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Mellified Man, or human mummy confection, refers to a legendary medicinal substance created by steeping a cadaver in honey. Allegedly from Arabia, mellified man was reported by 16th-century Chinese pharmacologist Li Shizhen in his Bencao Gangmu. It is described in the final section (52, "Man as medicine", tr. Read 1931, nos. 408-444) under the entry for munaiyi (木乃伊 "mummy"). Both European and Chinese pharmacopeias employed medicines of human origin, for instance urine therapy. Read suggests,

The underlying theories which sustained the use of human remedies, find a great deal in common between the Arabs as represented by Avicenna, and China through the [Bencao]. Body humors, vital air, the circulations, and numerous things are more clearly understood if an extended study be made of Avicenna or the Europeans who based their writings on Arabic medicine. The various uses given in many cases common throughout the civilized world, [Nicholas] Lemery also recommended women's milk for inflamed eyes, feces were applied to sores, and the human skull, brain, blood, nails and "all the parts of man", were used in sixteenth century Europe. (1931:n.p.)

Mary Roach publicized the pharmacological use of honeyed mummies in her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

In the grand bazaars of twelfth century Arabia, it was occasionally possible if you knew where to look and you had a lot of cash and a tote bag you didn't care about to procure an item known as a mellified man. The verb "to mellify" comes from the Latin for honey, mel. Mellified man was dead human remains steeped in honey. Its other name was "human mummy confection," though this is misleading, for unlike other honey steeped confections, this one did not get served for dessert. One administered topically, and, I am sorry to say, orally as medicine. The preparation represented an extraordinary effort, both on the part of the confectioners, and more notably, on the part of the ingredients. (2003:221)

Roach then quotes part of Read's translation, given below in full.

Li [Shizhen]: According to 陶九成 [Tao Jiucheng] in the 輟耕錄 [Chuogenglu "Record after retiring from plowing"], it says in Arabia there are men 70 to 80 years old who are willing to give their bodies to save others. The subject does not eat food, he only bathes and partakes of honey. After a month he only excretes honey (the urine and feces are entirely honey) and death follows. His fellow men place him in a stone coffin full of honey in which he macerates. The date is put upon the coffin giving the year and month. After a hundred years the seals are removed. A confection is formed which is used for the treatment of broken and wounded limbs. A small amount taken internally will immediately cure the complaint. It is scarce in Arabia where it is called mellified man.
Mr. [Tao] has recorded it in this way but Li [Shizhen] the author of this [Bencao] does not know whether it is true so he is recording it for others to verify. (The Burmese priests have the custom of preserving their chief abbots in coffins full of honey; tr. Read 1931, no. 442)

Roach (2003:222) observes that Li Shizhen "is careful to point out that he does not know for certain whether the mellified man story is true."

Li uses Chinese tianfangguo (天方國 "divine square [Kaaba] countries", an old name for "Arabia; Middle East") for the location (tr. "Arabia") and miren (蜜人 "honey person") for the name (tr. "mellified man"). Miziren (蜜漬人 "honey-glazed person") is a modern synonym. Chinese munaiyi (木乃伊), along with "mummy" loanwords in many languages, derives through Arabic mūmīya from Persian mūm "wax" (see mummy in the Wiktionary). Note that Japanese words of Portuguese origin says miira (木乃伊 "mummy") was borrowed from Portuguese mirra, comparable with English myrrh.

Citing Le Fèvre (1664), Pomet (1737), Wootton (1910), and Thompson (1929), Roach (2003-223-4) says the medicinal use of mummies, and the sale of fake ones, is "well documented" in chemistry books of 16th-18th centuries Europe, "but nowhere outside Arabia were the corpses volunteers."



  • Le Fèvre, Nicolas (1664). A Compleat Body of Chymistry, tr. Traicté de la chymie. Readex Microprint. 
  • Pomet, Pierre (1737). A Compleat History of Druggs. London. 
  • Read, Bernard E. (1931). Chinese Materia Medica: (5) Animal Drugs. Peking Natural History Bulletin. 
  • Roach, Mary (2003). Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. W.W. Norton & Company.  (ISBN 0-393-32482-6)
  • Thompson, C.J.S. (1929). The Mystery and Art of the Apothecary. J. B. Lippincott Company. 
  • Wootton, A.C. (1910). Chronicles of Pharmacy. Macmillan. 


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