The Galileans: A Novel of Mary Magdalene
on a low stool, watching the preparations for the evening meal and chattering all the while.
    “Welcome to our home, Mary of Magdala.” He gave the formal greeting. “Peace be upon you.”
    Mary’s eyes twinkled. “I am part Greek and bear a gift. Do you not fear me?”
    Joseph knew her too well now to be surprised at her learning. “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes— I fear the Greeks when bearing gifts,” he repeated, smiling. “No, I do not fear you.”
    “Look at the fine fish Mary brought us,” his mother said proudly. “I have persuaded her to stay and help eat it.”
    “Will you dance for us afterward?” Joseph asked.
    Mary held up her hands in mock horror. “Do you want your neighbors to say you are entertaining a Jezebel? Besides, does not Hippocrates warn that a physician must always be careful of his dignity?”
    “If I remember the aphorism right,” Joseph told her, “it was this: ‘The dignity of a physician requires that he should look healthy and as plump as nature intended him to be; for the common crowd consider those who are not of this excellent bodily condition to be unable to take care of others.’”
    While his mother prepared dinner, Joseph took Mary to the small surgery where he treated the poor of the city. It was little more than a covered terrace with a closet for his medicines and instruments. Magdala was not large enough to support a medicamentarius, as an apothecary was called who compounded and dispensed medicines only upon the order of a physician, so Joseph gathered most of his own herbs and ground his own medicines, plus those of his preceptor. Fortunately, the hills of nearby Gilead were famous for healing plants, and the balm produced there was widely used by physicians everywhere.
    Mary listened with intelligent interest while Joseph demonstrated the instruments and their uses. The bag he carried on his rounds was called the nartik. It contained the izmel, or scalpel, for incising abscesses; the trephine, a nail for letting blood; the makdeijach, a sharp pointed probe with which to explore wound tracks and other areas; the misporayim, a pair of scissors for cutting dressings or the sutures of horsehair sometimes used to close wounds; the tarrad, a speculum for exploring cavities; and the kalbo, a pair of forceps which had many uses.
    On another shelf was the kulcha, for emptying the stomach in poisonings and for those suffering from overeating; the gubtha, a hollow catheter for cases of urinary stone or obstruction; and the shel harophe, the leather apron which was almost the uniform of the Jewish physician. In the corner stood the kisei tani, an iron box serving both as a desk table and as a place of safekeeping for precious medicines.
    In the closet that served as a pharmacy and treatment room were the drugs: borit, a strong soap for washing inflamed skin, as well as the hands of the physician; neter, which was both a cleansing agent externally and a powerful kidney stimulant when taken internally; tsri, the healing balsam; nehoth, the gum of tragacanth; and lott, a powerful sedative made from opium. Next to them were various ointments labeled ungentia: collyria for washing infected eyes; and pilulae of various drugs, rolled into pellets of several sizes.
    Below these another shelf was filled with jars of powdered poppy leaves for promoting sleep and relieving pain; the seeds of the jusquiamus; the diachylon plaster favored by Menecrates, personal physician to the Emperor Tiberius; the drug called “dragon’s blood,” because it was said to come from the blood of a dragon killed in combat with an elephant (although actually only the gum from an oriental plant); the preparation called mithridaticum, a favorite of the Emperor Pompey, and many others. At the end of the shelf was a pile of odd-looking roots. Joseph picked up one and handed it to Mary.
    “Why, it looks like a man!” she exclaimed. “See? Here are the arms, and the legs, and body. What is it?”

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