With surgical intervention unavailable until the nineteenth century, cathartics and enemas have always been a popular way of “cleaning the system” in order to maintain Galen’s humours in balance. Greek historian Herodotus commented on Egyptian customs: “They purge themselves every month, three days in succession seeking to preserve health by emetics and clysters; for they suppose that all diseases to which men are subject proceed from the food they use.”
A clyster in use (ca. 1700), oil by an unknown French artist
The clyster is an instrument that has been in use for the rectal administration of medications, usually milk and honey, dating back to 2000-1000 B.C. and civilizations of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Hippocrates prescribed both liquid and air enemas for the treatment of fever. “Nutritive” enemas were not uncommon in the sixteenth century and contained a number of ingredients including milk, olive oil, butter, and eggs.
pewter infant feeding bottle (mid nineteenth century)
Because of the significant need in the nineteenth century for devices to assist in the feeding and evacuation requirements of children and invalids, craftsmen produced a number of wonderful nutritional aids out of pewter, silver, porcelain and glass.