c. 700 BCE
Did Polydamna give Helen opium?

Homer, like other ancient writers recognized Egypt as a renowned source of medical knowledge. In The Odyssey, Book 4, lines 219-233, he writes:

"Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, took other counsel. Straightway she cast into the wine of which they were drinking a drug to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill. Whoso should drink this down, when it is mingled in the bowl, would not in the course of that day let a tear fall down over his cheeks, no, not though his mother and father should lie there dead, or though before his face men should slay with the sword his brother or dear son, and his own eyes beheld it. Such cunning drugs had the daughter of Zeus, drugs of healing, which Polydamna, the wife of Thon, had given her, a woman of Egypt, for there the earth, the giver of grain, bears greatest store of drugs, many that are healing when mixed, and many that are baneful; there every man is a physician, wise above human kind; for they are of the race of Paeeon."

Was this drug opium? Or, more likely, some mixture of plant material that included opium? (Others have speculated that it might have been cannabis.) We know poppies were cultivated and opium was used in ancient Egypt. Homer also seems to recognize that drugs could both heal and cause harm.

Source: Homer. The Odyssey, Book 4, lines 219-233.

Drugs: Cannabis (marijuana), Opium (morphine, heroin, opioids)
Regions: Africa, Middle East, Egypt
Topics: Medicinal use of drugs