Got Pandemics? We’ve Got Panaceas! Mithridate, Pt. 1

First, a few etymologies:

Pandemic comes from pandēmos (Greek) =  pan ‘all’) + dēmos ‘people’;

therefore “all people”, as opposed to epidemic (epi=upon, hence “upon people”).

Panacea comes from panakeia (Greek), from pan ‘all’ + akos ‘remedy’.

Mithridate refer to any general all-purpose antidote, named after Mithridates VI.

Mithra What?

Mithra Who?

Read On and Learn the Secrets of Mithridate…


Mithridates VI, also known as Mithridates the Great, was king of an area known as Pontus (and Armenia Minor).

As far as kings went, he was pretty much a bad ass. If you look at the map below, when he took power, his kingdom was just the dark purple area to the south of the Black Sea.

By the time he was deposed, it was everything in color.

This was all at the expense of Rome.

The Romans were not pleased.

They engaged him in three campaigns, each headed with one of their finest generals.

Who won?

Well, they’re called Mithridatic Wars…that should be a hint.

Of course, all good things…

Mithridates VI: Rome was not amused.


Mithridates means ‘gift of Mithra’, which begs the question, who was Mithra?

A Zoroastrian deity, Mithra is a member of the “ahuric triad”, which includes the Creator God Ahura Mazda, and the “Child of the Waters”, Apam Napat (Ahura Berezaiti).

The name Mithra itself can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-Iranian root-word meaning “to bind”; this makes Mithra the God of Contracts.

However, he also is a member of another triad…

Chinvat Bridge:

Imagine this:

You’ve died.

You find yourself at a beam-shaped bridge.

The bridge is guarded by two ferocious, four eyed dogs.

Across the bridge lies the land of the dead, and the House of Song.

How does the bridge appear?

That depends on your righteousness, your asha.

For the wicked, the bridge is narrow, and when they attempt to cross it, the demon Vizaresh comes up and drags the person down into the druj-demana: The House of Lies.

For the righteous, the bridge is wide, and Daena, the spirit of revelation, leads the soul to the House of Song, where they will be united with Ahura Mazda.

Three divinities guard the Chinvat Bridge: Sraosha (Conscience), Rashnu (Justice), and…

Mithra, the God of Covenant.

A representation of Chinvat bridge from the sarcophagus of an Iranian caravan leader named Wirak, discovered in Northwest China.

So back to Mithridates VI, the Mithridates the Great, Mithridates, the Gift of Mithra…


Despite his victories, Mithridates VI was not invincible. Much of what he gained would be lost, driving him to the edge.

In his final, fanatical quest to avenge himself on Rome, his own people revolted against him.

Finally, in desperation, he decided to end it all by poisoning himself (and in proper royal fashion, those closest to him).

There was, however, one small catch…


Mithridates’ father had been assassinated by poisoning; this had a lasting effect on the king, who purportedly consumed small amounts of poison habitually to build up his resistance.

According to Appian’s Roman History:

Mithridates then took out some poison that he always carried next to his sword and mixed it.
There two of his daughters…asked him to let them have some of the poison first, and insisted strenuously and prevented him from drinking it until they had taken some and swallowed it.

The drug took effect on them at once; but upon Mithridates, although he walked around rapidly to hasten its action, it had no effect, because he had accustomed himself to other drugs by continually trying them as a means of protection against poisoners.

These are still called the Mithridatic drugs.

Seeing Bituitus, an officer of the Gauls, he said to him,

“I have profited much from your right arm against my enemies. I shall profit from it most of all if you will kill me and save from the danger of being led in a Roman triumph one who has been an autocrat so many years, and the ruler of so great a kingdom, but who is now unable to die by poison because, like a fool, he has fortified himself against the poison of others.

Although I have kept watch and ward against all the poisons that one takes with his food, I have not provided against that domestic poison, always the most dangerous to kings, the treachery of army, children, and friends.”

Bituitus, thus appealed to, rendered the king the service that he desired.


Cassius Dio’s Roman History gives us a different ending:

Mithridates had tried to make away with himself, and after first removing his wives and remaining children by poison, he had swallowed all that was left; yet neither by that means nor by the sword was he able to perish by his own hands.
For the poison, although deadly, did not prevail over him, since he had inured his constitution to it, taking precautionary antidotes in large doses every day; and the force of the sword blow was lessened on account of the weakness of his hand, caused by his age and present misfortunes, and as a result of taking the poison, whatever it was.
When, therefore, he failed to take his life through his own efforts and seemed to linger beyond the proper time, those whom he had sent against his son fell upon him and hastened his end with their swords and spears.
Thus Mithridates, who had experienced the most varied and remarkable fortune, had not even an ordinary end to his life.
For he desired to die, albeit unwillingly, and though eager to kill himself was unable to do so; but partly by poison and partly by the sword he was at once self-slain and murdered by his foes.


So that’s our set-up; a historical and mythical account of the origins of Mithridate. However, there’s another angle to this:

Big Pharma, Old School:

In part two, we’ll look at Mithridate, Inc., through the ages…

Until then, stay healthy!

Marble portrait of Mithridates VI as Heracles, Roman imperial period (1st century C.E.), in the Louvre.

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