Flowers in the Blood: The Story of Opium

Flowers in the Blood: The Story of Opium


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The ultimate book on the incredible, and complex history of opium throughout the world.

Flowers in the Blood lifts the veil of mystery that has surrounded opium down through the ages. Inside, discover:

  • Why a three-thousand-year-old statue of a Greek goddess was crowned with poppies
  • The formulas for Hippocrates’s ancient opium remedies
  • Why the Islamic councils of the wise vilified hashish but venerated opium
  • What really provoked the Opium Wars in China
  • Why John Jacob Astor quit the opium trade
  • The unique role played by Chinese opium in the birth of the American labor movement

    Opium has played a dramatic and varied role in human history, inspiring religious veneration, scientific exploration, the bitterest rancor, and the most fanciful ecstasy. Now, authors Jeff Goldberg and Dean Latimer have provided a complete, insightful history of opium.

    Along the way, the authors provide details of the addictions of S. T. Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, and other literary opium-eaters of the nineteenth century, as well as chronicling the progress of antidrug laws and the ongoing search for an addiction cure.

    Originally published in 1981, this edition of Flowers in the Blood has been updated with a new preface by Goldberg. At times disconcerting—raising serious questions about attitudes and approaches toward powerful drugs and their control—Flowers in the Blood is an essential addition to the literature of opium, and a wide-awake look at the stuff that dreams (and nightmares) are made of.

    Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history—books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
  • Product Details

    ISBN-13: 9781626365407
    Publisher: Skyhorse
    Publication date: 02/18/2014
    Pages: 320
    Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

    About the Author

    Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer best known as an investigator of psychoactive drugs and how they work in the brain. Born in Philadelphia, Goldberg's articles on science and medicine have appeared in Life, Discover, Omni, and other magazines internationally.

    Dean Latimer is the former executive of High Life magazine. Born in Canton, New York, Latimer helped to originate the East Village Other as well as the National Lampoon. His articles have also appeared in Oui and Penthouse, amongst others.

    William Burroughs was an American writer and artist, and one of the most recognized figures of the beat generation. He is probably most well-known for his novel Naked Lunch, a controversial work that was subject to one of the most recent obscenity trials for a book in the United States.

    Read an Excerpt



    ... in a Pagan land, supposing it to have been adequately made known through experimental acquaintance with its revolutionary magic, opium would have altars and priests consecrated to its benign and tutelary powers.

    Thomas De Quincey Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

    Opium: The three syllables sound oriental. They conjure up images of six-inch Mandarin fingernails rolling black balls of gleaming dope, and dark cellars lined with narrow bamboo racks inhabited by hollow-eyed coolies in various states of torpor and coma. But this is opium legend à la Hollywood and old-fashioned dime novels: villainous, slant-eyed and absolutely without historical foundation.

    Real oriental opium legends, like those current today among the Lisu and Lahu peoples on the Burma-Chinese border, are peculiar among myths. In one Shan State opium tale, a beautiful young woman, who had remained unmarried because she smelled bad, died, and an opium poppy grew from her grave. Others say it was an ugly, old woman who gave birth to the eerie flower. In either case, the opium-generating woman had been tainted, at one time, by contact with foreign men, specifically westerners: and that's how opium-child came to the Burmese highlands. So culturally speaking these are new myths. Opium arrived in East Asia relatively recently, around A.D. 300, brought from Persia and India by Arab merchants. (It had been brought to Persia and India no earlier than 330 B.C. by Alexander the Great.) And its notorious endemic use in the Orient didn't begin until the 1700s, when industrious European mercantilists turned a modest native herb trade into the most profitable big business in the history of commerce up to that time (see Chapter 6). The opium poppy is botanically native to the Mediterranean region and it is from this part of the world that the real opium legends originate.

    Consider, for example, a certain ceramic opium pipe that was recently unearthed on the island of Cyprus off Turkey, where archeologists estimate it had been buried for some three thousand years. Cyprus in 1200 B.C. was largely populated by the Peoples of the Sea, the old Greek sea-kings and their people, who fled south from a great barbarian invasion of the Peloponnesus. The people who smoked opium out of this pipe were the blond and blue-eyed legends Homer sang about, the Philistine giants Samson slaughtered with the jawbone of an ass in the Book of Judges, the grandfathers of Goliath. Consider as well two Bronze Age Cypriot vases, two thousand five hundred years old, housed at the National Museum of Naples. Both are painstakingly handcrafted ceramic capsule-heads of Papaver somniferum at the culling stage, detailed precisely with incision slashes; so detailed, in fact, that it's obvious the Peoples of the Sea were employing surgical-quality culling knives to harvest their opium before 1100 B.C. They were not only smoking opium before the fall of Troy, but cultivating and trading it in their poppy-shaped vases.

    Nearly twice as far back, opium was known by the Sumerians of the Euphrates delta (in modern-day Iraq), as "Hul Gil" — the "joy plant" — and they used it to mend their ills. The Sumerians bequeathed the plant of joy to the Assyrians, who gave it the less poetic name of "lion fat." Assyrian cuneiform tablets, circa 700 B.C. describe how, "Early in the morning, old women, boys and girls collect the (poppy) juice, scraping it off the notches with a small iron blade, and place it within a clay receptacle." Seven hundred years later, Dioscorides, herbalist and personal physician to the emperor Nero, detailed the same poppy-culling process:

    For opium, slit the seeds with a small knife after the dew is well dried. The knife must be drawn around the crown without piercing the fruit within: then the capsules should be incised on the sides near the surface, and opened a little. A drop of juice will ooze forth onto the finger sluggishly, but will soon flow freely.

    And twenty centuries later the culling process still remains substantially unchanged, wherever opium poppies are grown. It's still all done by hand, each poppy one by one, with the peasants crab-walking backward along the poppy rows, bent over double and slicing each capsule round about and up and down, capsule after capsule. They wear masks so they don't get dreamy from the fumes. And when they finish a row, they go over it again, one by one, finger-drawing the white opium-ooze into clots. After it turns brown and tacky, they go through the rows again, crab-walking backward, doubled over, rubbing it into balls, capsule by capsule ...

    The sheer labor of it all undoubtedly explains why there was no opium problem before the nineteenth century. Until canny Europeans devised plantation management schemes to more efficiently produce the drug, it was just too much hard work to foster anything like an addiction epidemic.

    The Babylonians also learned the art of poppy-culling from the Assyrians, and they passed it on to the Egyptians, who sent their loved ones to the spooky animal-headed magistrates of the netherworld with Cypriot-style poppy jars full of shepen or spenn, the better to argue their cases before the disorienting eye of Horus. The Egyptians cunningly started growing a powerful cultivar of it for themselves, Papaver rohas, and selling the prepared gum to the Phoenicians and Minoans, who moved it across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, Carthage, and probably into Europe. The superior Egyptian product, opium thebaicum, was cultivated far upriver at the capital city of Thebes. The thebaicum trade boomed in the thirteenth century B.C., during the very peak of classic Egyptian culture — the reigns of the conquering Thutmose IV, the visionary Akhenaton, and the boy-king Tutankhamen — and continued long after they had joined the shades of their ancestors. The tombs of pharaohs from the Eighteenth to Twenty-sixth Dynasties (1600-600 B.C.) were decorated with paintings of opium poppies, mandrake, and the blue waterlily. Egyptian doctor-priests included opium in their materia medica for a variety of ailments. A particularly poignant example occurs in the Ebers papyrus (1500 B.C.), in a chapter entitled "Remedy to Prevent the Excessive Crying of Children," wherein they recommend:

    ... the grains of the spenn-plant, with the excretions of flies found on the walls, strained to a pulp, passed through a sieve, and administered on four successive days. The crying will stop at once.

    So began the venerable tradition of dosing bawling babies with opiates — whether spenn and fly-specks or "Street's Infant Quietness" — which continued uninterrupted from the time of the pharaohs to the reign of Queen Victoria.

    It's clear that opium was known and revered by the ancients of the Nile. Egyptologists are puzzled, however, by a certain "oleaginous ointment" found in the tomb of an Eighteenth Dynasty nobleman: The ointment contained not opium, but morphine.

    Yet, it was the ancient Greeks who first incorporated opium into their legends and mysteries. To them the poppy was a magical plant, inspiring a rich folklore long before it was used as medicine; a sacred plant to which were consecrated altars and priests, as De Quincey so perspicaciously intuited nearly a century before the first archeological evidence surfaced to support such a view.

    Since then, illuminating scraps of pottery, poetry and painting have surfaced which suggest that some of the first Greek dieties to emerge from primordial chaos brought opium along with them. Nyx (Night), and her son Thanatos (Death), were very appropriately portrayed wreathed in poppies and bearing poppies. Lucian of Samosata, who embellished on these spooks in the second century A.D. — before that, it would have been deemed profane to do so — presented Nyx and Hypnos sharing a rustic bungalow, surrounded by poppies. At dusk they would ramble about the countryside, followed by a flock of dreams, with jars of poppy-juice to drop in the eyes of sleepy mortals. Hypnos (Sleep), another of Nyx's offspring, characteristically reclined on his couch in a dark misty cave on the island of Lemnos, brooding over the infinite variety of his sons, the dreams. One of these sons was Morpheus, after whom was named morphine.

    Greek heroes used opium for heroic purposes. Heracles, having murdered his family and been driven insane by the Erinyes, was ritually purified with opium, prior to beginning his Labours, by the semihistorical Eleusinian witch doctor Eumolpus. On the "Lovatelli" urn commemorating the event, housed at the Museo Nazionale Romano, Eumolpus is seen pouring wine over a sacrificial pig while holding a platter of poppy capsules. Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur (who also slew Eumolpus' son Kerkyon, to become king of Eleusis and neighboring Athens), pacified Cerberus, Hell's watchdog, with poppy-juice on his aborted raid to kidnap the spring-princess, Persephone, from her lover, Hades. Jason of Thessaly was an adept herbalist — the name translates as "healer" — well-acquainted with opium. He used it as a kind of Mickey Finn, sprinkling it on the eyes of the serpent guarding the Golden Fleece. And the fire which Prometheus stole from Zeus is described metaphorically by Aeschylus as both flower and drug. Prometheus concealed the "fire" in the customary manner of Greek herb-gatherers — in a hollow fennel stalk — and stole it from Zeus at a place called Mekone, which translates literally as "poppy town."

    Opium is not really a drug of heroes, though. A tricky, subtle agent not very appropriate for butchery and rapine — and only efficacious in the treatment of illnesses when properly gathered, prepared and administered with exquisite craft — it was generally identified in the prehistoric world with women.

    Women appear to have presided over European culture for some five thousand years between the recession of the great glaciers and the institution of writing. The major accomplishment of women — in what is actually a remarkably brief span of time — was the accomplishment of this epoch: They developed the craft of clocking the seasons and growing live things, which included in time various plant-drugs. Earth goddess cults and female mysteries evolved naturally out of this nexus. People were already putting up mysterious windowless shrines to female deities along the Danube before 7000 B.C.: two-story temples for a typical waterbird goddess in Yugoslavia were lifted up on leg-like stilts, and were entered through rooftop passages shaped like swans' necks.

    Toward the end of this epoch, the Minoans of Crete were honoring the Mother in multiple forms, from goats to snakes to plants. One of her effigies, dug up in the 1930s, was primly dubbed "The Minoan Goddess With Uplifted Hands" by her excavator, S. Marinatos — resolutely overlooking the three salient and robust poppy capsules sprouting out of her tiara.* Three feet high, sublimely eyeless with a Mona Lisa smile, the lady was found in proximity of a tubular, ceramic opium pipe in a windowless shrine furnished with nothing but a charcoal firegate. Devotees climbed in through a rooftop passageway.

    This primordial Cretan opium den owes its preservation to the tons of volcanic ash and earthquake debris that securely buried it around 1500 B.C. when the island of Thera, just over the Aegean horizon, blew itself to bits in a long dreadful series of fiery catastrophies. The prevailing southerly winds, carrying sulfurous death, almost entirely annihilated the Mother-worshipping Minoans, and carried in a grand invasion of Greeks from Mykenae on the Peloponnesus Peninsula, where Father Zeus presided. The Father seems not to have been entirely ill-disposed toward opium, since poppies begin appearing in Mycenaean ceremonial ware around this time.

    When the renowned Graecophile Tsountas dug up Mycenae in the 1880s, he found among the ladies' baubles preserved there an assortment of poppy-headed needles fashioned of bronze, which he took for brooch-pins. Most of them being a good deal long for fixing hair or clothes, the needles were regarded with puzzlement for quite some time, until P. G. Kritikos, a pharmacognosist at the University of Athens, happened to look at them. Yen-hoks, he declared, was what they were, just like the old mandarins used thirty centuries later: you pierced a wad of opium on the sharp end, and twiddled it over the charcoal fire until the smoke bloomed. Some of the poppyheads were hollow, with twist-off tops, suggesting that the opium was most likely concealed inside them. Questions over whether the smokers were concealing their stash from somebody, or whether this paraphernalia accessory was invented purely for convenience, remain unanswered. The practice disappeared over the next two centuries, and Tsountas' Mycenaean brooch pins are the last persuasive indication that anyone smoked opium for the next three thousand years, until the Europeans in the Orient rediscovered the practice.

    People more commonly ate opium in Greece, or drank it in various sacramental and medicinal concoctions. This practice continued traditionally in honor of the Mother, whom they called Rhea, Amalthea, or Gaia. Even Zeus-fanciers universally recognized her as the original source of life, and all the gods and heroes and plants and animals and people were in her womb before they were conceived or born. One of her more delightful manifestations was the love-goddess Aphrodite, conceived and born in the pearly surf of Cyprus — site of the opium paraphernalia described above. On Cyprus, they called her Kythera, and said she played on a sort of lute which we call a "zither."

    Another accomplished zither-player was Helen of Troy — generally held to be Aphrodite in her formal roles of witch, sex object, and maker of cuckolds. After Troy fell, around 1200 B.C., and King Menelaos of Sparta, the cuckold, reclaimed her from her ravisher Paris, Helen settled down domestically as zither-player and herb-healer in Menelaos' palace. Ten years later, Telemachos, son of the long-missing Odysseus, arrived there in a state of profoundest depression. To brighten things up a bit, says Homer (The Odyssey, c. 700 B.C.):

    ... it entered Helen's mind to drop into the wine that they were drinking an anodyne, mild magic of forgetfulness. Whoever drank this mixture in the wine bowl would be incapable of tears that day — though he should lose mother and father both, or see with his own eyes a son or brother mauled by weapons of bronze at his own gate. The opiate of Zeus's daughter bore this uncanny power. It had been supplied her by Polydamna, mistress of Lord Thon, in Egypt, where the rich plantations grow herbs of all kind, maleficent and healthful; and no one else knows medicine as they do, Egyptian heirs of Paian, the healing god. She drugged the wine, then, had it served ...

    Homer is describing opium, or nepenthe as the Zeusborn Helen called it, and the name surfaces elsewhere in myths as a magic draught conferring easiness of mind, general disinhibition, and a calm, airy reverie of benevolence toward all the world.

    Helen was clearly a minister of the primordial All-Mother, who by Homer's time had acquired the name of Demeter. She presided over perhaps the greatest religious tradition ever, flourishing unbroken from before the Homeric Age to around A.D. 400, when the Christians finally wiped it out. It was called the Eleusinian Mysteries, a complex scheme of seasonal rites, feasts, fasts, anointments and shrivenings that filled the calendar with special significance.

    The central occasion was the "ravishment" every autumn of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. This happened near the beginning of November. The lady was swept away by Hades while out gaily gathering the "hundred-headed narkissos," associated in Greek herb-lore with narcotic plants in general. Every November this would happen, causing All-Mother Demeter in her bereavement to blight the earth with killer-cold, so that all froze, nothing grew, and misery reigned everywhere. All winter she'd wander the earth seeking surcease of sorrow, and every winter on a dim, depressing day in early February, she would find it, magically, in the form of an early-blooming poppy. Or so her devotees firmly believed. On that day, every year, they would gather at Agrai near Athens to eat a little opos — congealed poppy-juice — and by heaven, things not only looked better, they got better. Within a couple of weeks the first balmy rush of spring breezes would always eddy down brightly out of Thrace. Demeter's opium fete at Agrai also featured a special ritual in which the male congregants would pretend to give birth to effigies of babies. And what became of this sublime orthodoxy? Christian censorship was brutal and efficient. Opos-day is now celebrated as Groundhog Day.


    Excerpted from "Flowers in the Blood"
    by .
    Copyright © 2014 Jeff Goldberg and Dean Latimer.
    Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

    Table of Contents

    Preface, 2014: The Ayatollah's Opium ix

    Introduction: God's Own Medicine William Burroughs 1

    Preface Flowers in the Blood 5

    The Body's Own Opiates

    On Emotions and Molecules

    Eureka! Endorphin and So Much More

    The Pituitary's Pharmacopoeia

    1 Legends 15

    How Opium Came to the Burmese Highlands

    Philistine Opium-Pipes and Poppy-shaped Vases

    The Plant of Joy

    The Poppy Goddess

    Homer's Nepenthe

    Hippocrates, Galen, and Opium as Medicine

    2 Drugs of Good and Evil 31

    Hashish: The Scourge of Medieval Islam

    The Strange Ways and Drugs of the Ancient Scythians

    What the Qur'an Doesn't Say

    The August History of Afyon in the Middle East

    3 The Stone of Immortality 39

    Opium in Medieval Europe

    Marvelous Paracelsus and the Anodyne Specific

    Sir Christopher Wren: The First Intravenous

    "The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd"

    Addiction Discovered (Reluctantly)

    4 The British Experience 59

    Revolting Drugs and Vile Practices in the English Fens

    The Scandal of Working Class Stimulation

    George III's Porphyria and George IV's Hangover Remedy

    A Death Drug

    5 The Dreamers 71

    A Brief Account of the "Opium-Eater"

    The Case of Poor Coleridge

    A "Monstrous, Gross" But Necessary Medication Sir Walter Scott

    Laudanum, Love, and Death John Keats

    "Poetical Paragraphs and Morphine Draughts" Elizabeth Barrett Browning

    A Most Self-possessed Drug Addict Opium and the Other Romantics Wilkie Collins

    6 China: The Opium Wars 95

    Jardine-Matheson and the Honorable Opium Entrepreneurs

    The Arrival of the Redheaded Barbarians

    The Chinese Opium Epidemic Reconsidered

    Chaos in Guangdong

    Opium Traders Held Hostage

    An Unspoken War Jesus Opium

    7 American Afyon 159

    Perkins of Boston vs. Wilcocks of Philadelphia

    Houqua of Whampoa: The Richest Man in the World

    John Jacob Astor and the Opium Trade

    The "Emily" Affair

    The Cunning John Latimer

    8 Nervous Waste 179

    The Wide Open American Opium Market

    The Annoying Tendency to Self-injection

    Modern Times and Morphine

    Self-abuse and Drug-abuse

    9 Yellow Peril 201

    Mark Twain's Chinatown

    The Chinese and the Job Market

    Samuel Gompers and the "White Labor" Movement

    The Chinaman's Vice

    Yellow Journalism: Coolies, White Women, Children, and Opium

    10 The Father of American Narcotics Laws 217

    The State Department's Hamilton Wright

    The Child Races Act

    Liquor on His Breath Disgraces Wright

    The Harrison Narcotics Act

    11 Heroin Boys 233

    The Urban American Blight

    Bayer's Marvelous Mega-aspirin

    Chippers and Addicts

    Youth Gangs, Bolsheviks, and Heroin

    Harry Anslinger and Heroinomania

    12 The Cure 245

    The Elusive Autotoxin

    Addiction: Vice or Disease

    Federal Narcotics Farms

    The Case for Methadone Maintenance

    Epilogue the Business 281

    Inevitable Results of Unsound Legislation

    The Economics of Heroin

    The Anslinger-McCarthy Connection

    The 5 Percent Solution

    Drug Control: A $52 Billion Business

    For Further Reading 291

    Index 297

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