Monthly Archives: February 2014

Howard and Mitchell Essay Competition – prizewinners’ presentations

Cordelia Griffith (Howard Essay winner) and Katie Marshall (Mitchell) gave excellent presentations on their essays to a packed library, and dealt with some probing questions with cool skill. Cordelia spoke on “Does Dicey’s conception of the “rule of law” apply in a dictatorship?”, calmly and lucidly demonstrating how the Nazis, in their attempts to ensure that everything they did was technically ‘legal’, nevertheless broke some of Dicey’s rules about how a decent legal system would operate. Katie (“How close is a cure for Parkinson’s Disease?”) explained clearly and with passion some complex science, and focused on how stem cell research might ‘in a generation’ at least bring about clinical trials of the long-awaited cure to this debilitating illness.
The presentations were introduced by representatives of the judging panels, Graham Dixon and David Gower, who stressed the range and quality of this year’s entries, and the importance of letting one’s academic interests develop in ways not overly restricted by thoughts of ‘career’: the career will follow the interests.
Later the annual dinner was held, where we were addressed by Jessica Beagley (OC and former Mitchell winner). She reinforced the point made by the judges, explaining how her career had (already) taken many surprising twists and turns, from scientific research to political lobbying, yet with the common thread of her interest in physiology. It was a perfect way to end the evening.

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Daisy Thurkettle: “Plant, animal and mineral: aphrodisiacs in Ancient Greece”

The Ancient Greeks and Romans placed a huge amount of importance on their sexual being, and had a keen interest in the biological and psychological mechanisms behind lust and carnal desire. Daisy Thurkettle’s talk at the Williams Project on provided a fascinating insight into the various botanical and pharmaceutical methods that the ancients used to synthesise lust and cure impotence (or perhaps less eloquently, ‘get in the mood’). The talk began on the use of essential oils in swathes in royal palaces, such as Cleopatra (who allegedly bathed in milk and rose), but the audience was quickly surprised to learn that love potions and cures for impotence were not only used by the femmes-fatales and powerful goddesses of myth, but by actual Greek people.
These cures included a mass of vegetables and plants which were, perhaps obviously, considered to have genitally-themed aesthetics (leeks, carrots and terebinth tree, anyone?). However, what really gripped the audience were the variously disgusting, poisonous and cannibalistic ingredients; these included dried human marrow, powdered silver beetle, wolfsbane, skink lizard and the famed hippomane – a piece of membrane found on the head of a newborn foal, which was mixed with milk to create the potion Dido made for Aeneas. Needless to say, any combination of some of these ingredients probably caused more death than arousal.
Miss Thurkettle called on a wide range of texts – fragments by various ‘unknown’ ancient authors, texts by Apuleius (including the famous Golden Ass), Hippocrates, and even the Bible. The overarching message of the talk was that the ancients were actually scientifically wise beyond their time in the discovery of some biologically effective aphrodisiacs, but were also developed psychologically (perhaps unintentionally) in their use of the placebo effect.

Rhea Gupta

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