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The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization Hardcover – Bargain Price, July 22, 2008

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, July 22, 2008
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Editorial Reviews


“The role of psychoactive drugs has been airbrushed out of the conventional picture of Western civilization. The academics who have created this drug-free Greco-Roman world have found their nemesis in Dr. Hillman’s The Chemical Muse. With clarity and directness the author gives us back a lost chapter of our Classical heritage and by doing so restores our understanding of this past.” ---Richard Rudgley, author of Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age 

“In addition to demonstrating the importance of medicinal botanicals and chemicals in alleviating the sufferings of humanity in the ancient Greco-Roman world, Dr. Hillman unveils the role that many of them played as recreational drugs, not for the lunatic fringes of society, but as sources of knowledge and religious sacraments by the leading artists, thinkers, and politicians, central to the very formation of what we admire and enshrine as the Classical tradition. The Chemical Muse inspired democracy itself and the greatest minds of antiquity.”---Carl A. P. Ruck, author of Sacred Mushrooms: The Secrets of Eleusis

"David Hillman has given us a penetrating insight into our permanent romance with altered consciousness.  This important work is a myth-buster."---Mike Gray, author of Drug Crazy and The China Syndrome

About the Author

D. C. A. Hillman earned an M.S. in bacteriology and an M.A. and Ph.D in classics from the University of Wisconsin. His research has been published in the academic journal Pharmacy in History. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife and children.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (July 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312352492
  • ASIN: B00342VG0E
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,653,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By blueskies on July 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just received a copy of this book this week, and literally couldn't put it down since I found the topic fascinating. The author describes his ordeal with a doctoral dissertation committee, who were insisting that he remove offending chapters from his dissertation. Those chapters became this book.

It seems to be a huge secret that there was recreational drug use by the ancients. The cradle of democracy was full of druggies! I had some classical studies and none of this was EVER mentioned. But, the use of herbals and botanicals for medicinal purposes was known. The use of psychotropic substances for recreation and inspiration was decidedly not taught.

For a very fascinating look at a still taboo subject, I suggest reading ths book. It is an easy read, despite the scholarly origin for the author. I would have liked more scholarly references but probably wouldn't have understood them since I have no background in ancient Greek. I was particularly interested in the way the author tied the frequent wars to use of botanicals for medicine and relief. Life was difficult back then and
it probably did help to numb the fear and pain of a very hostile world to have potent drugs sold in the marketplace along with the kitchen produce.

Very readable and informative and a little naughty. I had no idea that the founders of Western democracy were bisexual druggies until I read this book!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Aaron_2278 on November 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about possible drug use by past civilizations. I believe this book has loads of insightful information and presents a well thought out thesis which is backed up with evidence that is pulled from a few main sources and which is open to debate. The writing style and organization leave much to be desired, however, the book presents a view of ancient people that is rarely presented. If you want to know where current academics let their philosophical views govern how they interpret ancient writings on drug use, this book will definitely give you some well thought out opinions on the matter.

As other people have mentioned, the author is angry that he had to edit out parts of his dissertation that related to drug use in order to obtain his doctoral degree. That would tick me off too. I do not believe that his anger came off as such in the book. I would describe it more as passion for the subject.

The main issues I have with the book is the poor editing and the lack of variety in the sources. The book could have been about half the size based upon the repeating of the main ideas with different examples. I understand why he organized the book the way he did, I just think it could have flowed better if it was organized with each chapter dedicated to the writings of each author discussed. The flow was broken up when going from one author to another and back again.

I do like the examples given on where drug use shows up in ancient writings, and the author gives some good examples of where modern scholars interpretations have distorted the translations. The book did leave me wanting more information and that seems to be the goal of the author.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Professor K on March 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was looking for some scholarly works on the current and past use of psychoactives for a course I am creating. I personally found this work to be lame. The author relates his perceived persecution by his thesis committee in having to remove aspects of his thesis, then proceeds to present ancient Greece and Rome as a society with open and accepted drug use (poisoning to medical to recreational). The author may well be correct that these cultures were well versed in the use of botanicals, but the information is presented in such a personally opinionated way that it is distracting. The information contained may serve as a starting point to find further information; however, I do not feel I can use it as a reference for anything that I present to my students.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Thought the topic of the book was interesting, but overall poorly executed. The book is extremely repetitive and the writing style is academic and clumsy. I was also surprised at how infrequently he actually includes citations from the actual classical authors, given his overall thesis that the ancient literature is full of such references. I accept the thesis - especially in regards to opium - but wish it had been handled better. In the end, I wasn't able to actually make it through the book, which is rare for me.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Michael Hoffman on December 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
David Hillman's book "The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization" is a required book in the field of entheogen scholarship. It presents a maximal entheogen theory of religion in Late Antiquity; it is the first book to present such a strong, clear view. The use of psychoactives was utterly normal, commonplace, mainstream, and culturally integrated.

Hillman forces a revision of the assumption-framework that is used by some other entheogen historians. John Allegro's book The Sacred Mushroom & The Cross postulated that the early Christians were motivated to use coded story-figures such as the figure of Jesus in order to hide their deviant, unusual practice of use of visionary plants (mushrooms) from mainstream culture, which persecuted and disallowed such use. Hillman doesn't address Allegro's explanation, but that aspect of Allegro's theory is soundly disproved by the culture that Hillman reveals, a culture thoroughly saturated with psychotropic drugs, and must be abandoned.

The cover art shows Plato with red eyes, which today has culturally distorting connotations of "Plato smoked pot." Hillman should've chosen instead something like the fresco showing Dionysus' victory procession, with Dionysus on a chariot drawn by four tigers with mushrooms above their backs. The book would benefit from ancient pictorial evidence of psychoactive plants and their use, of which there is no shortage.

The book ought to have subheadings. The author omits subheadings, thus obscuring what specific topics are covered in the book.
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