Naked mandrake plant, 19th century

Naked mandrake plant, 19th century

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Credit: PAUL D STEWART/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Naked mandrake plant, 19th-century illustration. The mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) has medicinal value in relieving pain. It has a wrinkled tap root that bifurcates to resemble a human figure, and was used in sympathetic magic for many centuries. It was believed to be 'alive' in an animal sense. These images show the practice of attempting to animate mandrakes into human 'androids' (in the pre-robotic definition) by clothing and nurturing them. The idea was that man, himself born of the dust of the earth, had a basic umbilical prefigurement in this root. Use of semen and fertile soil could bring the already human-like mandrake more towards the human condition. Such attempts, which never worked, fell into the realm of black magic and was frowned upon by the church. This image is cropped from an engraving from 'Atlas Geographique Et Iconographique Du Cours Complet D'Ecriture Sainte' (1844) by Theophile Blanchard and Barrere Freres. It derives from similar images by Calmet in his 1725 Dictionary of the Bible.

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