Medicinal Power of Rodents

From : MYTHS OF CRETE & PRE-HELLENIC EUROPE
By DONALD A. MACKENZIE
[1917]

In Upper Egypt discovery has been made of bodies which were buried in hot dry sands about sixty centuries ago. Not only have the bones, skin, hair, muscles, and eyes been preserved, but even the internal organs. The contents of stomachs and intestines have been examined by Dr. Netolitzky, the Russian scientist, who ascertained in this way what food the ancient people ate. "The occasional presence of the remains of mice in the alimentary canals of children, under circumstances which prove that the small rodent had been eaten after being skinned, is", writes Professor Elliot Smith, "a discovery of very great interest, for Dr. Netolitzky informs me that the body of a mouse was the last resort of medical practitioners in the East several millennia later as the remedy for children in extremis." Until comparatively recently the liver of a mouse was in the Scottish Highlands the "old wife's cure" for children dangerously ill. The writer was informed regarding it in more than one locality, long before the Egyptian discovery was made, by women who professed to have had experience of the efficacy of the mouse cure.

The ashes of a mouse baked alive used to be a cure for rheumatism in Suffolk.
In Lincolnshire fried mice were given to children suffering from whooping-cough and quinsy. According to Henderson  a whooping-cough patient in the northern counties had to be seated on a donkey, with face towards the tail, when the mouse was being eaten. The custom of entombing a live mouse in an ash-tree, to cure children or charm cattle against attack, prevailed in Leicestershire.  A similar custom obtained in Scotland, where the shrew-mouse was believed to paralyse a limb it chanced to creep over. The traditional fear of mice among women is of interest in this connection. Roasted mouse was, in the north-eastern counties of Scotland, a cure for cold or sore throat.

In Egypt the mouse was associated with the lunar god Thoth, who cured Horus when he was bitten by the scorpion, restored the sight of his eye which was blinded by the black Set pig, and assisted in uniting the fragments of the body of Osiris. The mouse crouches at the base of his rod of destiny, on which he measured out the lives of men. 

In Greece the mouse was associated with Apollo. This god was identified by the Romans with the sun, but Homer knew him as Smintheus Apollo, "Mouse Apollo", who struck down the Greeks with his arrows of pestilence. According to Strabo, there were many places which bore the Apollo mouse name. 

Mouse feasts were held at Rhodes, Gela, Lesbos, and Crete. According to a Trojan story, the settlement took place in Anatolia of Cretans who were advised by an oracle to select the first place where they were attacked by the children of the soil. At Hamaxitus, in the Troad, a swarm of mice ate their bow-strings and the leather of their armour, and they decided to make that place their home. 

In India the mouse was associated with Rudra, to whom the poet prayed: "Give unto me of thy medicines, Rudra, so that my years may reach to a hundred." Rudra, like Apollo, sent diseases, and was therefore able to prevent and cure them.

The mouse feasts referred to by ancient writers may have been held to ensure long life among those who, like the Egyptians, connected the mouse with the moon, the source of fertility and growth and the measurer of the days of man.

The Egyptian lunar god Khonsu was the divine physician and the love-god. All fertility deities, indeed, cured diseases. The King of Mitanni sent the image of Ishtar to Thebes when Pharaoh Amenhotep III was ill. Isaiah refers to the mouse-eating practice: "They that sanctify themselves and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the Lord." When the Philistines, who came from Crete, were stricken by a pestilence, they placed five golden mice in the ark and sent it back to the Israelites. 

 

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