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Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

Searching for Ancient Psychedelia

Anyone who encountered the Lotus Eaters while reading Homer already suspects that mind-altering drugs flourished on the fringes of the ancient Greek world, the matrix for much of what we call civilization. In The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press), D.C.A. Hillman argues that the Lotus Eaters weren't confined to one isolated island but were in the mainstream of Greek and Roman society. In other words, Haight Ashbury in 1967 had nothing on Athens in 300 B.C. With degrees in the classics and bacteriology, Hillman is interested in both the natural world and the cultivated garden of humanity. The convergence makes stuffy academics uncomfortable. As the Madison author tells it, he originally hoped to present his findings on ancient drug use in his doctoral dissertation at the