1. Home
  2. Medical branches
  3. Pathology
  4. Diseases
  5. ψυγμός

var. ψυχμός



Cold fit (sometimes accompanied with fever, cough, and runny nose), ague, or extreme stiffness of a body part. Lay term according to Galen (see [6]), it features also in two papyrus letters.


1-2. Etymology – General linguistic commentary

The noun ψυγμός is a derivative of the verb ψύχω, «make cool or cold» (LSJ9 2028-9 s.v.), with the guttural stem ψυγ- and ending -μός (on which see CHANTRAINE, FN 133-6, esp. 135-6), quite productive in medical language, see e.g. ἀγμός, «fracture» (LSJ9 11 s.v.), and νυγμός, «pricking sensation, irritation» (LSJ9 1183 s.v.). It is noteworthy that, despite the ending, the noun expresses a state (not action). The term has some cognates of medical relevance: fem. noun ψύξις, neutr. noun. ψύγμα, comp. masc. noun ψυγμοκατάρρους, adj. ψυχρός and ψυκτικός.

The only variant of the term is ψυχμός, attested in the transmission of the astrological treatise of Manetho, the Apotelesmatica (II 443).

As to the etymology, CHANTRAINE, DELG 1296 s.vv. ψυχρός, ψῦχος, ψύχω adopts the position of Benveniste (BSL 33, 1932, 165-8) who rejects the association with ψυχή and contests that the semantic basis between the terms is the concept of “cold breath”, pointing out that the wind is not always cold, while ψυχρός is used not only for breath/wind but also to qualify the water, the snow etc. He also doubts where the common semantic basis is to be found in “frisson” (“shudder”, “shiver”). The developement “to blow” > “to cool, to dry (in the wind)” is also doubted by BEEKES, EDG 1672 with reference to the views of MUMM and RICHTER (IJDLLR 5, 2008: 33-108) who hold that «cold» is primary to breath. The medical use of the term (vd. Infra, C) indicates that cold and shiver on the one hand and “stiffness”, “shrivelling”, “constriction” co-exist in the semantic core of the word.


3. Abbreviation(s) in the papyri

No abbreviated forms had appeared, as yet.

B. TESTIMONIA - A selection of representative sources

1. Diocl. Fr. 183a.39-55 van der Eijk (cited in Paul Aeg. Epit. Med. I 100,3 [CMG IX.1, 69-70 Heiberg])

ὅταν δέ τι περὶ τὸν θώρακα μέλλῃ γίγνεσθαι, τούτων τι προσημαίνειν εἴωθεν· ἱδρὼς ἐπιγίγνεται εἰς ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ τὸν θώρακα, καὶ τὴν γλῶτταν παχεῖαν ἔχειν· πτύουσιν ἁλυκὰ ἢ πικρὰ ἢ χολώδη· ὑπὸ τὰς πλευρὰς ἢ ὠμοπλάτας ἀλγήματα γίγνεσθαι δίχα προφάσεως, χάσμαι συνεχεῖς, ἀγρυπνίαι, πνιγμοί, δίψος ἐξ ὕπνου, ἀηδῶς ἔχειν τὴν ψυχήν, ψυγμοὶ στήθους καὶ βραχιόνων, χειρῶν τρόμος, βῆχες ξηραί. (...) τοῖς δὲ καταφρονοῦσι τῶν τοιούτων σημείων τάδε εἴωθεν ἐπιγίγνεσθαι τὰ ἀρρωστήματα· πλευρῖτις, περιπνευμονία, μελαγχολία, πυρετοὶ ὀξεῖς, φρενῖτις, λήθαργος, καῦσος λυγμώδης.

When a condition is about to develop in the chest, one of these signs forewarn of it: sweat in the entire body and chest, and swollen tongue; salty, bitter or bilious spit; pain without obvious cause below the ribs or the shoulder blades; continuous yawning; sleeplessness; choking; thirst upon waking; disgust; freezing of the chest and arms; trembling of the hands; dry coughs. (...) The following ailments attack those who ignore this sort of signs: pleurisy, inflammation of the lungs, atrabiliousness, acute fever, phrenitis, lethargy, or burning fever attended with hiccup. 


2. Dsc. V 11. See also Ps.-Dsc. Ther. 4 – I CE

θαλάττιον ὕδωρ δριμύ, θερμαντικόν, κακοστόμαχον, κοιλίας ταρακτικόν, ἄγον φλέγμα. θερμὸν δὲ καταντλούμενον ἐπισπᾶται καὶ διαφορεῖ, ἁρμόζον τοῖς περὶ νεῦρα πάθεσι (...)· διαφορεῖ καὶ πελιώματα πυριώμενον, καὶ πρὸς τὰ τῶν θηρίων δήγματα, ὅσα τρόμους καὶ ψυγμοὺς ἐπιφέρει, μάλιστα δὲ σκορπίων καὶ φαλαγγίων καὶ ἀσπίδων (...)

Sea water: it is pungent, warming, sets the stomach and the bowels in motion, and incites phlegm. Warm water poured over is absorbed and dissipates, being suitable for the affections of the nerves/sinews (...). It also dissipates the livid spots, used for vapour baths, and is used against bites of beasts, those which cause shivering and chilling/rigour, mostly the bites of scorpions, spiders and asps (...)


3. Ruf. περὶ κλυσμάτων(cited in Orib. Coll. Med. VIII 24.17 [CMG VI 1.1,  272 Raeder]).

καὶ ἔλαιον δ’ ἐπὶ πάσης φλεγμονῆς καθ’ ἑαυτὸ ἁρμόζει ἐνιέμενον, καὶ ἐφ’ ὧν ἀσθένεια περὶ τοὺς τόπους ἐστί, καὶ ἐφ’ ὧν γίνονται στρόφοι· διαλυτικώτερον δὲ μᾶλλον τῶν πνευμάτων ἐστί, πηγάνου ἡψημένου <ἐν> αὐτῷ ἢ κυμίνου ἢ ἀνήθου ἢ δαφνίδων, ὅτε καὶ τοῖς ἀπὸ ψυγμῶν πυρέσσουσιν ἁρμόζει.

Oil, infused, is suitable for every kind of inflammation, in cases of localised feebleness as well as in cases of colic. For it dispels flatulence when rue or cumin or dill or laurel has been cooked in it, being also suitable for feverish patients having a chill.


4. P.Oxy. Hels. 46,15-9 – I-II CE (Business letter)

οὐ γὰρ ἠδυνήθην ἐπὶ τοῦ| παρόντος γράψαι οὐδενὶ διὰ τὸ ἀπὸ| νόσου ἀνα̣λαμ̣βάνειν καὶ ψυγμοῦ | μεγάλου. καὶ μόγις ἠδυνήθη(ν) καὶ ταῦ|τα γράψαι β̣ασαν̣ιζ[ό]μεν̣ο̣ς

I have not been able to write to anyone on the present matter because I am recovering from an ailment and a great cold. Even this I have been able to write with difficulty being in torment (...)


5. P.Oxy. LXXIII 4959,3-10 – II CE  

ἐξήρκει μὲν καὶ τὰ Θέωνος τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ γράμματα| διʼ ὧν ὑμεῖν (l. ὑμῖν) ἐδήλου ὅτι ψυγμῶι ληφθεὶς ἐκ | βάθους καὶ ἐκλύ̣σει τοῦ σώματος〚καὶ̣〛ἐν ἀγωνίαι ποι|ήσας πάντας ἡμᾶς οὐ τῆι τυχούσηι, διὰ τοὺς θε|οὺς αὐτῆς ὥρας ἀνέλαβεν καὶ τέλεον ἀνεκτήσα|το, ὥστε καὶ λούσασθαι αὐτῆς ἐκ̣ε̣ίνης τῆς ἡμέ|ρας καὶ μηδὲν ἔτι̣ α̣ὐ̣τ̣ῶι τοῦ σ̣υ̣μβάντος ἐνκατά|λειμμα (l. ἐγκατάλειμμα) εἶναι.

The letter of my brother Theon has hopefully been sufficient to let you know that having been seized by a chill arising deep inside and by bodily feebleness – something which caused us all a good deal of anxiety – with the help of the gods he recovered instantly and was totally restored so that he could even take a bath in that very same day and that no trace of what happened to him has remained.


6. Gal. Simpl. med. temp. ac facult. II 20-1 (XI 518-20 K.) – II CE

οὔτε γὰρ ἁπλῶς εἰ θερμὸν, ἢ ψυχρὸν, ἢ ξηρὸν, ἢ ὑγρόν ἐστινἕκαστον τῶν φαρμάκων ζητοῦμεν (...), ἀλλ’ ὅπως ἔχει πρὸς ἀνθρώπινον σῶμα. (...) πῶς μὲν οὖν ἄν τις ἔλαιον ἐργάζηται τοιοῦτον λέλεκται καὶ πρόσθεν· πῶς δ’ ἄν τις ἁπλῷ νοσήματι προσφέροι, νῦν εἰρήσεται, τοσοῦτον ἀναμνησάντων ἡμῶν πρότερον, ὡς ἐν ταῖς τῶν νοσημάτων διαφοραῖς ἐδείκνυτο, τινὰ μὲν ἐπὶ τὸθερμότερον ἐκτετράφθαι σώματα χωρὶς κακοχυμίας τινὸς ἢ στήθους ἢ σπλάγχνου φλεγμονῆς, ὥσπερ ἐν ταῖς σφοδραῖς ἐγκαύσεσιν εἴωθεν γίγνεσθαι, τινὰ δὲ ἐπὶ τὸ ψυχρότερον, ὡς ἐν τοῖς καλουμένοις ἤδη συνήθως ὑπὸπάντων ἀνθρώπων ψυγμοῖς. ἐν δὴ ταῖς τοιαύταις διαθέσεσιν ἔλαιον προσφέρων ἐξευρήσεις ἐναργῶς εἴτε θερμαίνειν ἡμᾶς πέφυκεν εἴτε καὶ ψύχειν. (...) τοῖς ἐψυγμένοις δὲ σαφῶς οὐδὲν εἰς ὠφέλειαν ἢ βλάβος ἐξ ἐλαίου χρίσεως ἀποβαίνει. ᾧ καὶ δῆλον ὡς εἰ καὶ θερμαίνειν ἡμᾶς πέφυκεν, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἔτι γε σφοδρῶς ἢ ἐναργῶς, ὥσπερ ῥητίνη καὶ πίττα καὶ ἄσφαλτος.

For we do not simply investigate whether a medicament belongs to the warm, cold, dry or moist ones (...), but how it interacts with the human body (...) I have already spoken of how oil is to be prepared. I will now explain how it should be applied in cases of simple affections after a brief reminder that, as it has been demonstrated in the section/work concerning the differences between diseases, some bodies have grown with a greater tendency to warmth (unless the humours are in an unhealthy state or there is an inflammation of the chest or the spleen) as in cases of acute burning fits, while others are more inclined towards chilliness, as in cases of the affections nowadays commonly called chills. If oil is offered to the patient in one of these conditions, one will find out clearly whether it is its nature to warm us up or to cool us down. (...) whereas for the persons affected by a chill no clear benefit or damage is to be observed when oil is smeared on. This indicates that, although its nature is to warm us up, it does not effect this to a great degree or clearly as do resin, pitch and bitumen.


7. Gal. Comp. med. sec. loc. XX 2 (XIII 353 K.)

πρὸς ἰσχιάδας καὶ ψυγμοὺς Ὑγιεινοῦ Ἱππάρχου· βοτάνην Ἰβηρίδα, ἥν τινες καλοῦσι λεπίδιον ἢ ἀγριοκάρδαμον, ἀνελόμενος τὴν ῥίζαν αὐτῆς κόψον καὶ στέατι χοιρείῳ συμμαλάξας εἰς τρόπον ἐμπλάσματος ἐπιτίθει κατὰ τοῦ ἀλγοῦντος τόπου ἐπὶ ὥρας τρεῖς, εἶτα πέμπε εἰς βαλα||νεῖον. (...)

Against sciatica and muscular stiffness, of (Hygieinus?) Hipparchus: dig up the root of pepperwort, called by some lepidion or wild cardamum, cut it, work it into a plaster by softening it together with pig’s suet and apply on the aching part for three hours. Send then the patient to a bath-house ...


8. Pollux IV 186 (256 Bethe): (...) φρίκη, ψυγμός ψῦξις, [φρίξ FS], φρίττειν A], ἐψῦχθαι κατεψῦχθαι BC, ῥῖγος, ἠπίαλος. (...)


9. Vett. Val. 4,20

Κρόνος Ἀφροδίτῃ (...) οἱ δὲ καὶ ἐπιβουλεύονται ἢ φαρμάκων πεῖραν λαμβάνουσιν καὶ τῶν ἐντὸς ὀχλήσεις ὑπομένουσιν, ἀσθενείαις τε καὶ ψυγμοῖς καὶ ῥευμάτων ἐπιφοραῖς περιπίπτουσι

When Cronus is in Aphrodite some (...), while others are targets of plots, are receive a taste of drugs/poison, suffer internal discomforts or fall into weakness, chills or rheumy discharges (...)


10. De Herb. 92-4

κισσίον τόδε πάντες ἐπὶ χθόνα ναιετάοντες/ ἄνθρωποι κλῄζουσι λελίσφακον, οἱ δέ τε θεῖον/

λύει γὰρ ψυγμὸν κακοτέρμονα βῆχά τ’ ἀνιγρήν.

Kission, called lelisphakos by all people on earth, while some qualify it as theion. For it dispels the cold, which ends with difficulty (or: badly), and the burdensome cough.


11. Eutechn. Paraphr. in Nic. Alex. 16 Geymonat

μήκωνος δὲ τῆς ἐν κεφαλῇ φερούσης τὸ σπέρμα οἱ τοῦ ὀποῦ πεπωκότες πάσχουσι τοιάδε· καθυπνοῦσι πολλά, ἔπεισι τὰ ἄρθρα αὐτῶν ψυγμός, τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς κεκλεισμένους ἔχουσι, ἱδροῦσιν ἀθρόον καὶ δυσῶδες (...)

Those who have drunk the juice of the poppy, the seeds of which are in its head, suffer the following: they sleep long, chill develops in their limps, they keep their eyes shut and their sweat is profuse and smelly.


12. Orib. Coll. Med. VIII 24.17 (CMG VI 1.1, p. 272 Raeder, Rufus of Ephesus). See also Syn. ad Eust. I 19.8, see [3]


13. Ps.-Macar. Serm. 7,17

ὥσπερ γὰρ τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ σώματος πάντες μὲν ἔχουσιν, ἀλλ’ οἱ μὲν ὑγιῆ καὶ ἀσινῆ αὐτὴν κέκτηνται, οἱ δὲ νοσερὰν ἢ καὶ τετραυματισμένην. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν αὐτοῖς τοῖς πάθεσιν τοῦ σώματος πολλή τις διαφορὰ τυγχάνει· οἱ μὲν γὰρ προφανῶς τραύματα ἔχοντες ἀλγοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ τραύματα πρόδηλα μὴ ἔχοντες ψυγμὸν δεινὸν ἐν τῷ σώματι ἔχουσινὥστε μηδὲ κινεῖσθαι δύνασθαι καὶ κατὰ μὲν τὸ ὁρώμενον ὡς ὑγιὲς εἶναι δοκεῖ τὸ σῶμα, κατὰ δὲ τοὺς πόνους καὶ τὴν κίνησιν τῆς ἐργασίας πολὺ χεῖρον αὐτοῦ ἐστι καὶ δυσθεράπευτον πάθος τοῦ προδήλως πεπληγμένου.

Everyone has a visible physical body ― some a healthy and intact one, some an ailing body or a body with wounds. But the affections of the body exhibit great differences. For persons with evident wounds are in pain, while others lack these but suffer from severe stiffness, so that they are not able to move. And outwardly the body seems healthy, but when it comes to labour and movement in connection with work its suffering is much worse and more difficult to treat than that of the body which has visible wounds.


14a. Hippiatr. Paris. 1021

πρὸς ἀναφορὰν καὶ μυκτήρων κάθαρσιν. Ῥέφανον παναρίαν συντρίψεις. ἐὰν ἀπὸ ψυγμοῦ τοὺς ῥώθωνας αὐτοῦ θέλῃς καθαρίσαι, λάβε γάρου κυάθους γʹ καὶ ἐλαίου κύαθον αʹ καὶ εἰς τοὺς ῥώθωνας κατὰ βʹ κυάθους ἔνθες, καὶ πατείτω. εἶτα εἰς παραπόδισμα αὐτὸν βάλε καὶ σύνδησον καὶἔασον αὐτοῦ κατέρχεσθαι τὸ προέκρευμα ἀπὸ τῶν ῥωθώνων.

To promote exhalation and cleanse the nostrils. Pound a cabbage. If you wish to cleanse his nostrils of a cold, take three cups of fish-sauce and one cup of oil. Pour two cups in each nostril, and press. Then bind the animal in the stable and leave them so that the fluid excretion runs out of the nostrils.


14b. Hippiatr. Cantabr. 49,3

πρὸς δὲ τὴν τοῦ ψυγμοῦ κύπρινον διὰ ῥινῶν δίδου χρίσμασί τε θερμαντικοῖς χρῶ καὶ χαλαστικοῖς ...

To end the cold fit administer henna-oil nasally and use warming and relaxing unguents.


14c. Hippiatr. Paris. 837

ἄκοπον θερμαντικὸν τὸ παρὰ Χαρίτωνος, ποιεῖ νεφριτικοῖς, σχιακοῖς, παρετικοῖς καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς ἀπὸ ψυγμοῦ τι πάσχουσιν.

Application of Chariton for the relief of pain and the production of warmth; for use on patients with kidney problems, suffering from sciatica, paralysed and those affected by stiffness.


14d. Hippiatr. Berol. 78

ἄλλη μηλίνη χρυσῆ, ποιοῦσα πρὸς νεῦρα, πρὸς ἄρθρα, πρὸς ψυγμόν.

Another remedy, made of quinces, a golden one; for use on muscles, joints and against stiffness.


15. Suda 1085 Adler s.v.μινθώσομεν. See also Schol. in Ar. Plut. 313

(...) ἐπειδὰν δὲ οἱ τράγοι ψυγμῷ περιπέσωσιν, εἰώθασιν οἱ αἰπόλοι λαμβάνειν τὴν κόπρον αὐτῶν καὶ χρίειν αὐτῶν τοὺς μυκτῆρας καὶ οὕτω τῇ δυσωδίᾳ πταρμὸν κινεῖν· τούτῳ δὲ τῷ τρόπῳ λύειν τὸ πάθος· ὁ γὰρ πταρμὸς θεραπεύει τὸ πάθος. (...)

When the billy-goats fall ill with a chill, the goat-shepherds have the habit of taking their dung and smear their nostril to incite sneezing because of the malodour. In this way they treat the affection. For sneezing heals this affection.


16. Sch. GKd in Nic. Ther. 43 Crugnola

(a.) <μελανθείου> (...) ἔστι δὲ καὶ πόα δυναμένη ψυγμὸν ἀπελάσαι, εἴ τις τρίψας τρὶς προσενέγκῃ τῇ ῥινί

Black cumin (melanthion) is a plant which has the power to dispel the chill, if one pounds it and applies it thrice to the nose.


1. ψυγμός and its medical sources

The term occurs in Greek medical literature and in passages of medical relevance in non-medical texts from at least the first century CE (Dioscorides Pedanius) to the Byzantine period (the manuscripts preserving the treatises of the hippiatric corpus, the Suda and the manuscripts furnished with marginal annotations on passages of Homer, Aristophanes and Nicander being the latest witnesses, although the content of some of these texts is much earlier).[1] The earliest alleged witness, the epistle on health preservation (epistolê prophylaktikê) ascribed to Diocles of Carystus and transmitted by Paul of Aegina at the end of the first book of his medical compendium [1], is a highly problematic text and is in all probability neither from the fourth century nor Dioclean, although its content may have accrued around a Dioclean core.[2] In all probability the noun entered the medical field around the late Hellenistic-early Roman period.

The term describes pathological states characterised by a feeling of extreme cold, freezing and/or rigour. Its witnesses fall into two distinct, though related, groups as regards the symptomatology. The first group encompasses descriptions which suggest that the patient experiences an inner chill or cold fit, often accompanied with a sensation of faintness and feebleness. Illustrative is P.Oxy. LXXIII 4959, 4-5, a papyrus letter, datable on paleographical grounds in the II century, written by Ammonius to his parents regarding the health of his brother, Theon (see [5]). The author describes a passing fit of malaise experienced by his brother as ψυγμός “arising deep within” and couples it with a generalised feeling of faintness (ψυγμῶι ληφθεὶς ἐκ | βάθους καὶ ἐκλύ̣σει τοῦ σώματος).[3] That a profound chill lies in the core of the condition is indicated by the writer’s later statement that following a complete recovery the brother was able to enjoy a bath in that very same day. Also Vettius Valens speaks of “internal discomforts” in a breath with psygmoi (see [9]). The status of the condition in contemporary medical lore is revealed by Galen when he discusses the use of oil and its effect as a therapeutic agent (see [6]). Galen reminds his readers that some bodies have a greater natural tendency towards freezing, manifested in the conditions “nowadays called psygmoi by people in common usage” (ἐν τοῖς καλουμένοις ἤδη συνήθως ὑπὸ πάντων ἀνθρώπων ψυγμοῖς). His formulation reveals the status of the term from a discursive and scientific point of view. That the term reflects common usage and is not a medical technical term is indirectly confirmed by its occurrence in two papyrus letters ([4] and [5]) where lay individuals speak of their own or somebody else’s state of health, while its labelling by Galen as diathesis (ἐν δὴ ταῖς τοιαύταις διαθέσεσιν ...) implies that it did not savour the status of a disease proper but rather of a make-up, a condition of the body at a given time.[4]


2. ψυγμός in practice

The malaise is located in the region of the chest by one witness [1], while coughing and fever are the symptoms more often mentioned in conjuction with it (see [1], [9] and [11]). Ignoring the early signs of the condition could result in among others pleurisy and lung inflammation, warns Ps.-Diocles. The compound ψυγμοκατάρρους, occuring only in Cyranides (II 15),points to runny nose being another main symptom, as do the passages concerning treatments for animals and humans [14a, 15, 16]. Shivering and sweating also belong to the most frequently mentioned symptoms [1, 2, 10]. It is significant that Pollux [8] intertwines this word family with that of φρίκη (“shuddering”, shivering”) and ῥῖγος (”shivering fit”), perhaps in an attempt to discern in existing vocabulary different forms and grades of shivering. Shivering may affect the hands and arms when the condition is located in the chest [1, 10], or may be manifested as generalised chill and shivering due to venomous bites [2]. The feeling of faintness and feebleness overcoming patients in this state, mentioned by the author of P.Oxy. 4959 [5], is also confirmed by Ps.-Arist. Probl. 862b.2ff., a passage claiming that ailments occur more often in (the beginning of?) the summer when the human bodies are loose, frozen and feeble (ἐν δὲ τῷ θέρει, μανοῦ καὶ κατεψυγμένου παντὸς τοῦ σώματος καὶ ἐκλελυμένου πρὸς τοὺς πόνους ὄντος, ἀρχὰς νόσων ἀνάγκη πλείους μὲν γίνεσθαι ...). Also Plutarch (Quaest. Conv. 625 A-B) in a contribution to the discussion why elderly persons have the habit of drinking unmixed wine refers to ongoing discussions about the system in elderly persons being “frozen”, “hard to warm”, “loose” and “feeble” (κατεψυγμένην τὴν ἕξιν αὐτῶν καὶ δυσεκθέρμαντον οὖσαν ... αἰτία δ’ ἡ τῆς ἕξεως ἄνεσις· ἐκλυομένη γὰρ καὶ ἀτονοῦσα ...). The key-words are the same as in the medical passages associating ψυγμός and the sensation of faintness.

The information concerning the treatment of persons affected by the condition is neither abundant nor very accurate. The testimonies point to remedies with warming properties and effect: application of oil is mentioned by Galen [6] and Rufus/Oribasius [3/12]. The former does not appear to consider oil a very efficient remedy, while the latter seems to believe that oil boiled with rue, cumin, dill or laurel could alleviate the condition. The Hippiatrica Parisina recommend pounded cabbage in combination with garum and oil [14a], while the Hippiatrica Cantabrigiensia recommend the use of a remedy to be administered through the nose made from the flower of Lawsonia inermis (henna), and in general the use of warming and relaxing unguents [14b]. Other remedies contain milk and pepper or milk and sesame. Dioscorides (III 81) recommends a remedy prepared with the plant σαγάπηνον (ferula communis[5]), while the scholiast of Nicander’s Theriaca suggests inhalation of melathion (nigella sativa,[6] black cummin) [16]. To relieve psygmos as a result of venomous bites Dioscorides recommends the use of warm sea-water, presumably on the biten spot [2]. A curious piece of information, provided by Suda and the scholiast of Aritophanes’ Wealth [15], pertains to the treatment of billy-goats suffering from the condition: the shepherds seek to induce sneezing – no doubt to open up the nose – by applying excrement to the nostrils.

A second, less prominent, group of sources point to an external manifestation of the condition. Its tenor is that a limp or an area in the body is so enfeebled as to be described as “frozen stiff”. The condition verges on paralysis with which it is mentioned in a breath as early as Dioscorides (III 73) who advertises the warming effect of the plant πύρεθρον (“pellitory”) on “frozen stiff and weakened parts of the body” (ἐψυγμένα καὶ παρειμένα μέρη τοῦ σώματος). Some of the other remedies administered to ease the condition are also recommended for paralysis or weakened limps. Drawing on (Hygieinus?) Hipparchus – a health expert known to Heras of Cappadocia – Galen advises preparing a remedy of pepperwort (lepidium graminifolium)[7] and pig’s fat and applying it “on the aching part” when treating sciatica and psygmoi [7]. The description itself and the wider context (the recipe follows the exposition of how Damocrates used pepperwort to treat among others sciatica and different forms of paralysis) suggests an emollient for muscular conditions. More informative is a passage from a sermon of Ps.-Macarius in which he speaks of persons without visible wounds but whom stiffness seriously impedes from carrying out manual work [13]. Muscular complaints, presumably common in pack animals, are indicated by the heading of the recipes in Hippiatr. Paris. 837 and Hippiatr. Berol. 1030 [14c, 14d].

[1] Cf. Schol. Ar. Plut. 313; Schol. Hom. Il. XX 485; Schol. in Nic. Ther. 43.

[2] Van der Eijk 2001, 353-58 in an attempt to moderate Heinimann’s wholesale rejection of its authenticity.

[3] See the comm. on l.4 in MALOUTA 2009, 158.

[4] Note that also the author of P.Oxy.Hels. 46 speaks of recovery from “ailment and a great cold”, perhaps drawing a certain line between the two states.

[5] ANDRÉ 1985, 223, s.v. sacopenium.

[6] ANDRÉ 1985, 157, s.v. melanthion.

[7] ANDRÉ 1985, 130, s.v. iberis.


1. Lexicon entries

LSJ9 2026 s.v. ψυγμός 2 and 2028 s.v. ψυχμός; LSJRev.Suppl. 318 s.v.; CHANTRAINE, DELG 1295-6 s.v. ψυχρός


2. Secondary literature

CHANTRAINE, FN 135-6; MALOUTA 2009, 158.

E. DDbDP reference(s)

P.Oxy. Hels. 46,15-9

P.Oxy. LXXIII 4959,3-10


Anastasia Maravela

Accepted term: 30-May-2016