George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Jan 2 17:29:13 UTC 2002

I see this word is in the OED from 1541, with 1579, 1611, 1831 and
1847.  Of these, only the 1611 citation refers to cantharides as a
sexual stimulant: "Before she was common talk; now, none dare say,
cantharides can stir her."  (from a play by Beaumont & Fletcher)

The 1831 source is from a magazine of horse-doctoring.  The 1847
citation refers to cantharides as a stimulant when taken orally by a
human, and is from a poem by Emerson. (!)  There are also three
citations showing a figurative use, from 1598, 1601 and 1790.  The
latter is from Burke' French Revolution: "Swallowing down repeated
provocatives of cantharides to our love of liberty."
(Can "provocatives of cantharides" be a typo for "provocatives or

In any event, this is a word not often documented, especially in the
sexual sense, so here we go:

1835:   A Disgraceful Act. -- A respectable married female, residing in
Water street, made an application to the magistrate yesterday, for a
warrant against a sailor, whom she charged with having inserted into an
orange which he had given her to eat, a large quantity of cantharides,
thereby seriously injuring her, and placing her life in jeopardy.  ***
NY Transcript, December 24, 1835, p. 2, col. 5


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998.


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