Its most fabled origin is traced back to Mithradates the Great, one of Rome’s most formidable and successful enemies. When he was finally defeated by Pompey and in danger of capture, he attempted suicide by poison. The attempt failed because of his immunity to the poison and Mithradates was forced to ask his Gaul bodyguard and friend, Bituitus, to kill him by the sword. Conqueror Gnaeus Pompeius found in Mithradates’ private cabinet a handwritten recipe for the immunity: “Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day”.
The saying more likely comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt.
English Anglican bible commentator John Trapp, in his 5 volumes ‘Commentary on the Old and New Testaments’ (1654 sqq.), noted that the books of the bible “… (are) to be taken with a grain of salt". (Somewhat radical for the 17th Century, no doubt).
The Latin word salis means both "salt" and "wit," so that the Latin phrase "cum grano salis" could be translated as both "with a grain of salt" and "with a grain (a small amount) of wit".
Written by Hans Lamers - South Africans in Portugal.