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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a purgative medicine, supposed to act as a cure-all

English has a number of different words for supposed all-curing medicines and preparations, including panacea (literally ‘all-healing’), panpharmacon (‘all-medicines’), mithridatium (named after King Mithridates), and panchreston (literally, ‘all uses’—hence its figurative meaning, which we’ve discussed on here before).

Of all these cure-alls and heal-alls, however, one of the most bizarre must surely be the diacatholicon.

In Greek, it’s name essentially means ‘through everything’. The prefix dia– pops up here as it does in words like diagram (an explanation given ‘through’ an image) and diameter (a measure ‘through’ a circle). The second part of the word, catholicon, was also once used as a word for a cure-all medicine—and its connection to Catholicism is clear; it literally means ‘universal’ in Greek, and as a religious term was originally used more generally to refer to anyone who followed all the tenets of the Christian Church, as opposed to any member of the heretical groups outside of it.

But the diacatholicon itself was not merely intended as a simple cure-all. According to many early explanations—dating back to the 1500s in English—it was a powerful purgative drug, intended to (quite literally) flush all potential contaminants from the body.

That potency becomes all too apparent when you consider that one medieval description of the diacatholicon listed senna leaves, cassia pulp, tamarind, fern roots, rhubarb, liquorice, aniseed, fennel and sugar among its ingredients. Frankly, after ingesting that lot, you’d be lucky to have anything left inside of you at all.

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