Pliny the Elder on Goats

Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a naturalist and author as well as a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire. During his lifetime he wrote many books, the most significant being a 37-volume encyclopedia called Naturalis Historia (Natural History) that survived into modern times. He mentions goats hundreds of times in this vast work and some of the tidbits, especially entries about medicines involving goat parts, are astounding.

Note: It was not good to be a goat in ancient Rome.

Cures for Babies

“The brain of a she-goat, passed through a golden ring, is given drop by drop by the Magi to babies, before they are fed with milk, to guard them from epilepsy and other diseases of babies. Restless babies, especially girls, are quietened by an amulet of goat’s dung wrapped in a piece of cloth…By rubbing the gums of infants with goats’ milk or hare’s brains, dentition is greatly facilitated.”

Cures for Snakebite

“The fumes of the burning horns or hair of a she-goat will repel serpents, they say: the ashes, too, of the horns, used either internally or externally, are thought to be an antidote to their poison…persons who find that they are recovering but slowly from injuries inflicted by a serpent, will find their health more speedily re-established by frequenting the stalls where goats are kept. Those, however, whose object is a more assured remedy, attach immediately to the wound the paunch of a she-goat killed for the purpose, dung and all. Others, again, use the flesh of a kid just killed, and fumigate it with the singed hair, the smell of which has the effect of repelling serpents.”

Cures for a Stiff Neck

“For the painful cramp, attended with inflexibility, to which people give the name of ‘opisthotony,’ the urine of a she-goat, injected into the ears, is found very useful; as also a liniment made of the dung of that animal, mixed with bulbs.”

Cures for the Bite of a Mad Dog

“Some persons recommend a he-goat’s liver, and maintain that if it is applied to the wound the patient will never be attacked with hydrophobia. She-goat’s dung, too, is highly spoken of, applied with wine, as also the dung of the badger, cuckoo, and swallow, boiled and taken in drink.”

Cures for Baldness

“Powdered goats’ horns, or the horns reduced to ashes, those of the he-goat in particular, with the addition of nitre, tamarisk-seed, butter, and oil, are remarkably effectual for preventing the hair from coming off, the head being first shaved for the purpose.”

Cures for Eye Problems

“She-goats, they say, are never affected with ophthalmia, from the circumstance that they browse upon certain kinds of herbs: the same, too, with the gazelle. Hence it is that we find it recommended, at the time of new moon, to swallow the dung of these animals, coated with wax. As they are able to see, too, by night, it is a general belief that the blood of a he-goat is a cure for those persons affected with dimness of sight to whom the Greeks have given the name of ‘nyctalopes.’ A similar virtue is attributed to the liver of a she-goat, boiled in astringent wine. Some are in the habit of rubbing the eyes with the thick gravy which exudes from a she-goat’s liver roasted, or with the gall of that animal: they recommend the flesh also as a diet, and say that the patient should expose his eyes to the fumes of it while boiling: it is a general opinion, too, that the animal should be of a reddish colour.”

Cures for Deafness

“Where a patient is suffering from hardness of hearing, ox-gall is employed, with the urine of a he or she-goat… She-goats’ urine, made warm, is used as an injection for the ears; and a liniment is made of the dung of those animals, in combination with axle-grease.”

On Dental Hygiene

“It is, considered…a very efficacious remedy to wash the teeth with goats’ milk, or bull’s gall. The pastern-bones of a she-goat just killed, reduced to ashes, and indeed, to avoid the necessity for repetition, of any other four-footed beast reared in the farmyard, are considered to make an excellent dentifrice.”



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