Mellified man and the wonder of Wikipedia

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Posted by Vale


Wikipedia – that glorious monument to collaboration and, sometimes, hearsay – has some marvellously strange pages.

One of my favourites is the Mellified man. This is claimed to be an ancient process of preserving bodies through use of honey.Li, a Chinese pharmacologist reports that,

“some elderly men in Arabia, nearing the end of their lives, would submit themselves to a process of mummification in honey to create a healing confection. This process differed from a simple body donation because of the aspect of self-sacrifice; the mellification process would ideally start before death. The donor would stop eating any food other than honey, going as far as to bathe in the substance. Shortly, his feces (and even his sweat, according to legend) would consist of honey. When this diet finally proved fatal, the donor’s body would be placed in a stone coffin filled with honey. After a century or so, the contents would have turned into a sort of confection reputedly capable of healing broken limbs and other ailments. This confection would then be carefully sold in street markets as a hard to find item with a hefty price.”

Who knows, in this age of innovation in the disposal of dead bodies, (and a cash strapped NHS) it might catch on again.

It’s clear though, from other articles, that we have become a good deal less imaginative about death and dying. There’s another page that simply lists unusual deaths.

It’s worth a look for the sheer variety of deaths listed. There’s more roasting than you might imagine including being roasted alive in brazen bulls. A disturbing image, I would have thought, for stock marketeers in these troubled times. Then there’s the politician Draco who, in 620 BC, was smothered to death by gifts of cloaks showered upon him by appreciative citizens. There’s got to be a metaphor there for the risks all politicians face if they of accept too many gifts.

My favourite though is the Stoic philosopher, Chryssipus, who died of laughter after giving his donkey wine then seeing it attempt to eat figs.

They really knew how to live – and die – in those days.

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