Nowadays, powdered mummy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for many years it was just what the doctor ordered. That’s one of the takeaway messages of Richard Sugg‘s study Good Physic but Bad Food: Early Modern Attitudes to Medicinal Cannibalism and its Suppliers.
Sugg is a research fellow in literature and medicine at Durham University. He begins his monograph with an observation: “The subject of medicinal cannibalism in mainstream western medicine has received surprisingly little historical attention.”
Sugg tells us that mummy, generally in powdered form, “having originally been a natural mixture of pitch and asphalt, came in the 12th century to be associated with preserved Egyptian corpses”. It then “emerged as a mainstream western medicine” and remained a standard-issue drug until “opinion began to turn against it in the 18th century”….
So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.