( ) in Ancient Greek religion
was a kind of
(a slave, a cripple or a
criminal) who was chosen and expelled from the community at times
of disaster (famine, invasion or plague) or at times of calendrical
crisis, when purification was needed. On the first day of the
, a festival of Apollo
at Athens, two men, the Pharmakoi
were led out as if to be sacrificed as an expiation. Some scholia
state that pharmakoi
were actually sacrificed (thrown from
a cliff or burned), but many modern scholars reject this, arguing
that the earliest source for the pharmakos
) shows the
being beaten and stoned, but not executed.
and René Girard
have written influential modern
interpretations of the pharmakos
rite. Burkert shows that
humans were sacrificed or expelled after being well-fed, and,
according to some sources, their ashes were scattered to the ocean.
This was a purification ritual, a form of societal catharsis.
Pharmakos is also used as a vital term in Derridian Deconstruction
. In his famous essay "Plato's
texts by Plato
, such as Phaedrus
, and reveals the inter-connection between
the word chain pharmakeia-pharmakon-pharmakeus
notably absent word pharmakos
. In doing so, he attacks the
boundary between inside and outside, declaring that the outside
(pharmakos, never uttered by Plato) is always-already present right
behind the inside (pharmakeia-pharmakon-pharmakeus). As a concept,
Pharmakos can be said to be related to other Derridian terms such
Some scholars have connected the practice of ostracism
, in which a prominent politician was
exiled from Athens after a vote using pottery pieces, with the
custom. However, the ostracism exile was only
for a fixed time, as opposed to the finality of the
execution or expulsion.
Pharmakos and Pharmacology
The term "pharmakos" later became the term "pharmakeus" which
refers to "a drug, spell-giving potion, druggist, poisoner, by
extension a magician or a sorcerer." A variation of this term is
"pharmakon" (φάρμακον) meaning either a herbal remedy, poison, or
drug. From this, the modern term "pharmacology
As a Derridian term
In 1968, French journal Tel Quel
a long essay by Jacques Derrida
named "Plato's Pharmacy" in two parts, which was later included in
his 1972 book 'La Dissémination', translated into English as
'Dissemination' by Barbara Johnson. This book uses Plato's Phaedrus
as a departure point. Without resorting to detailed analysis, here
is a short explanation of the term 'Pharmakos' as used by
Although the word-chain pharmakeia-pharmakon-pharmakeus
appears several times in Plato
's texts, he
never uses a closely related term, pharmakos
, which means
'scapegoat'. According to Derrida, that it is not used by Plato
does not indicate that the word is necessarily absent, or rather,
it is always-already present as a 'trace'. Certain forces,
tendencies of linguistic association unite the words that are
'actually present' in a text with all the other words in the
lexical system, whether or not they appear as words in such text.
Derrida points out that the textual chain is not simply 'internal'
to Plato's lexicon. It is possible for one to claim that all the
'pharmaceutical' [another component of the same chain] words do
actually make themselves present in the text, although always
hidden at the back, always showing stealth. 'It is in the back
room, in the shadows of the pharmacy, prior to the oppositions
between conscious and unconscious, freedom and constraint,
voluntary and involuntary, speech and language, that these textual
'operations' occur'. What is in stake here is the very idea of the
inside/outside dichotomy; if the word pharmakos that Plato does not
use still resonates within the text, then there can be no
possibility of closure as far as a text is concerned. If the
outside is always-already part of the inside, at work on the
inside, then what is the status of the concepts 'present' and
'absent', 'body' and 'soul', 'center' and 'periphery'? However, it
is important to remember that Derrida classifies pharmakos as
something 'in the back room'; in other words, 'outside' present in
'inside' never becomes a pure presence, but remains hidden as a
'trace', a hint, an 'aporia'. Through his dogged insistence in
this, he avoids the trap of what he called "Metaphysics of Pure
Presence", or 'Logocentrism'. Ignoring this would put the whole
Deconstructive project of Derrida in terrible jeopardy.
Athens, the ritual of the pharmakos was used to expel and
shut out the evil (out of the body and out of the city).
achieve this, the Athenians maintained several outcasts at public
expense. In the event of any calamity, they sacrificed one or more
than one outcast as a purification and a remedy. The pharmakos, the
'scapegoat', the 'outsider' was led to the outside of the city
walls and killed in order to purify the city's interior. The evil
that had infected the city from 'outside' is removed and returned
to the 'outside', forever. But, ironically, the representative of
the outside (the pharmakos
) was nonetheless kept at the
very heart of the inside, the city, and that too in public expense.
In order to be led out of the city, the scapegoat must have already
been within the city. 'The ceremony of the pharmakos is played out
on the boundary line between the 'inside' and the 'outside', which
it has as its function ceaselessly to trace and retrace'.
Similarly, the pharmakos stands on the thin red line between sacred
and cursed, '... beneficial insofar as he cures - and for that,
venerated and cared for - harmful insofar as he incarnates the
powers of evil - and for that, feared and treated with caution'. He
is the healer who cures, and he is the criminal who is the
incarnation of the powers of evil. The pharmakos
is like a
, in case of a specific disease, but,
like most medicines, he is, simultaneously, a poison, evil all the
same. Pharmakos, Pharmakon: they escape both the sides by at once
being and not being on a side. Both words carry within themselves
more than one meaning, that is, conflicting meanings.
Pharmakos does not only mean scapegoat, It is a synonym for
, a word often repeated by Plato, meaning
'wizard', 'magician', even 'poisoner'. In Plato's dialogues,
Socrates is often depicted and termed as a pharmakeus
Socrates is considered as one who knows how to perform magic with
words, and notably, not with written letters. His words act as a
pharmakon (as a remedy, or allegedly as a poison as far as the
Athenian authority were concerned) and change, cure the soul of the
listener. In Phaedrus
, he fiercely objects
to the evil effects of writing, which, obviously, is what makes
Derrida so interested in this book. Socrates compares writing to a
, a drug, a poison: writing repeats without
knowing, creates abominable simulacra. Here Socrates deliberately
overlooks the other meaning of the word: the cure. Socrates
suggests a different pharmakon
, a medicine: dialectics,
the philosophical form of dialogue. This, he claims, can lead us to
the truth of the eidos
, that which is identical to itself,
always the same as itself, invariable. Here Socrates again
overlooks the 'other' reading of the word 'pharmakon': the poison.
He acts as a magician (pharmakos) - Socrates himself speaks about a
supernatural voice that talks through him - and his most famous
medicine (pharmakon) is speech, dialectics and dialogue leading to
ultimate knowledge and truth. But, ironically, Socrates also
becomes Athens's most famous 'other' pharmakos, the scapegoat. He
becomes a stranger, even an enemy who poisons the republic and its
citizens. He is an abominable 'other'; not the absolute other, the
barbarian, but the other (the outside) who is very near, like those
outcasts, who is always-already on the inside. He is at once the
'cure' and the 'poison', and just like him, the Athenians chose to
forget one of those meanings according to the need. And, at the
end, Plato put Socrates in what he considered to be the vilest of
all poisons: in writing, that survives to this day. Phaedrus and
Socrates both stand as a metonym [very significantly meaning
"beyond names"] for the whole contest between speech and letters,
for the central (if such an inappropriate word can be excused)
theme of the Derridian project. The interplay between the words
is another example of
Pharmakos Ritual and Biographies of Poets
In Aesop in Delphi
(1961), Anton Wiechers discussed the
parallels between the legendary biography of Aesop
(in which he is unjustly tried and executed by
the Delphians) and the pharmakos
ritual. For example,
Aesop is grotesquely deformed, as was the pharmakos
some traditions; and Aesop was thrown from a cliff, as was the
pharmakos in some traditions. Gregory Nagy, in Best of the
(1979), compared Aesop’s pharmakos
the “worst” of the Achaeans in the Iliad
Thersites. More recently, both Daniel Ogden, The Crooked Kings
of Ancient Greece
(1997) and Todd
, Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior
(2006) examine poet pharmakoi
surveys important poets who were exiled, executed or suffered
unjust trials, either in history, legend or Greek or Indo-European
- Walter Burkert. Greek Religion, p. 82.
- Dissemination, translated by Barbara Johnson, Chicago,
University of Chicago Press, 1981
- Jim Lynn, The Miracle of Healing in Your Church Today.
- Daniel J. Calcagnetti. Neuropharmacology: From Cellular
Receptors and Neurotransmitter Synthesis to Neuropathology &
Drug Addiction, First Edition. p. 2.
- Jacques Derrida, from "Plato's Pharmacy"
- Dissemination, p. 129.
- Of Grammatology, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, John
Hopkins University Press, 1976, ISBN 81-208-1187-9
- Dissemination, p. 133.
- Dissemination, p. 133
- Bremmer, Jan, "Scapegoat Rituals in Ancient Greece",
Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 87. (1983),
pp. 299-320.  
- Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1985.
- Burkert, Walter, Structure and History in Greek
Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979,
- Calcagnetti, Daniel J., "Neuropharmacology: From Cellular
Receptors and Neurotransmitter Synthesis to Neuropathology &
Drug Addiction", First Edition, 2006.
- Compton, Todd, “The Pharmakos Ritual: Testimonia.”
- Compton, Todd, Victim of the
Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and
Indo-European Myth and History. Washington, D.C.: Center for
Hellenic Studies/Harvard University Press, 2006.
- Derrida, Jacques, "Dissemination", translated by Barbara
Johnson, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1981.
- Fiore, Robert L., "Alarcon's El dueno de las estrellas: Hero and
Pharmakos", Hispanic Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, Earle
Homage Issue (Spring, 1993), pp. 185-199.
- Frazer, James. The Golden Bough. Part VI.
The Scapegoat, pp. 252ff.
- Girard, René. The Scapegoat. Trans. Y. Freccero.
- Harrison, Jane Ellen, Epilegomena to the Study of Greek
- Harrison, Jane Ellen, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek
- Harrison, Jane Ellen, Themis: a Study of the Social Origin
of Greek Religion, 1921.
- Hirayama, Koji, Stoning in the Pharmakos Ritual,
Journal of Classical Studies, XLIX(2001),
Classical Society of Japan, Kyoto University.
- Hughes, Dennis, Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece,
London 1991, pp. 139-165.
- Nagy, Gregory. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in
Archaic Greek Poetry. The Johns Hopkins University Press,
1979, pp. 280-90 in print edition.
- Nilsson, Martin P., Greek Popular Religion, 1940. See the
discussion of the Thargelia in the chapter “Rural Customs and
- Ogden, Daniel, The Crooked Kings of Ancient Greece
London 1997, pp. 15-46.
- Parker, Robert, Miasma, Pollution and Purification in Early
Greek Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp.
- Whibley, Leonard, MA, A Companion to Greek Studies.
Cambridge University Press.
- Wiechers, A. Aesop in Delphi. Meisenheim am Glam