expressely and favourably treated hereof, is so far from conceding this intention, that he plainly concludeth, Hoc quo modo illic in mentem venerit conjicere nequeo; how this conceit fell into mens minds, it cannot fall into mine; for the Scripture delivereth it not, nor can it be clearly deduced from the Text.

Thirdly, If Rachel had any such intention, yet had they no such effect, for she conceived not many years after of Joseph; whereas in the mean time Leah had three children, Isachar, Zebulon, and Dinah.

Lastly, Although at that time they failed of this effect, yet is it mainly questionable whether they had any such vertue either in the opinions of those times, or in their proper nature. That the opinion was popular in the land of Canaan, it is improbable, and had Leah understood thus much, she would not surely have parted with fruits of such a faculty; especially unto Rachel, who was no friend unto her. As for its proper nature, the Ancients have generally esteemed it Narcotick or stupefactive, and it is to be found in the list of poysons, set down by Dioscorides, Galen, Ætius, Ægineta, and several Antidotes delivered by them against it. It was I confess from good Antiquity, and in the days of Theophrastus accounted a philtre, or plant that conciliates affection; and so delivered by Dioscorides. And this intent might seem most probable, had they not been the wives of holy Jacob: had Rachel presented them unto him, and not requested them for her self.

Now what Dioscorides affirmeth in favour of this effect, that the grains of the apples of Mandrakes mundifie the Matrix, and applied with Sulphur, stop the fluxes of women, he overthrows again by qualities destructive unto conception; affirming also that the juice thereof purgeth upward like Hellebore; and applied in pessaries provokes the menstruous flows, and procures abortion. Petrus Hispanus, or Pope John the twentieth speaks more directly in his Thesaurus pauperum: wherein among the receits of fecundation, he experimentally commendeth the wine of Mandrakes given with Triphera magna. But the soul of the medicine may lie in Triphera magna, an excellent composition, and for this effect commended by Nicolaus. And whereas Levinus Lemnius that eminent Physitian doth also concede this effect, it is from manifest causes and qualities elemental occasionally producing the same. For he imputeth the same unto the coldness of that simple, and is of opinion that in hot climates, and where the uterine parts exceed in heat, by the coldness hereof they may be reduced into a conceptive constitution, and Crasis accommodable unto generation; whereby indeed we will not deny the due and frequent use may proceed unto some effect, from whence notwithstanding we cannot infer a fertilitating condition or property of fecundation. For in this way all vegetables do make fruitful according unto the complexion of the Matrix; if that excel in heat, plants exceeding in cold do rectifie it; if it be cold, simples that are hot reduce it; if dry moist, if moist dry correct it; in which division all plants are comprehended. But to distinguish thus much is a point of Art, and beyond the Method of Rachels or feminine Physick. Again, Whereas it may be thought that Mandrakes may fecundate, since Poppy hath obtained the Epithite of fruitful, and that fertility was Hieroglyphically described by Venus with an head of Poppy in her hand; the reason hereof was the multitude of seed within it self, and no such multyplying in human generation. And lastly, whereas they may seem to have this quality, since Opium it self is conceived to extimulate unto venery, and for that intent is sometimes used by Turks, Persians, and most oriental Nations; although Winclerus doth seem to favour the conceit, yet Amatus Lustanus, and Rodericus a Castro are against it; Garcias ab Horto refutes it from experiment; and they speak probably who affirm the intent and effect of eating Opium, is not so much to invigorate themselves in coition, as to prolong the Act, and spin out the motions of carnality.[7]


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross, Arcana Microcosmi II:5.2 is tenacious if unconvincing on efficacy of mandrakes and their identification with dudaim.

1 [Gen. 30:14-15, which continues in 16: "And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night." For more on the mandrake see Book II, Chapter VI.]

2 Cant. 7. [13: "The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved." (The Hebrew here is דודאם.)

In a note to Book II, Chapter VI, Wilkin gives a description of the mandrake of the Holy Land (and its scent):

"The Abbe Mariti, in his Travels, vol. ii, p. 195, thus describes the mandrake. 'At the village of St. John, in the mountains, about six miles south-west from Jerusalem, this plant is found at present, as well as in Tuscany. It grows low like lettuce, to which its leaves have a great resemblance, except that they have a dark green colour. The flowers are purple, and the root is for the most part forked. The fruit, when ripe in the beginning of May, is the size and colour of a small apple, exceedingly ruddy, and of a most agreeable odour. Our guide thought us fools for suspecting it to be unwholesome. He ate it freely himself; and it is generally valued by the inhabitants as exhilarating their spirits, and a provocation to venery.' "

Gerard says there is no delectable odour in the flowers; Mrs. Grieve says that the fruit has a strong apple smell. It is entirely possible, of course, that a strong apple smell may be pleasant to one and unpleasant to another; but could it be called "papaverous"?]

3 [Jonah 4:6. In his Miscellany Tract "On Scripture Plants", Browne writes at some length about the identities of plants mentioned in the Bible.]

4 V. Matthioli Epist.

5 [Matthew 23:23: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."]

6 V. Doctissimum Chrysostom. Magnenum de Manna. [Exodus 16:14-15; 31-35; Numbers 11:6-9]

7 [Ross, concluding a page of criticism of Browne's argument, is happier in rhetoric than in truth: "To be brief, I would know, whether it be a greater error in me to affirm that which is denied by some, or in him to deny that which is affirmed by all?"]

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