c.79AD: Pliny’s “hairy spider” contraceptive




The ancient Roman eclectic Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) had an answer for almost every ailment or injury. His 37-volume Natural History records hundreds of lotions, potions and animal-based cures: from chicken brains in wine for snakebite, to elephant’s blood or wolf’s eye for a fever. Pliny was less forthcoming when it came to contraceptive methods, which he opposed on principle. Nevertheless, his Natural History lists several herbs which, if eaten, were likely to prevent conception or lead to miscarriage. Another method of contraception described by Pliny involves “rubbing juniper all over the male part before coitus”. Another, reportedly discovered by Caecilius, requires one large hairy spider:

“There is a type of hairy spider that has a very large head. If you cut this open you will find inside two small worms. If these are tied onto women, wrapped in a strip of deer hide, she will not conceive… This contraceptive retains its effectiveness for one year. I think it appropriate for me to mention contraception, only because some women are so fertile and have so many children that they need a break.”

Source: Pliny the Elder, Natural History, b.29 v.28. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

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