Epileptics who are already familiar with their affliction can tell when a seizure is imminent. They run away from other people: if their home is close by, they go there, but if not, to the most isolated place, where only very few people are likely to see them when they have fallen down, and there they hide away. They do this because they are ashamed of having the disease, and not, as the masses imagine, because they are afraid of some divine spirit. Little children, when they first have seizures, fall down wherever they happen to be, for they have no familiarity with epilepsy. But, after several attacks, when they realize that they are about to have a seizure, they run to their mothers or to some other person whom they know very well. They do this through fear and panic at what they are suffering, but since they still only children, they have no concept of shame (Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease 12).
Hippocrates, a man of superhuman knowledge, used to consider sexual intercourse to be a part of that dreadful illness which we Romans “the assembly disease”. His actual words are said to have been “Sexual intercourse is a brief attack of epilepsy” (Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.8.16).
After puberty, epilepsy is very difficult or indeed impossible to cure (Pseudo-Galen, Introduction or The Doctor 14.740).
I have already mentioned that the best protection against snakes is the saliva of a person who is fasting, but daily life may identify other effective uses for saliva: we spit to avert epilepsy, that is to say we reject contagion from it (Pliny, Natural History 28.35).
At Trapezus on the Black Sea, the honey from box-trees has an oppressive smell. They say that it drives healthy people insane, but completely cures epileptics (Pseudo-Aristotle, On Marvelous Things Heard 831b).
The following are given to epileptics: mare’s milk, a horse’s chestnut [the growth on the inside of the leg] in sweetened vinegar, goat’s meat roasted on a funeral pyre (as recommended by the Magi), and goat fat boiled down with an equal weight of bull’s gall and stored in a gall-bladder to prevent it touching the ground; the patient drinks this in water while standing upright (Pliny, Natural History 28.226).
They say that epilepsy can be cured by eating the flesh of a wild animal killed by the same weapon as a human being has been killed (Pliny, Natural History 28.34).
Some people have freed themselves from epilepsy by drinking the still warm blood of a gladiator who has had his throat cut – a wretched cure bearable only because their affliction was even more wretched (Celsus, On Medicine 3.23).
Epileptics even drink the blood of gladiators, from living cups, as it were. It is an appalling sight to see wild animals drink the blood of gladiators in the arena, and yet those who suffer from epilepsy think it the most effective cure for their disease, to absorb a person’s warm blood while he is still breathing and to draw out his actual living soul straight from his wounds, even though it is not human to apply one’s lips even to the wounds of wild beasts. Others seek a cure through eating the leg marrow and brains of infants (Pliny, Natural History 28.4).
What are we to say of those who treat their epilepsy by drinking with greedy thirst the blood of criminals as it runs fresh from their throats, slit at a show in the arena? (Tertullian, Apology 9.11).
Soak a piece of cloth in the blood of a slaughtered gladiator or of some other criminal, then burn it and mix the ashes in wine. You will free a patient of his epilepsy if you give him seven doses. This treatment has often yielded excellent results (Alexander of Tralles, Therapeutics 1.565).
The goat is thought to be more susceptible to epilepsy than any other animal, and to pass the infection on to anyone who eats its flesh, or touches it when it is suffering an attack. The reason is said to be that its breathing passages are narrow and often become blocked. This is an inference from the thinness of its voice. And indeed, any human being who happens to speak while having an epileptic attack makes a sound very like a bleat (Plutarch, Roman Questions 290a).
Quails really enjoy eating poisonous seeds, and that is why they are barred from dining tables. It is customary to spit when one sees a quail; this is a precaution against epilepsy, an affliction suffered only by quails and humans (Pliny, Natural History 10.69).