Sleepless in the Priory

Among the famous insomniacs of the world one finds all kind of people through the ages. (Lists here and there.) Be it rulers – from a Roman Emperor (Caligula) via Catherine the Great to Lincoln or Mao Ze Dong – or historical & modern artists (among them Marlene Dietrich), writers (Kafka, Proust, Dumas senior) – insomnia can strike anyone.
Philippe ARIÈS (Ger., Eng.) quotes in his Geschichte des Todes (first 1978) from the Dernier vers of the French poet RONSARD (1524-1585) (Ger., Eng.). RONSARD wrote these poems towards the end of his live and laments about his illnesses, among them gout:

La goutte jà vieillard me bourrela les veins

And there are phases of insomnia:

Mais ne pouvais dormir, c’est bien de mes malheurs
Le plus grand, qui ma vie & chagrine & despite.
Seize heures pour le moins, je meurs, les yeux ouverts,
Me tournant, me virant de droict & de travers
Sur l’un, sur l’autre flanc, je tempête, je crie …
Miséricorde ! Ô Dieu ! ô Dieu, ne me consume
A faute de dormir …
Vielle ombre de la terre, ainçois ombre d’enfer,
Tu m’as ouvert des yeux d’une chaîne de fer,
Me consumant au lict, navré de mille pointes …
Mechantes nuits d’hiver, nuits, filles de Cocyte …
N’approchez de mon lit, ou bien tournez plus vite.

He turns to the natural remedy, but it makes him only dull:

Heureux, cent fois heureux, animaux qui dormez …
Sans manger du pavot qui tous les sens assomme !
J’en ay mangé, j’ay bu de son jus oublieux,
En salade, cuit, cru & toutefois le somme
Ne vient par sa froideur s’asseoir dessus mes yeux.

Pavot, papafer, the poppy – he tried it as salad, he cooked it, he drank the juice, but it did not work for poor RONSARD. That is sad when even the opium does not make one sleep, even the animals are better off. The medical doctors of his age would possibly have given him a Theriak (Ger., Eng.)  – helps against anything -, or an early form of Laudanum (Ger., Eng.). PARACELSUS mixed that stuff together sometime between 1520 and his death 1541, so in the 1580s it could have been available for poor RONSARD.
Or they could have offered him something special – a Schlafschwamm. This comes directly from the surgical toolbox, dates back to the ninth century and even further back: Early Arabic writings know the possibility of an anaesthesia by inhalation. A 9th century Antidotarium from Bamberg mentions “the sponge”, also a contemporary codex from Monte Cassino.
The ingredients are opium, hyoscyamin (Ger., Eng.), Maulbeersaft (for sweetness), Salat, Schierling (Ger., hemlock), Mandragora (Alraune) and Efeu / ivy (Ger., Eng.). A sip of this mixture would knock anybody out.
The “sponge” is soaked with the liquid and dried afterwards. Before use it is wetted and put under the patient’s nose, who inhales the fumes and goes to dreamland. Unwanted side effects are asphyxia and death.
This tool was seemingly well-known in the medicine school of Salerno (Ger., Eng.), and for example Hugo BORGOGNONI and others (Ger., Eng.) made it known at the places where they practised.
I’d prefer a good swig from Bombastus’ laudanum bottle, and RONSARD was surely well-advised when he kept to the poppies.

22 thoughts on “Sleepless in the Priory

  1. Call me crazy, but I’ve found having some peanut butter on a slice of bread or cracker helps me get to sleep so much easier these days, sweet pea! Maybe I’ve psyched myself into because I read that protein before bed helps induce sleep. *shrug* It works and it’s cheaper than a bottle of wine! ;) xoxoxo

  2. Welcome Savannah, it’s really nice to see you again !
    What ever works is fine, even peanut butter – maybe there is some opium in it ? Not just a little bit ?
    Peanut butter or not – my bed needs me now, bis morgen.

  3. I have taken Morphine a few times after surgery, but it almost always makes me very nauseous. The last couple of times I have asked for a substitute, which worked for the pain and did not make me sick.

  4. Unwanted side effects such as asphyxia and death are best avoided.
    My remedy is milk and whiskey, and a digestive biscuit. The only side effect is possibly eating more than one digestive biscuit.

  5. Milk & whisky sounds nice, dear MsScarlet. Yougurth and Armangac on the other hand … What about Vodka and chocolate ?

    Good GOd LGS ! The danger of a lasting brain damage is imminent ! Let’s stay with milk & whiskey.

  6. Insomnia.. hmmmm.. A malady I’m occasionally inflicted with at the most inconvenient of times. By the time I realize I should take something to help me sleep, it’s usually too late.

  7. What a Fat Cat ! Mona has trouble to keep her on her lap.
    There were definitely too much biscuit involved LX.

    Milk again – with what we call Muskat here.
    “Diab” like in diabetes, Austere ?

    It happens very seldom Foam – and when I can not sleep it’s mostly because of Aufregung, like the night before the Vortrag / exam or such. And using a pill is no good, because such stuff is very rare to me & it’s no good showing up sedated when I should have my sieben Zwetschgen beisammen

  8. If there is a lit of famous people who have trouble getting out of bed in the morning I should like to join them. I often say, my thyroid medication helps me get out of bed in the morning and not die in a coma, it does not give me energy to face the day.

    BTW: 1/4 cup (10 halves/5 whole) walnuts keeps my Gout away without medication. I get it in my big toes.

  9. And then there is that getting-up-thing in the morning, too true Melanie. I choose to ignore it. This would be an interesting list, an owl list.
    Regarding the gout, since I cut out the beer all is fine with me, fine like in “my doctor is content”.

  10. I wonder whether taking a *stimulant* would be better. Small doses of amphetamine are used to *calm* people whose minds won’t stay still for long, by shutting out the background brain-noise. And then after a couple of days of hardly any sleep, your body will definitely crush the insomnia.

    I often wake up at about 5am, and am awake for a couple of hours, then go to sleep again till about half past 9. It’s pointless to try to will yourself to sleep because “it’s too early to get up.”

    Of course, I can only do that now when I have the luxury of setting my own hours.

  11. (Met)Amphetamine was meant to be a medicine, and Shulgin always said it had a lot more potential for medical uses. But I think we do not know much more since Hofmann’s bicycle ride.
    In my wasted youth I had to stay up all night several times so that I could crash on the evening of the next day in an attempt to join the accepted routine: Get up as early as possible, go to school in the middle of the night, try to learn while you are still asleep …
    We are free to set our own hours, Looby, and to starve over our luxury.

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