Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tyson Reeder's "Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots"

Tyson Reeder is an editor with The Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution, and reported the following:
On page 99, Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots reveals the plummet in Portuguese wine sales occasioned by U.S. independence. It focuses on the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira—the most important source of wine in British America before the American Revolution. The page describes the decline with statistics but also with anecdotal evidence of U.S. merchant firms that declined to do business with Madeirans. In the depressed markets of the 1780s, Madeira could no longer turn a profit in America.

On page 99, the audience would read very little about smugglers, pirates, or patriots. They would see, however, a snapshot of an important trend. Prior to independence, British Americans purchased and consumed vast amounts of Portuguese wine, especially from Madeira. Due to their commercial freedom following the American Revolution, Americans explored new wine markets in Spain and France, so they severed most of their commercial ties with Portugal. As a result, Brazil surpassed Portugal as the most enticing destination for American goods in the Portuguese Empire. Because Portugal prohibited trade with their South American colony, U.S. traders targeted Brazil by smuggling.

Convinced that independence and republicanism would free trade from imperial controls, many Americans conspired and cooperated with Brazilian revolutionaries to throw off monarchy in Brazil. Some even accepted dubious commissions from revolutionaries to prey on Portuguese commerce, inhabiting a shadowy legal space between a pirate and a privateer. During the Age of Revolution, empires fractured as they contended with smugglers, pirates, and revolutionaries who sought to trade on their own terms. After independence in 1822, Brazilians adopted a monarchy—a turn unanticipated by most Americans. Free traders in the United States came to accept that Brazil would not become a fellow republic in the Western Hemisphere. Instead, the two nations became fellow slave powers.
Learn more about Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 15, 2019

Nick Haddad's "The Last Butterflies"

Nick Haddad is a professor and senior terrestrial ecologist in the Department of Integrative Biology and the W. K. Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University. He lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Haddad applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Last Butterflies: A Scientist's Quest to Save a Rare and Vanishing Creature, and reported the following:
Two threads that connect The Last Butterflies, natural disturbance and the marriage of basic and applied conservation, are in full display on page 99. The butterfly featured on Page 99, the Miami Blue, is iconic in its rapid decline, its extinction, and its resurrection. Once widespread in southern Florida, it was considered extinct in 1992 in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. It was rediscovered in 1999 at Bahia Honda Key, only to die out there again in 2009. A second population was found in the Marquesas in 2006, which is now the only known population, leaving Miami Blues still vulnerable to hurricane driven extinction.

What I did not know at the time I travelled into the tropical storm on page 99 was the role of hurricanes, both positive and negative, for imperiled butterflies. Hurricanes have been implicated in butterfly extinction twice, once when the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane struck Schaus’ Swallowtail’s entire range, and again when Hurricane Andrew struck all remaining Miami Blues in 1992. In both cases, the butterflies were resurrected by later re-discovery. When a hurricane’s eyewall strikes, the wind and storm surge can completely wipe out local butterfly populations.

As with other natural disturbances featured in The Last Butterflies, hurricanes can also have positive effects. Distant from the storm’s eyewall, strong winds can fell trees that overgrow grasses and herbs that caterpillars need. The disturbance can be a regenerative force critical to healthy ecosystems, and to imperiled butterflies.

One central theme of The Last Butterflies crystallizes on Page 99. Basic scientists and applied conservationists must interact closely to pull the rarest butterflies back from the precipice of extinction. Inevitably, given so many actors working in different professional roles on urgent issues, opposing opinions clash.

Page 99 summarizes a poignant case of tension between academics and government agencies. To a lesser degree this issue arises with every butterfly in the book. Agencies carry responsibility for endangered butterflies and invest great effort in conservation. At the same time, we have learned repeatedly that aspects of basic biology are missing for the rarest butterflies. Simple questions (what plants do caterpillars eat?) are later learned to have incomplete answers; discoveries (for example, of a second plant species caterpillars require) arrive nearly too late. Just as applied conservation requires advances in basic science, basic scientists need to take cues from conservationists who have identified barriers and pitfalls in restoration. Knowledge does not flow down a one-way street; an ongoing exchange of knowledge between scientists and conservationists is essential to conservation of the last butterflies.
Visit Nick Haddad's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Robin Wolfe Scheffler's "A Contagious Cause"

Robin Wolfe Scheffler is the Leo Marx Career Development Chair in the History and Culture of Science and Technology at the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine, and reported the following:
Opening a copy of A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine to page 99 places a reader in the middle of an important episode at the beginning of chapter five, “Managing the Future at the Special Virus Leukemia Program.” On page 99, I discuss the clash of philosophies regarding the pace and urgency of cancer research as they stood at the beginning of the 1960s, just as interest in developing a human cancer vaccine started to peak. In 1958, Congress awarded an immense sum of money—one million dollars—to support the National Cancer Institute’s research into cancer vaccination. However, the leadership of the National Cancer Institute was not yet willing to let public enthusiasm for a cancer cure reshape how it pursued research. One of its administrators approvingly quoted a line from the novelist HG Wells, who wrote in 1929 that “The motive to conquer cancer will not be pity or horror, it will be curiosity to know how and why….Desire for service never made a discovery.” Against this view was the advocacy of anticancer advocates such as Mary Lasker, who had exercised political influence to increase the budget of the National Cancer Institute on the expectation that it would aggressively seek to cure—rather than understand—cancer. A confrontation was thus brewing between the respect for scientific autonomy written into the National Cancer Institute’s practices and the demands for a big science project to rapidly confront cancer.

Applying the page 99 test to A Contagious Cause works surprisingly well. One of the central political and historical questions which attended the rise of molecular medicine is how the study of disease relates to the cure of disease. As the challenges faced by the National Cancer Institute in the 1950s demonstrate, many of the researchers who were supported by the federal government on the expectation that their work would produce a cure for cancer did not embrace this as the goal of their research. Programs such as the Special Virus Leukemia Program and it successors sought to close the gap between biological research and medical advances by managing scientific research using models drawn from the defense industry to accelerate and direct these biomedical researchers. The critique of peer-reviewed research at the National Cancer Institute represented by these programs carried over into the demands for a “moonshot” to cure cancer during the War on Cancer of the 1970s. This created notable battles between molecular biologists, such as James Watson, and the federal government regarding the obligations and rights of scientists supported by public funds.

However, what a reader will miss from page 99 is a sense of why these debates mattered not only as a matter of politics but as a matter of how we have come to understand life at a molecular level. Although efforts to plan and direct biological research met with widespread opposition from biologists of many stripes, the resources funneled into fields such as cancer virus studies—over six billion dollars in contemporary terms—had a transformative effect on the kinds of work that molecular biology could do in the 1970s and 1980s. The infrastructure of these programs was not an incidental but an integral part of important discoveries in the migration of molecular biology from simple to complex organisms, and in the expansion of molecular biology from a niche discipline to a foundational part of the biological sciences as a whole. These are developments I cover in later chapters, but they were not envisioned consequences of the first discussions regarding the organization and accountability of research.

Placing these two stories together—the political and the experimental—is the most important contribution I think A Contagious Cause can make to our understanding of the history of cancer—enabling us to understand how our framing of cancer makes new research possible and in turn how that research presents new ways of understanding cancer possible—but not always in the ways we anticipate.
Learn more about A Contagious Cause at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 12, 2019

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall's "Sisters and Rebels"

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall is the founding director of the Southern Oral History Program and the Julia Cherry Spruill Professor of History Emerita at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign Against Lynching, and coauthor of the prize-winning Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World.

Hall applied the “Page 99 Test” to Sisters and Rebels and reported the following:
From page 99:
As head of her college YWCA, Katharine helped to redirect students toward doing “our bit” for the soldiers “over there” in pace with the nation’s unprecedented mobilization of resources, achieved in part through the blunt exercise of federal power and in part through an intense propaganda campaign.... Ninety-nine percent of the student body attended self-organized “world democracy classes,” which aimed to “train women for citizenship during and after the war.” Soon they were characteriz­ing themselves ... as “citizens of this great nation of ours.... A new world-order was being established,” explained the student yearbook, “and as we awakened to this fact we began to prepare ourselves for service.”
I definitely wouldn’t choose this page to introduce browsers to my book. It serves more as a bridge to than as an expression of the main points of the chapter in which it appears. Still, read in context, it does forward my story. That context is set on the previous page: “‘If the war didn’t happen to kill you,’ a char­acter in one of George Orwell’s novels observed, ‘it was bound to set you thinking.’ For the first time, many Southerners found themselves with money in their pockets, jobs in industry, or plans to set sail for distant shores.... Coming to adulthood during these world-changing years, Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin and her sister Grace Lumpkin joined a postwar generation of women who found new routes to self-making in the opportunities opened by the war.”

Born into a former slaveholding family at the end of the 19th century, the Lumpkin sisters had been drilled in the tenets of white supremacy, reverence for the Confederacy, and acceptance of male authority and women’s “secondary and supplementary” role. On page 99 Katharine is a student at a small, all-white college for women in North Georgia. She has already encountered the eye-opening message of the social gospel and thrown in her lot with the YWCA, the most influential progressive force on college campuses at the time. In the pages that follow, the war creates unprecedented opportunities for black women to participate in the organization, and Katharine finds herself called to work on a basis of equality with her black peers for the first time. Her assumptions about racial superiority and inferiority begin to fall away. But she is still vulnerable to the pull of a racist past. Similarly, while she and other student activists had opposed U.S. entry into the war, they, like many others, were swept away by Woodrow Wilson's promise that this war would end wars and make the world safe for democracy. Page 99 shows young women succumbing to nationalist propaganda, but it points forward to a fount of future peace and antiracist activism, as many come to see the war as a catastrophic con­flict driven by imperialist rivalries and war profiteering. It also anticipates the ways in which their involvement in war work, both at home and abroad, leads them to see themselves as full-fledged citizens in a way they never had before.
Visit Jacquelyn Dowd Hall's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Kajsa Norman's "Sweden's Dark Soul"

Kajsa Norman, a London-based investigative journalist and author, has previously published books on Cuba, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. She has also served as a press and information officer for the Swedish Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Mali. Her books include Bridge Over Blood River: The Rise and Fall of the Afrikaners, and A Hero's Curse: The Perpetual Liberation of Venezuela.

Norman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Sweden's Dark Soul: The Unravelling of a Utopia, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Sweden’s Dark Soul – The Unraveling of a Utopia, the reader accompanies one of the book’s protagonists, Chang Frick, as he meets his father for the first time since he was a young boy:
Every so often, growing up, Chang catches a glimpse of his father. He sees him drive past, or turn a corner somewhere in the village, but he never stops.

Sometimes Chang bikes past his house. He can describe every white brick of the bottom floor with his eyes closed. The second floor is yellow and made of wood, as though it was added at a later stage. The yard is full of trucks, the odd excavator, and lots of old-school American cars parked on the grass. Most vehicles stay around for a week or two before being sold. By keeping track of the inventory parked outside the house, Chang has a pretty good idea of the state of business.

One day, Chang decides to stop and ring the doorbell. He has been told he is the spitting image of his father, but the man who opens the door is old and white-haired. There is an air of virility and authority about him that Chang did not expect. If Georg is surprised to see him, his face does not betray it. He simply steps aside, allowing Chang in, as though visits from his son are normal and expected.
Chang was born and raised in Sweden, but his dark hair and features, combined with his parents’ inability to adjust to the strict norms that govern life in rural Sweden, make him an outcast. In a country that claims to be open and accepting of all, Chang never feels welcome. Over time, the tendency of Swedes to emphatically maintain a moral position while at the same time actively participate in its violation becomes a thorn in Chang’s side. As an adult, he sets out to expose this hypocrisy. The reader will get to know him intimately as it is he who uncovers the heinous crime that forms the backdrop of the book – the mass sexual assaults of teenage and pre-teenage girls at a music festival in Stockholm. Hundreds of girls are assaulted in a public place, at a tax-financed event, under the supposed supervision of responsible adults, but for some, unspoken reason, there is no action, no justice, no story.
Visit Kajsa Norman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sharon Marcus's "The Drama of Celebrity"

Sharon Marcus is the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is a founding editor of Public Books and the author of the award-winning Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England and Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London.

Marcus applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Drama of Celebrity, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Drama of Celebrity starts with a discussion of an image reproduced on page 98: a splendid color portrait of the actress Maude Adams, which a scrapbook compiler tore out of a magazine and glued into an album. I describe the act of placing a magazine page in an album as “resituation.” Media scholars often talk about remediation: examples of that include turning a record into a CD, or a piece of paper into a PDF. Resituation is even more bare bones: the medium doesn’t change, someone simply moves a piece of media – from a magazine to an album, or from one website to another.

Page 99 then shifts to discussing a typical page from a typical theater scrapbook compiled in 1892. In the 1890s, millions of people attended the theater every year, and the woman who compiled this 1892 scrapbook went to the theater a few times a week. Her album featured preprinted rubrics that prompted the compiler to list “Impressions of the Play,” “Criticisms of the Performance,” and “Criticism of Individual Actors.” Like many compilers, this one was as interested in describing her social experience as her theatrical one. She did comment on the actors, but under “Impressions of the Play,” she talked about where she went to dinner.

Page 99 is typical of my book in several ways. The page discusses theater, and my book argues that to understand celebrity culture, we need to understand its theatrical origins, to go back before the Internet and before Hollywood. Page 99 is about scrapbooks, and my book draws on hundreds of 19th- and early 20th-century scrapbooks to reconstruct how fans responded to celebrities before the Internet. Most tellingly, page 99 discusses how fans interact with media that represent celebrities, which exemplifies my book’s definition of celebrity: it results from the unpredictable interactions of publics, media, and celebrities themselves. Throughout, I try to focus on the most ordinary fans – not the stalkers, not the energetic, creative folks who write fan fiction, but the millions of people whose “brief acts of attention,” such as compiling scrapbooks, sustain celebrity culture. When it comes to twentieth-century stars, we usually have film or video footage that allows us to see them in action and witness how audiences responded to them. For nineteenth-century celebrities, we need to turn to neglected sources like these scrapbooks to understand how publics perceived them.
Learn more about The Drama of Celebrity at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Adia Harvey Wingfield's "Flatlining"

Adia Harvey Wingfield is Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. She is a regular contributor to Slate, Harvard Business Review, and the Atlantic. She is the author of several books, including No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men's Work.

Wingfield applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Callie is a black woman who works as a patient care technician on a mother-baby floor in a university hospital on the East Coast. She describes it as a “very prestigious hospital,” and it is in fact affiliated with one of the best universities in the United States. Most of the patients she sees are white and well off, and though some patients of color are admitted to the hospital, they are in the minority. After working there for several years, Callie, like many other technicians in this study, came to view her work as a stepping-stone in her career progression. She really wanted to move into nursing and was taking classes that would go toward her nursing degree. She saw this as a way to have more of an impact and to focus more fully on patient care.
Page 99 is the beginning of a chapter about black technicians and the ways that changes to how we work affect them. Since it’s the beginning of a chapter, it only gets half a page, so the page 99 test is at a bit of a disadvantage! Callie’s narrative is the beginning of one segment of a much larger story.

What happens to black professionals in a new economy where the social contract between organizations and labor is increasingly frayed? In an era of technological advancement, diminishing protections for workers, and growing income inequality, organizations today prioritize shedding labor, cutting costs, and increasing shareholder returns. These changes mean that even in “good jobs,” workers have fewer protections from downsizing or termination, rely heavily on social networks when seeking employment, change jobs more frequently, and experience greater economic uncertainty. At the same time, many organizations also profess an interest in meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse population, and many express support for including workers of color in professional jobs. How does this tension between greater diversity and shrinking support for workers impact black professionals? How do they navigate professional jobs in an environment where organizations tout a commitment to diversity but labor power is weakened?

Flatlining focuses on black professionals in the health care industry to answer these questions. Using multiple methodological approaches, I show how broader economic and structural changes fundamentally reoriented professional jobs, impacting the work black professionals do within and outside of their places of employment. This labor varies by occupational status and gender, leaving black men and women with divergent responsibilities depending on their position in the organizational hierarchy. As a result, professional work today comes with a different set of challenges for black employees, revealing complicated issues for organizations and new mechanisms of racial inequality in the workplace.
Learn more about Flatlining at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 8, 2019

John White's "The Contemporary Western"

John White teaches film studies at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. He is co-editor of Fifty Key British Films (2008), Fifty Key American Films (2009) and The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films (2014). He recently contributed chapters to books on Budd Boetticher and Delmer Daves in the Edinburgh University Press ReFocus series, and is the author of Westerns (2011) and European Art Cinema (2017).

White applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Contemporary Western: An American Genre Post 9/11, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In acknowledging Glass’s story as one amongst many used in the formation of U.S. national identity, we are beginning to consider the concept of ‘American exceptionalism’. In order to understand America and Americans as in some ways ‘special’ and ‘exceptional’ when measured against other peoples of the world it is necessary to continually re-work and re-present the foundation myths of national identity to Americans (and to the world). Hilde Eliassen Restad suggests the idea of ‘American exceptionalism’ is ‘a real and significant phenomenon’ that has had a profound influence on U.S. foreign policy. ‘American exceptionalism entails viewing the United States as better than all other nations,’ says Restad. ‘This is different from patriotism… If one does not believe that American exceptionalism means better rather than different, one’s Americanness is open to questioning.’ While challenging the way the concept has been employed in recent decades, Godfrey Hodgson recognises the crucial importance of the idea. ‘Each phase of American history has strengthened the perception among many Americans that the United States is not just one nation among many but a nation marked by the finger of destiny,’ he says. In The Rhetoric of American Exceptionalism: Critical Essays, Jason A. Edwards and David Weiss recognise the importance of ‘American heroes’ as ‘embodiments of American exceptionalism’ representing ‘everything that the United States is and could be’ while also pointing out that ‘the images of these heroes are malleable.’ William V. Spanos suggests ‘the myth of American exceptionalism’ took its lead ‘from the exemplary self-reliant pioneering or westering spirit of the archetypal backwoodsman or frontiersman’ which is where Glass and others of his ilk would seem to come in.

Spanos says the idea of exceptionalism became ‘accepted as the essence or truth of the American national identity until it was rendered problematic during the Vietnam War (only to be recuperated in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001).’ After the Vietnam War, he suggests there was a ‘systematic forgetting’ of ‘historical actualities’ that was achieved ‘by way of the combined efforts of the American government, the media, and Hollywood… to recuperate the consensus, that is, the American identity.’ In his phrase, ‘the narcotics of the culture industry’ was part of the processing of the Vietnam War by American society that enabled the Gulf War of 1991 to be undertaken. Amnesia over Vietnam was then aided by the events of 9/11 to create a ‘fervor’ out of which it was possible to announce, ‘more or less unilaterally… and in defiance of international law,’ a ‘global “war on terrorism”.’
I didn’t think for a minute that this approach to a book could work but (in my mind, at least) it seems to in this case. Page 99 from The Contemporary Western: An American Genre Post-9/11 (as above) is part of a chapter in the book that considers The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2016) with its focus on the brutal and brutalising experience of life faced by Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio). In its intense focus on the United States and its position as seen by itself (and others) on the world stage this page captures very nicely the central hub of the book.
Learn more about The Contemporary Western at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mike Jay's "Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic"

Mike Jay has written extensively on scientific and medical history. His books on the history of drugs include High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture and The Atmosphere of Heaven. He lives in London.

Jay applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes the isolation of mescaline from the peyote cactus in 1897 by the chemist Arthur Heffter in Leipzig, Germany. Heffter had discovered that peyote contained a large number of resins and alkaloids that might account for the hallucinations it produced. He made various extracts and tested them on himself. The resins produced nausea but no hallucinations. By a process of elimination, he came to suspect they were produced by one alkaloid compound that he had named ‘Meskalin’, after ‘mescal’, an alternative name for the peyote cactus.
On 23 November he took 150g [of mescaline]. The violet and green spots came first, then ‘images of carpet patterns, ribbed vaulting etc.’ Soon he was immersed in the visionary ‘landscapes, halls and architectural forms’ of peyote. ‘The results’, he concluded, ‘show that mescaline is exclusively responsible for the major symptoms of peyote (mescal) poisoning. This applies especially to the unique visions.’
Apart from a brief discussion in the prologue, page 99 is the first time that mescaline appears in the book in its pure chemical form. Up to this point I have followed the mescaline-containing cacti, the San Pedro and the peyote, from their ancient and traditional use in the Andes and Mexico, through their adoption by the Plains tribes of the Southwest USA, to peyote's discovery by western science in the 1890s.

This page is one of a the few places where I discuss the chemistry of mescaline in any detail, so in that sense it's not particularly representative of the book as a whole. But it is an important turning point in the story - the moment when mescaline crosses ‘a great divide into modernity: from plant spirit to chemical compound’. A central theme of the book is that mescaline has two distinct histories - one traditional and indigenous, the other western and modern - and this is one of the key moments of transition between them.

It also features another of the book's recurring themes: stories of scientists experimenting on themselves, an essential step in understanding the subjective effects of mind-altering drugs. Arthur Heffter was in a race with another chemist to isolate the vision-producing drug in the cactus. His rival, Louis Lewin, was far more prominent and distinguished, but was not prepared to test the resins and alkaloids on himself. Instead he fed them to dogs, but was unable to tell from observing them whether or not they weere hallucinating. As I conclude on page 100, ‘Heffter made the breakthrough in the laboratory of his own mind’.
Visit Mike Jay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Radcliffe G. Edmonds III's "Drawing Down the Moon"

Radcliffe G. Edmonds III is the Paul Shorey Professor of Greek in the Department of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies at Bryn Mawr College. His many books include Redefining Ancient Orphism and Myths of the Underworld Journey.

Edmonds applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Drawing Down the Moon: Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Faraone points out the interesting way in which such philtra were imagined to work, increasing the benevolence of the target toward the agent by relaxing him and taming his aggressive impulses. Like the effects of wine, which in moderate quantities seems to enhance erotic feelings but in larger quantities can bring about incapacitation, such philtra at first made the target relaxed and happy, but further application or overdose could bring about sedation of the target or even, in certain cases, death. A prostitute in Alciphron seeks a potion that will not only keep her client from straying, but also tame his drunken bad temper and make him a more docile lover. In a speech from fourth-century Athens, a concubine anxious about being dismissed puts pharmaka in the wine; but, instead of making the man more affectionate, the philtron killed him. Later references to cases in which a man was poisoned by an attempt to secure his affections with a love charm show that the woman could either have been acquitted on the grounds that she did not mean to kill him or condemned on the grounds that she did in fact cause his death. Plutarch warns the young bride not to meddle with such philtra, since she is likely to end up with a husband whose sedated virility would leave the relationship crippled.

Faraone compares the effects of these philtra with a type of spell known as the thumokatoxon, the spell for restraining anger, for binding down the thumos, the seat of strong emotion. He suggests that the thumos can be understood almost as machismo, the impulse toward displays of masculine forcefulness, whether sexual or not. Just as modern people might loosely refer to an excess of testosterone as the cause of either violently aggressive or oversexed masculine behavior, so the ancient Greeks might have been concerned about an excess of thumos and sought to restrain it, either to prevent violence or to halt indulgence in sexual activity.
The discussion of “love potions” or philtra that appears on page 99 is only somewhat representative of the book as a whole. Those paragraphs provide a distillation of previous scholars’ work on the subject (specifically here the work of Christopher Faraone), rather than my own further developments, so it is not really the best sample to show what I am doing in the book. On the other hand, one of the aims of the book is to draw together the latest currents of scholarship on ancient magic and present them in a comprehensible form.

The page does provide a good example of the kind of material that I explore in Drawing Down the Moon, the evidence for the practices labeled as magic in Classical antiquity. All these love potions from across the centuries and all over the ancient Greco-Roman world create an extra-ordinary effect, altering the emotions and mental states of the target in ways that a normal substance would not. The label of magic is always applied by someone in a particular situation, so it is crucial to examine the evidence within its social context. In this sample, all of the potions are being used by a woman to manipulate the affections of a man in her life. Such a gendered pattern also fits the literary tropes of erotic magic used by women against men, but it also provides a contrast with other kinds of erotic magic, which I discuss elsewhere in the chapter, where gender figures in quite different ways.

The study of ancient magic provides insights into such social dynamics as the interactions gender and erotic relationships that the more canonical literary and historical sources fail to offer.. The evidence for what is labeled as magic often gives voice to the marginalized others in ancient society, the ones who are not writing the histories but who nevertheless leave witness (in, for example, the lead curse tablets) of their hopes and fears, their passions and their hatreds. The evidence for erotic magic in particular provides often disturbing glimpses of the way the ancient Greeks and Romans dealt with gender, passion, and violence in their relationships. The other chapters of the book likewise provide insights into aspects of the ancient world that are unavailable from other kinds of sources.
Learn more about Drawing Down the Moon at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue