Lovecraft didn’t always refer directly to classical sources when using classical sounding names. Here is a small example…

…came upon a black, gleaming specimen which certainly cannot be other than an eikon of Tsuthoggua! It was a semi-shapeless congeries of nighted curves —— squat & swollen, & with a curious suggestion of flabby viscosity despite the superficially petrific composition… [and it] left little room for doubt that it once stood in some curtained niche… of some such arcane delver as Athlophoros, who dwelt in the Street of the Alembics & vanished suddenly shortly before the desertion of the city…” — letter to C.A. Smith, 21st March 1932.

You cannot be freed from Rheumatism until you dispel the Uric acid. Athlophoros will dissolve it, and you will note immediate lessening of pain. Your entire system will feel better…” (Lima News newspaper, Ohio, 4th Sept 1903, representative of ads in other papers of the era).


Athlophoros Co. was involved in a “United States vs. the Athlophoros Company” legal case in California circa 1930, in which “five government witnesses, all physicians, [testified] regarding the inefficacy of the patent medicine Athlophoros”. No-one came forth from the East Coast to contest the case.

Lovecraft’s letter thus appears to assume that the California-based Smith will get the jokey allusion, both to the Athlophoros medicine and its “arcane delv[ings]”, and also to the way that Athlophoros had recently “vanished suddenly” from California’s chemist shops (indicated as “the Street of the Alembics”, an alembic being a small portable distillery vessel for medicines and chemicals) circa 1930/31.

Where did the name come from? In classical Greek times the phoros was the name of the money paid to Athens by the Greek City States, for the upkeep (i.e.: to ensure the victory-worthy status) of the Athenian military forces. In Roman times Athlophoros meant ‘victory/trophy-bearer’, specifically the winner of a chariot race (“Crowning the Athlophoros”, in E. A. Wallis Budge, The Decrees of Memphis and Canopus: Vol. II), and was used thus as a personal common-name by at least one priest of Alexandria. So presumably the patent medicine name tried to borrow a certan lustre from the heroic Roman usage.


Given the above advert one wonders if Lovecraft may have once used a wash of Athlophoros extract for his own face, since he suffered from thick ingrowing hairs that could not be shaved and thus had to be painfully delved for and plucked. S.T. Joshi has a passage on Lovecraft’s struggles with these “black, gleaming … semi-shapeless congeries of nighted curves”…

Harold W. Munro testifies that as early as his high school years Lovecraft was bothered by ingrown facial hairs; but when Munro speaks of “mean red cuts” on Lovecraft’s face he evidently believes these to have been the product of a dull razor. In fact, as Lovecraft attests, these cuts came from his using a needle and tweezers to pull out the ingrown hairs. This recurring ailment — which did not subside until Lovecraft was well into his thirties — may also have had a negative effect on his perception of his appearance. As late as February 1921, only a few months before his mother’s death, Lovecraft writes to his mother of a new suit that “made me appear as nearly respectable as my face permits.” (S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence)