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November 1, 2008

"Anthropine" By Luca Turin

"Anthropine" By Luca Turin

Some ideas are like swiss army knives: they do no single thing really well, but the attraction of having both a large toothpick and tiny axe to hand at all times proves irresistible. A few weeks ago I received a mysterious email from a homeopath near Karlsruhe. It drew my attention to a thing called Anthropine, which comes in small bottles with a label bearing the portrait of a bearded, late nineteenth-century man wearing the sort of oval glasses we now associate with forgotten operas, beef extract and prime numbers.

Anthropine turns out to be a army-knife hybrid of pheromones and homeopathy. The man with the glasses is called Gustav Jaeger, and he made a fortune by producing high-quality woolen clothes. His firm was seized from him in reparation by the Treaty of Versailles and survives to this day in the UK, still bearing his name. He was also Professor of zoology, histology, anthropology, physiology and microscopy at the university of Stuttgart. Jaeger was interested in wool and hair, and in particular in their ability to retain odors, familiar to smokers and adulterous spouses. He became convinced that wool clothes hung on to airborne messengers emitted by the wearers when in different moods, and that clothes worn by, say, a happy person might be of medical use in curing depression.

This is where homeopathy comes in: its axiom is that the less active principle you put in, the more potent it gets. This delusional notion (don’t bother to e-mail me if you disagree, or if you do please remember to dilute one part anger in a trillion parts sugar) has one huge advantage: a little goes a hell of a long way. Jaeger took small amounts of hair, diluted it vastly and made little globules.

At one point 23 different kinds of Anthropine globules were in production, arising variously from small samples of hair taken from the athlete Fritz Kapernick (Anthropine No.2, used for shortness of breath), an unnamed blonde virgin (No. 7 “exhilarating and invigorating”), and Franz Liszt (No.16, for stiff finger joints). Today, you can send a sample of your own hair to the makers of Anthropine and get globules back. What little is left of my hair could considerably improve the human condition: several women have reported being cured of an expensive and antisocial fondness for Givenchy’s Amarige after only one dose.