January 7, 2021
In these turbulent times, we persist in our journey through the Heptameron, reading today of an apothecary in Pau who prescribes for a woman a bit of Spanish fly powder to put in her husband’s food to rekindle his love for her, only to have the apothecary’s own long-suffering wife overhear and secretly serve him the same powder, paying no heed to “weight, measure, or dose.” When he falls ill, feeling “as if his insides [are] on fire,” she reveals what she has done. Furious, he orders her to summon Marguerite de Navarre’s apothecary, who administers a remedy and then scolds him “for recommending drugs he would not take himself.”
Spanish fly powder, poudre de cantharide, a sort of pre-modern Viagra, has been used as an aphrodisiac since antiquity and is still available online—beware! Here’s a nineteenth-century example, in the collection of the Musée de la pharmacie in Montpellier.