Skip to main content
Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Chemical Muse

The Chemical Muse

Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization

D.C.A. Hillman, Ph.D.

Thomas Dunne Books



"The last wild frontier of classical studies." ---The Times (UK)
The Chemical Muse
uncovers decades of misdirection and obfuscation to reveal the history of widespread drug use in Ancient Rome and Greece. In the city-states that gave birth to Western civilization, drugs were an everyday element of a free society. Often they were not just available, but vitally necessary for use in medicine, religious ceremonies, and war campaigns. Their proponents and users existed in all classes, from the common soldier to the emperor himself.
Citing examples in myths, medicine, and literature, D. C. A. Hillman shows how drugs have influenced and inspired the artists, philosophers, and even politicians whose ideas have formed the basis for civilization as we know it. Many of these ancient texts may seem well-known, but Hillman shows how timid, prudish translations have left scholars and readers in the dark about the reality of drug use in the Classical world.
Hillman's argument is not simply "pro-drug." Instead, he appeals for an intellectual honesty that acknowledges the use of drugs in ancient societies despite today's conflicting social mores. In the modern world, where academia and university life are often politically charged, The Chemical Muse offers a unique and long overdue perspective on the contentious topic of drug use and the freedom of thought.


I should have seen it coming. After a decade of tireless study in both the sciences and the humanities, thousands of dollars in student loans, two master's degrees, hundreds of hours of grading papers and working with students...

Praise for The Chemical Muse

“The role of psychoactive drugs has been airbrushed out of the conventional picture of Western civilization. The academics who have created this drug-free Greco-Roman world have found their nemesis in Dr. Hillman's The Chemical Muse. With clarity and directness the author gives us back a lost chapter of our Classical heritage and by doing so restores our understanding of this past.” —Richard Rudgley, author of Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age

“In addition to demonstrating the importance of medicinal botanicals and chemicals in alleviating the sufferings of humanity in the ancient Greco-Roman world, Dr. Hillman unveils the role that many of them played as recreational drugs, not for the lunatic fringes of society, but as sources of knowledge and religious sacraments by the leading artists, thinkers, and politicians, central to the very formation of what we admire and enshrine as the Classical tradition. The Chemical Muse inspired democracy itself and the greatest minds of antiquity.” —Carl A. P. Ruck, author of Sacred Mushrooms: The Secrets of Eleusis

“David Hillman has given us a penetrating insight into our permanent romance with altered consciousness. This important work is a myth-buster.” —Mike Gray, author of Drug Crazy and The China Syndrome


Reviews from Goodreads

D.C.A. Hillman, Ph.D.

D. C. A. Hillman earned an M.S. in bacteriology and an M.A. and Ph.D in classics from the University of Wisconsin. His research has been published in the academic journal Pharmacy in History. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife and children.

Thomas Dunne Books

Latest on Facebook