Nepenthe is a drug of forgetfulness mentioned in Greek mythology, depicted as originating in Egypt.

The word "Nepenthe" first appears in the fourth book (vv. 220-221) of the Odyssey of Homer. Literally, it means "the one that chases away sorrow" (ne = not, penthos = grief, sorrow). In the Odyssey, "Nepenthes pharmakon" (i.e. a drug that chases away sorrow) is a magical potion given to Helen by an Egyptian queen. It quells all sorrows with forgetfulness.

Many scholars think that nepenthe might have been an opium preparation, perhaps similar to laudanum. Alternatively, some believe it could have been an Egyptian wormwood elixir. (Refer to absinthe, history.) However, the descriptions in literature of the effects of nepenthe are similar to how the effects of opiates are described.

The carnivorous plant genus Nepenthes is named after the drug nepenthe.

References to nepenthe


  • In Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, book 4, canto 3, the effect of the drink is extended: "such as drinck, eternall happinesse do fynd" (verse 43). Spenser likens Nepenthe to the magic potion from Ariosto's Orlando furioso.
  • George Chapman refers to Nepenthe in Ovid's Banquet of Sense, stanza 10, line 1: "Sacred Nepenthe, purgatiue of care".
  • In Milton's Comus, lines 675-8, Comus says of his julep that "Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone/In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena /Is of such power to stir up joy as this".
  • Alexander Pope made the reference "Lulled with the sweet nepenthe of a court" in his poem An Essay on Man.
  • In "The Raven", a poem by Edgar Allan Poe there is a reference to "quaffing nepenthe" in order to forget a lost love: "Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!".
  • Lines 358-359 of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "The Triumph of Life" read: "In her right hand she bore a crystal glass/ Mantling with bright Nepenthe".
  • Nepenthe is mentioned in George Arnold's poem Wool Gathering.
  • Erasmus mentions Nepenthe in the opening paragraphs of In Praise of Folly.
  • Nepenthe is employed by Charles Baudelaire in his poem Le Léthe.
  • Nepenthe is the name of a collection of poetry published in 1921 by Greek poet Kostas Karyotakis. It was his second collection.
  • In the eponymous limerick by Aleister Crowley (which also clarifies the pronunciation of his surname): "My name it is Aleister Crowley/ A master of Magick unholy/ Of philtres and pentacles/ Covens, conventicles/ Of basil, nepenthe, and moly."

Books and novels


  • American death metal band Nile mentions nepenthe in their song "Beneath Eternal Oceans of Sand" from their first album Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka: "In the cosmos / There is balm as well as bitterness / And that balm is Nepenthe". The song is inspired by Lovecraft's short story.
  • "Nepenthe" is a song by Finnish metal band Sentenced, released on their fourth album, Amok. Nepenthe is used as a metaphor for alcohol; the song is about drinking to forget one's sorrows.
  • "The Nepenthes" is a song by the Japanese rock band L'Arc~en~Ciel.
  • Songwriter Jimmy Webb mostly wrote about one lost love. A song on the Webb-produced Magic Garden album by the Fifth Dimension contains a song called "Dream, Pax, Nepenthe", a bittersweet memory of a time they were together. A southern California resident, Webb may also have referenced the Big Sur restaurant (see below).
  • In the song "Calgone" on the album S.C.I.E.N.C.E. by Incubus, the second verse ends with the line "Come sail aboard USS Nepenthe!"

Popular culture

  • Nepenthe is a restaurant in Big Sur, known for its views of the rugged coastline. An eponymous track on the Mannheim Steamroller album Fresh Aire VI was inspired by the view from this restaurant.
  • Nepenthe Productions was a production company name used by Martin Rosen for several films he directed, two of them (Watership Down and The Plague Dogs) adaptations of Richard Adams novels.
  • Nepenthean Music is the publishing company of jazz pianist and composer Michael Weiss.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 901 "The Projected Man," nepenthe is used (somewhat satirically) to describe a plea from ghosts: Observer: "I'm sensing the presence of several disembodied souls... wandering these dark halls in search of surcease, an end to their endless night... a howl of quiet desperation... towards an indifferent universe. Nepenthe! Nepenthe!"
  • Nepente is also the name of a wine produced in the town named Oliena, in Sardinia.
  • In Kurt Wimmer's 2002 science-fiction film Equilibrium, Nepenthe is used by Father to describe Prozium, the drug used to quell emotion. "Prozium -- the great nepenthe. Opiate of our masses. Glue of our great society. Salve and salvation, it has delivered us from pathos, from sorrow, the deepest chasms of melancholy and hate. With it, we anesthetize grief, annihilate jealousy, obliterate rage. That those sister impulses towards joy, love, and elation are anesthetized in stride, we accept as fair sacrifice. For we embrace Prozium in its unifying fullness and all that it has done to make us great."
  • In A Life of Learning, American Council of Learned Societies Occasional Paper No. 17 (Charles Homer Haskins Lecture for 1991), Milton Babbitt noted "the subsequent and continuing triumph of what Nelson Goodman has called the Tingle-Immersion theory, which—when applied to music—demands that music be anyone’s anodyne, a non-habit forming nepenthe."


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