The human race has always been obsessed with the afterlife and the concept of rebirth. Humans possess a fear of death, but also possess a fascination that revolves around death. A person sacrificing his life to save others is not unheard of. It might be rare to see such selflessness today, but people dying such noble deaths were more prevalent in previous eras.
The tale of the Mellified Man is closely linked with choosing death for the betterment of others. Put simply, a “Mellified Man” was a human mummy made into confections. Although in modern times, we do not believe that the human flesh has medicinal properties, some ancient medicinal traditions believed that human corpses or mummies could be used as medicine.
“Mellification” is an ancient word meaning to introduce honey into some other substance, and the first look one might think of a human fossil that has been discovered. Alternatively, one might think of a tragic story of a man getting trapped in sugar or honey by accident. However, a Mellified Man is closer to the concept of body donation and organ donation than an accident that left us with a mellified mummy.
This article will take you through the outlandish ideas of ancient medicine that normalized the eating of preserved human flesh to cure many diseases. You might be disgusted by the concept of eating sweetened mummified flesh, but this is part of our weird history, and is worth knowing about.
Chinese Medical Science and Mellified Man
A Mellified Man is a human corpse, steeped in honey and stored in it for a hundred years. While the entire concept of a Mellified man sounds cruel and incredible, it is recorded in Chinese medical records that men in the middle east used to submit themselves to be mummified in this way, to make a healing concoction for people. This, however, happened around the end of their lives, so one hopes that the people who turned into Mellified Men had lived a full life without problems.
The whole process was about donating their body for the greater good. Usually, the people who donated their bodies apparently did so around the age of 80. Though body donation is still considered a suitable choice today, this donation for modification involved more self-sacrifice, and was tougher.
This is because the donor would stop eating normal food and go on a honey diet completely until they died. This was very difficult because the person had to live through the early stages of the mellification process.
The Science of Honey
There is no doubt that honey is a wonder liquid. The golden substance is not just a sweetener but is popular for its medicinal properties. Different schools of medicine used honey as a base for healing concoctions, and as a preservative.
The viscosity of honey and its anti-bacterial properties make it a great preservative. The pH of honey is very acidic, which is unfavorable for bacterial growth. Therefore, it is not a surprise to find that Chinese and Arabic medicine used honey as a mummifying agent. This was not just limited to these two cultures, as the benefits of honey were commonly known. Even the Romans used honey to preserve meat for weeks.
There are excerpts in Chinese medicinal books from the 16th century, and even earlier, that focus on the body of a Mellified Man as a miraculous remedy. The parts of the Mellified Man were eaten as a rare medicine that was thought to have the power to heal difficult injuries. One could heal broken limbs or other severe wounds by eating the Mellified Man.
But the process of making a Mellified Man was a lengthy one. Maybe that is why it was also a highly expensive remedy. Even though you had to only eat a small amount of the mummy’s flesh, the demand for such a remedy was also high, which drove the prices up further.
The creation of a Mellified Man was the result of a self-mummification process. This process was very difficult and started well before the person’s death. It began with the candidate submitting themself to the process in old age. The donors had to eat only honey, and would even bathe in honey.
The bodies became so saturated with honey after a certain time that the donors would excrete only honey and even sweat honey instead of water. Ultimately, the bodies would reach a point of over-saturation that would lead to their death. At this point of death, their corpses would have an extremely high concentration of honey throughout.
In the next phase, their dead bodies would be placed inside stone coffins filled with more honey. The date of storing them inside the coffins would be noted and marked. The coffins would rest for a hundred years. After a gap of hundred years, the coffins would be opened, and the Mellified Man could be used as a medicine.
Tall Stories or True Medicine?
The principal source for information on the Mellified man was the “Bencao Gangmu”, a 16th century Chinese medical text. However, the writer states that all accounts of this process are only hearsay, and there is no physical proof that a Mellified Man existed.
However, the text does mention the recipe to create a Mellified Man, and this has led to speculation that if the recipe exists, the practice of such corpse medicine must also have existed. Besides this, harvesting corpses for medicinal purposes is not something unheard of. Ancient medicine frequently dealt with human corpses and the possibility of the two concepts being interlinked with healing purposes cannot be dismissed.
Moreover, the use of honey as medicine on its own and as an embalming liquid was a popular technique. The use of honey in the mummification process have been observed in several different ancient cultures. Instances of corpses being administered as medicine have also been observed.
Physicians in different countries and different eras have been known to try using mummies as medicine. However, this was typically done for very rare diseases. Moreover, the practice of using corpse medicine has obviously been discontinued with modern medicine. While medical science still needs corpses, today these are used for medical study, rather than being drowned in honey and then eaten.
Top Image: Was the tale of the Mellified Man Real? Source: Anna / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
The Mellified Man — Human Mummy Medicine. Available at: https://medium.com/short-history/mellified-man-f8396136d964
How to make honey-infused corpse medicine. Available at: https://strangeremains.com/2015/11/29/how-to-make-honey-infused-corpse-medicine/