from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Plural of cantharis.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Cantharides, a genus of coleopterous insects, formerly also taken to include aphids.
  • n. Spanish fly, dried Cantharis vesicatoria beetles, popularly held to have aphrodisiac properties.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • See cantharis.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • In zoology, a group of beetles containing the genus Cantharis and a number of closely related genera.
  • [lowercase] A medicinal preparation of Spanish flies, used for blistering and other purposes.


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • But as in roses we must beware of the venomous flies called cantharides; so must we take heed of the calumnies and envy lying hid under smooth and well-couched phrases and expressions, lest we imprudently entertain absurd and false opinions of the most excellent and greatest cities and men of Greece.

    Essays and Miscellanies

  • "A white powder of a faint and not unpleasing savour," says he; and that, as you know, is nothing like cantharides, which is green, intensely acrid, and burning.

    The Life of Cesare Borgia

  • For centuries, a preparation made from the insects 'dried and crushed bodies (a substance known as cantharides) was used medically as an irritant and diuretic.

    mental_floss Blog

  • The most popular although not with the patients vesicatories or blister-raising agents were cantharides or powdered Spanish fly and mustard powders.


  • Many a quack has made his fortune with a few bottles of tincture of cantharides, and a man who could discover a specific would become a millionaire in India only.

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night

  • Hamilton and I've got to say the long passages where they sit around talking about sex ends up edging closer and closer to the long philosophical passages in the Marquis de Sade, where everyone's just sitting around naked talking and sipping hot chocolate with cantharides in it in preparation for the next bout of sexual excess.

    Cat Rambo

  • I will compound a medicine, out of their two heads, stronger than garlic, deadlier than stibium: the cantharides, which are scarce seen to stick upon the flesh, when they work to the heart, shall not do it with more silence or invisible cunning.

    The White Devil

  • The medicine is prepared of the following ingredients: - Of black hellebore, of sandarach, of the flakes of copper, of lead washed, with much sulphur, arsenic, and cantharides.

    On Ulcers

  • Some exhausted debauchees have employed cantharides, which strongly affect the susceptible parts of the frame, and often produce severe and painful consequences.

    A Philosophical Dictionary

  • Take three cantharides, and removing their head, feet, and wings, triturate their bodies in three cupfuls (cyathi) of water, and when the person who has drunk the draught complains of pain, let him have hot fomentations applied.

    On Regimen In Acute Diseases


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  • "...he sniffed, and instantly... the scent gave up its name: cantharides, more commonly known as Spanish fly, a substance occurring in the wing-cases of a thin iridescent yellowish-green beetle with a powerful smell..."

    --Patrick O'Brian, Treason's Harbour, 86

    Interesting phrasing. It looks as if the yellowish-green beetle has a powerful smell, but I think he actually means that the substance has a powerful smell.

    See also cantharidin.

    February 19, 2008