The first two books of Aetius of Amida's medical text are about 'materia medica': what are the pharmacological effects of various plants, animals and minerals and (to a lesser extent) how do we judge the potency of a given sample of a drug? Most of the time, the entries are taken from Galen's Mixtures and Capacities of Simple Drugs and Capacities of Foods. Sometimes we come across entries from other people who wrote on 'materia medica', like Dioscorides. Less frequently, there are bits and pieces from some lost works of authors we don't know from any other source.
The entry on amber, for instance, is not given a parallel by the books' editor, Olivieri. It seems, however, that it may have been taken from a pseudo-Dioscorides, who wrote a work called "On Stones".
Here's the passage from Aetius.
"Amber, soukinon or lingourion. When drunk, it cures urinary problems and helps stomach problems. Also, golden-amber drunk with mastic cures stomach pain."
Ἤλεκτρον ἢ σούκινον ἢ λιγγούριον. Πινόμενον ἰᾶται δυσουρίαν καὶ στομαχικοὺς ὠφελεῖ, καὶ ὁ χρυσήλεκτρος δὲ πινόμενος σὺν μαστίχῃ ἀλγήματα στομάχου ἰᾶται.
Aëtius of Amida, Libri medicinales II 35 (167,23-25 Olivieri)
And here's the parallel passage from pseudo-Dioscorides:
"Stone of amber, or lyngourion, or soukhinon. When drunk, this cures urinary problems and helps stomach problems as well as pallor. And amber drunk with mastic cures stomach pains."
Λίθος ἠλέκτρου ἢ λυγγούριον ἢ σούχινον. Πινόμενος οὗτος ἰᾶται δυσουρίαν καὶ στομαχικοὺς ὠφελεῖ καὶ ὠχριάσεις· καὶ τὸ ἤλεκτρον δὲ σὺν μαστίχῃ πινόμενον ἀλγήματα στομάχου ἰᾶται.
Pseudo-Dioscorides, On Stones c.10 (Volume 2, Part 1, p.180,13-15 Rulle)
There are a few little differences in them. The biggest: Pseudo-Dioscorides has "καὶ ὠχριάσεις· καὶ τὸ ἤλεκτρον" while Olivieri's text of Aetius has "καὶ ὁ χρυσήλεκτρος". But we can explain this, I think, by assuming there was a mistake in the transmission of Aetius. Maybe a copyist misread (or misheard?) "ὠχριάσεις" as "ὠ χριάσεις" or as "ὁ χρυς καὶ ἤλεκτρον" (like the 'iotacism' we see in "λυγγούριον" > "λιγγούριον" - upsilons at some point started to sound like iotas), correcting it to χρυσήλεκτρος: "golden-amber" (the stuff is mentioned by Pliny, but what other kind of amber is there?).
Some Renaissance editors seem to have had the same opinion. Olivieri notes that the ψ-family of mss. has "καὶ ὠχρούς". Not sure how that happened, but to me it suggests someone thought it appropriate to amend the text, and emended it (or restored it) to something awfully close to On Stones, in which amber is a cure for pallor.
Aristotle discusses pallor in the context of a discussion on predication, i.e., when we say someone 'is pale' as opposed to something less permanent, like 'turned pale' or 'looking pale'.
"All those circumstances that have taken their start from certain affections that are difficult to change and are permanent are called 'qualities'. For when pallor or darkness are produced in a person's natural composition, they are called a quality, because we are said to be a certain quality in accordance with them; and when pallor or darkness have occurred because of a long illness or a sunburn and are they are not easily returned to their previous state or even remain throughout life, they are also called qualities, since we are likewise said to be a certain quality because of them. But whichever [circumstances] come about from something that easily disperses and quickly returns to its previous state are called 'affections', because people are not said to be a certain quality because of them. For someone who turns purple because of shame is not called 'purple'; someone who turns pale because of fear is not called 'pale', rather one is said to have been somehow affected. These kinds of things, therefore, are called affections, not qualities."
ὅσα μὲν οὖν τῶν τοιούτων συμπτωμάτων ἀπό τινων παθῶν δυσκινήτων καὶ παραμονίμων τὴν ἀρχὴν εἴληφε ποιότητες λέγονται· εἴτε γὰρ ἐν τῇ κατὰ φύσιν συστάσει ὠχρότης ἢ μελανία γεγένηται, ποιότης λέγεται, – ποιοὶ γὰρ κατὰ ταύτας λεγόμεθα, – εἴτε διὰ νόσον μακρὰν ἢ διὰ καῦμα [τὸ αὐτὸ] συμβέβηκεν ὠχρότης ἢ μελανία, καὶ μὴ ῥᾳδίως ἀποκαθίστανται ἢ καὶ διὰ βίου παραμένουσι, ποιότητες καὶ αὐταὶ λέγονται, – ὁμοίως γὰρ ποιοὶ κατὰ ταύτας λεγόμεθα. – ὅσα δὲ ἀπὸ ῥᾳδίως διαλυομένων καὶ ταχὺ ἀποκαθισταμένων γίγνεται πάθη λέγεται· οὐ γὰρ λέγονται ποιοί τινες κατὰ ταῦτα· οὔτε γὰρ ὁ ἐρυθριῶν διὰ τὸ αἰσχυνθῆναι ἐρυθρίας λέγεται, οὔτε ὁ ὠχριῶν διὰ τὸ φοβεῖσθαι ὠχρίας, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον πεπονθέναι τι· ὥστε πάθη μὲν τὰ τοιαῦτα λέγεται, ποιότητες δὲ οὔ.
Aristotle, Categories c.8, 9b19-33 (link to English text of Edghill at classics.mit)
So, there are naturally or unnaturally pale people, and then there are people who are affected by pallor due to fear or some other cause.
But what kind of affection was pallor? Posidonius thought (according to someone someone once thought was Plutarch) it was brought about by an affection of the soul that has effects in the body:
"Posidonius says some [affections] are psychic, others bodily. And some are not [affections] of the soul, but are bodily ones connected with the soul; while others are not [affections] of the body but are psychic ones connected with the body. Psychic [affections] on their own are [affections] in judgment and estimation, things like desire, fear, anger. Bodily [affections] on their own are fever, chill, compression, rarefaction. Bodily [affections] connected with the soul are lethargy, melancholy, mental suffering, hallucinations, giddiness. Finally, psychic affections connected with the body are trembling, pallor and changes of countenance following fear and pain."
Ὅ γέ τοι Ποσειδώνιος τὰ μὲν [sc. παθήματα] εἶναι ψυχικά, τὰ δὲ σωματικά, καὶ τὰ μὲν οὐ ψυχῆς, περὶ ψυχὴν δὲ σωματικά, τὰ δ' οὐ σώματος, περὶ σῶμα δὲ ψυχικά φησι, ψυχικὰ μὲν ἁπλῶς τὰ ἐν κρίσεσι καὶ ὑπολήψεσιν οἷον ἐπιθυμίας λέγων, φόβους, ὀργάς, σωματικὰ δ' ἁπλῶς πυρετούς, περιψύξεις, πυκνώσεις, ἀραιώσεις, περὶ ψυχὴν δὲ σωματικὰ ληθάργους, μελαγχολίας, δηγμοὺς, φαντασίας, διαχύσεις, ἀνάπαλιν δὲ περὶ σῶμα ψυχικὰ τρόμους καὶ ὠχριάσεις καὶ μεταβολὰς τοῦ εἴδους κατὰ φόβον ἢ λύπην.
pseudo-Plutarch, De libidine et aegritudine, 6.1-9
Hippocrates and Baltic Amber
There is a nice write up on ancient sources that talk about the origins of amber from the Getty.
The people at "Amber Artisans" (first google hit when I searched for "amber medicinal properties" on 26. February 2018) claim that,
"Natural Baltic Amber has unique properties unlike any other amber in the world. Famous Hippocrates (460-377 BC), father of medicine, in his works described medicinal properties and methods of application of Baltic amber that were later used by scientists until the Middle Ages."
I've not been able to find any mention of the stuff in any Hippocratic work, and I do not think Baltic amber in particular would have been easy to come by in Cos or Athens back then. Still, I did learn from this site that amber contains something called succinic acid, a name which must come from sucinum, a Latin word for amber. The Greek version of this word is second on Aetius' list of synonyms.
A note on soukhinon.
The story behind soukhinon is hard to track down. Ἤλεκτρον was associated with an ability to attract bits of straw and dry grass, and there are lots of stories about the etymology of its name. I haven't found any etymologies for soukhinon, however, and LSJ take it simply as a synonym for amber:
LSJ: σούκῐνος, η, ον,
made of amber (Lat. sucinum), Artem.2.5 (v.l. σούνιχοι): cf. σουγχῖνος, σούχινον.
σούκινος· εὐνοῦχος, Hsch.
LSJ: σουγχῖνος, ὁ, =
sucinum, amber, Gp.15.1.29: cf. σούκινος.
LSJ are referring in the last entry to the Geoponica, a very late Byzantine collection of facts about agriculture. Here's the section:
"Amber (lit. electrion stone), or sounkhinos, draws to itself all kinds of things that are straw-like and light, except for basil."
ὁ ἠλεκτριωνὸς λίθος, ἤτοι σουγχῖνος, πάντα τὰ ἀχυρώδη καὶ κοῦφα ἕλκει πρὸς ἑαυτόν, πλὴν ὠκίμου.
Geoponica, 15.1.29 (435,20-22 Beckh)
Another of their references is to an ancient dream interpretation manual, the Oneirocritica, by Artemidorus, written a good bit earlier, around Galen's time. Artemidorus mentions the stone in the context of rings that appear in dreams:
"Rings of soukinoi, ivory and whatever others there happen to be are good [signs] only for women."
σούκινοι δὲ καὶ ἐλεφάντινοι καὶ ὅσοι ἄλλοι δακτύλιοι γίνονται γυναιξὶ μόναις συμφέρουσιν.
Artemidorus, Oneirocritica, 2.5.10-12 (here's an old, elegant edition)
Pliny also discusses amber, and he mainly refers to it as sucinum, giving electron and lyngourion as Greek synonyms (more on lyngourion below).
He mentions one story which he says is told by the Greeks about the origin of amber. He is not convinced by the story, but the connection between amber and lightning is wildly suggestive. Here is what he says:
"When Phaeton had been hit by a thunderbolt, his sisters, who in grief changed into poplar trees, shed tears of electron every year onto the shores of the stream of Eridanus, which we call Padus (i.e., the Po). They are called 'electron', because the sun is said to be the 'Elector'…"
Phaëthontis fulmine icti sorores luctu mutatas in arbores populos lacrimis electrum omnibus annis fundere iuxta Eridanum amnem, quem Padum vocavimus, electrum appellatum, quoniam sol vocitatus sit Elector […]
Pliny, HN 37.31.3-5 (available at Bill Thayer's LacusCurtius)
Amber and the Lynx
The Po flows over the ancient region of Liguria, which Pliny points out is where Theophrastus thought amber got its other name, λυγγούριον, i.e., the stone from Liguria. Theophrastus, however, tells a better story about this name for amber. (Pliny attributes this story to someone named "Demostratus").
This etymology begins from the name, λυγγούριον, which just means lynx urine :
"It (i.e., a stone he talked about just before called 'smaragdos') is strange in its power, and so is lyngourion. For one thing, small signet rings are carved from it and these are extremely hard, as if they were stone. For another, they are attractive, just like amber, and some say it attracts not only straw and dried leaves, but also copper and iron if they are in thin pieces, as Diocles said. It is very translucent and cold. The stones from wild [lynx] are better than those from tame ones, and those from males better than from females, since they differ in their food, their exercising or not exercising, and generally in the nature of their body, so that one is drier and the other moister. Those who are experienced find it by digging it up. For the lynx hides [its urine] and piles earth on top of it whenever it urinates."
Αὕτη τε δὴ περιττὴ τῇ δυνάμει καὶ τὸ λυγγούριον· καὶ γὰρ ἐκ τούτου γλύφεται τὰ σφραγίδια καὶ ἔστι στερεωτάτη καθάπερ λίθος· ἕλκει γὰρ ὥσπερ τὸ ἤλεκτρον, οἱ δέ φασιν οὐ μόνον κάρφη καὶ φύλλα ἀλλὰ καὶ χαλκὸν καὶ σίδηρον ἐὰν ᾖ λεπτός, ὥσπερ καὶ Διοκλῆς ἔλεγεν. ἔστι δὲ διαφανῆ τε σφόδρα καὶ ψυχρά. βελτίω δὲ τὰ τῶν ἀγρίων ἢ τὰ τῶν ἡμέρων καὶ τὰ τῶν ἀρρένων ἢ τὰ τῶν θηλειῶν ὡς καὶ τῆς τροφῆς διαφερούσης, καὶ τοῦ πονεῖν ἢ μὴ πονεῖν, καὶ τῆς τοῦ σώματος ὅλως φύσεως, ᾗ ξηρότερον τὸ δ' ὑγρότερον. εὑρίσκουσι δ' ἀνορύττοντες οἱ ἔμπειροι· κατακρύπτεται γὰρ καὶ ἐπαμᾶται γῆν ὅταν οὐρήσῃ.
Theophrastus, On Stones, 28.1-10 (p.23 Caley and Richards)
Bill Thayer has up at LacusCurtius Philip Smith's entry on electrum in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, ed. Murray, London 1875, pp.450-451. Worth checking out here.
Here is one last passage, which Christine Salazar had translated (my take on it is below). It is an excerpt from Galen, but Aetius' abridgment is wonderfully straightforward for a medical text.
"On goose, hawk, stork and land-crocodile excrement. The excrement of geese, hawks, storks and the rest, which some crazy people write about, is not useful, a judgment that has come from experience. Land-crocodile excrement, on the other hand, is not easy to come by."
Περὶ κόπρου χηνὸς καὶ ἱέρακος καὶ πελαργῶν καὶ χερσαίων κροκοδείλων. Ἡ δὲ τῶν χηνῶν καὶ ἱεράκων καὶ πελαργῶν κόπρος καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν, περὶ ὧν οἱ ληρήσαντες ἔγραψαν, ἄχρηστός ἐστιν, ὡς τῇ πείρᾳ ἐκρίθη. ἡ δὲ τῶν χερσαίων κροκοδείλων καὶ δυσπόριστος.
Aëtius of Amida, Libri medicinales, II 119 (195,22-25 Olivieri)
Just one question on this: what is a land crocodile?