In Plato’s Phaedrus, the Egyptian god of writing offers King Thamus writing as a “remedy” (“pharmakon”) that can help memory. Thamus refuses the gift on the grounds that it will only create forgetfulness: for him, it is not a remedy for memory itself, but merely a way of reminding. Writing is thus a “poison” (“pharmakon”). The word “pharmakon” meant both the disease and its cure to the ancient Greeks. The word is paradoxical, translated as ‘drug’ and meaning both ‘remedy’ and ‘poison’. This is still the same today – we refer to both effective medicines and to toxic substances as ‘drugs’.
From here stem the words pharmacology, pharmacy, pharmaceutical. I won’t lie – it is a play on word for me. But one that retains relevance, given the history of “pharmakon” and the words that have stemmed from its root.
- Derrida’s “Pharmakon”
- Plato’s Pharmacy by Jacques Derrida
- Plato’s Phaedrus on Amazon