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How to Mellify A Corpse: And Other Human Stories of Ancient Science & Superstition    by Vicki Leon order for
How to Mellify A Corpse
by Vicki Leon
Order:  USA  Can
Walker, 2010 (2010)
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

This collection of over 80 short essays will delight and entertain the reader who wants to delve into ancient cultures and the fascinating world of the Greco-Roman empires. In discussing the contents of her book, author Vicki Leon explains that she has salted her text with 'little-known facts, Herodotean digressions, and absurdities, once firmly believed yet so outrageous that I could not have made them up'.

Leon continues, 'It's an iconoclastic mix, yeasty with names and deeds and beliefs you won't have heard much about. Meteorite worship; bean taboos; bizarre beliefs about women and their powers over hydrocarbons; it's all here.'

Arranged by six sections, these pieces cover Athens & Attica, Greece & the Greek Islands, Asia Minor & the Middle East, Rome & Environs, Italy & Sicily and Egypt, Carthage, & North Africa.

The wide array of eclectic subject matter ranges from burial rites, evil eye folklore, aqueduct technology and military tactics to dream interpretation, deforestation, vampires and night stalkers and sewer systems. Given this variety you can either pick-and-choose what to read or plow through the 302 page paperback original from cover to cover.

For those curious about the book's title, flip to page 282 and you'll find an essay ('It Heals, It Maddens, It Mellifies Corpses') on the many uses of honey in ancient cultures. As the author explains, honey had many uses from treating burns and wounds to preserving fruit and meat, and embalming.

Also, if one consumed honey produced from certain species of rhododendron, oleander, laurel or azalea, the person would experience some negative effects. This mad honey, as it was called, tasted fine but could produce intoxication, blurred vision, and loss of muscle control that could last for days. In 67 b.c., Rome's Pompey the Great's army was rendered helpless when a crafty opponent placed toxic honeycombs in the troop's path. Once incapacitated, the soldiers were attacked and slaughtered.

Vicki Leon brings to this volume the light, conversational tone that made her Uppity Women series so popular. Highly informative and fun to read, these essays cover such a variety of topics and little known facts that even someone well versed in the ancients will discover something he or she probably wasn't familiar with. For the rest of us, pretty much all of this is new material and that makes the book all the more enjoyable!

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