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Mentat Masters regularly consume the Juice of Sapho, causing their lips to stain.

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According to the Dune Wiki,

Sapho, or more commonly the Juice of Sapho, was a high-energy liquid extracted from the barrier roots of the planet Ecaz. It was used by Mentats who claim that it amplifies the mental powers on the human mind.

The word "claim" suggests that, in-universe, the juice's effects are subject to some debate.

Apart from staining lips (and possibly contributing to type II diabetes), does Sapho juice actually enhance cognition or is it just a placebo?

My first preference is for an answer sourced from the Frank Herbert canon. Failing that, something sourced from the Brian Herbert books would be fine.

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    It gives them big bushy eyebrows, bad hair, and crazy eyes. – Wad Cheber Jun 29 '15 at 23:14
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    Do you only want answers from the Frank Herbert canon or are you willing to look at stuff from the Brian Herbert books as well? – Valorum Jun 29 '15 at 23:17
  • like most of the dune books, Frank left everything very vague. – user36770 Jun 29 '15 at 23:26
  • @Richard : Preference for Frank, but Brian is okay. Will clarify in question. Thanks. – Praxis Jun 29 '15 at 23:30
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    Some Southwestern Native Americans "claim" that peyote puts them in tune with the universe and enlightens them. I can assure you that when you do it, you feel like it puts you in tune with something, and at least temporarily enlightens you. Some claims are true, but unverifiable. – Wad Cheber Jun 30 '15 at 0:44
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I have all Frank Herbert's Dune books and too many of Brian Herbert's. I can only find one mention of Sapho juice in Frank Herbert's work, and that's the mention you've found in Dune.

There is more on it in The Road to Dune, but I don't know how much of this is Frank Herbert's work. Curiously in The Road to Dune Sapho juice is an addictive drug and spoken of in the same way we might talk about heroin or cocaine. The first mention is:

He had chosen his best fighters, including General Tuek. A slender man with olive skin, the old veteran had stooped shoulders and a manner that demonstrated loyalty while at the same time rebuffing intimacy. His thinning gray hair was receding over a leathery tanned scalp. The bright red stains around his lips signified his successful battle against sapho addiction, and he wore the marks like a badge of honor.

In fact the red stain comes from the cure for Sapho addiction, not the Sapho juice:

Tuek touched the bright cranberry smears that forever marked his mouth. “I was once addicted to the sapho drug. It makes you euphoric, makes you lose your edge … and it ruins your life.”

“Sapho makes those stains?”

“Sapho juice is colorless. These red stains mark that I have taken the cure—and survived.”

There are various mentions in the Brian Herbert/Kevin J Anderson books but nothing that tells us whether it really works or not. The closest is in House Atreides where there is a paragraph about the mentat Piter de Vries:

“I’m here, my Baron,” he said, then swigged from a tiny vial. The sapho taste triggered responses in his brain, firing his neurons, stoking his mental capabilities. “What did the witch request? What is she up to?”

This implies it really works, though it could just be a placebo effect.

It's curious how differently the drug is treated in The Road to Dune. The mention is in The Spice Planet, which was written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson but is allegedly based on an outline by Frank Herbert. It doesn't seem likely that an outline would include details like the drug, but if not why would the authors make it so different to the mention in Dune and to their subsequent books?

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    Great answer. Thanks for putting this together. – Praxis Jun 30 '15 at 12:45
  • Two words: BRAIN LUBRICANT. – Omegacron Aug 27 '15 at 17:46
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These are the mentions of sapho from the first Dune book by Frank Herbert:

Paul looked at his father, back to Hawat, suddenly conscious of the Mentat's great age, aware that the old man had served three generations of Atreides. Aged. It showed in the rheumy shine of the brown eyes, in the cheeks cracked and burned by exotic weathers, in the rounded curve of the shoulders and the thin set of his lips with the cranberry-colored stain of sapho juice.

Since this is from the first book written by Frank Herbert himself, it is safe to say it negates the Road to Dune mention.

See also:

Hawat's sapho-stained lips were pulled into a prim, straight line with tiny wrinkles radiating into them.

And:

The leathered old face appeared composed in the predawn dimness as he spoke. His sapho-stained lips were drawn into a straight line with radial creases spreading upward.

And last but not least, from the Appendix Frank Herbert included at the end of the novel:

SAPHO: high-energy liquid extracted from barrier roots of Ecaz. Commonly used by Mentats who claim it amplifies mental powers. Users develop deep ruby stains on mouth and lips.

Based on these, it can be either be interpreted at face value i.e. that Mentats take it as a brain-enhancer or that it's a placebo. What is certain is that the red stain comes from the sappho, not the cure. The Road to Dune has a lot of transparent inaccuracies and is poorly regarded by a lot of Dune fans.

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I think the effects Sapho juice would depend on the brain chemistry of the user, akin to taking stimulant ADHD drugs like Ritalin or Concerta. For people with ADHD it has a calming, focusing effect. For others, it's just a normal stimulant with all the risks thereof.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Do you have any evidence from the series to support your theory? – Jason Baker Aug 27 '15 at 16:55
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It seems that if "addiction" were to be understood as more than something of the casual sort of "stodgy preference" to something, and if the effects of Sapho juice were more than merely a staining of the lips, then it must have some real catalyzing effect on brain function. If it were merely an enticing flavor that gave one fantasies of mental prowess as a placebo effect, then you'd think it would have been "figured out" by the Mentats at some point early on in their development. And if it had merely some delusion-reinforcing placebo as an effect, then one would think it would not be very "stratagizing" to use it anyway. It at least doesn't harm cognition, at least not enough to prevent Mentats from being in extreme demand. And if they have such excellent cognition to go with such demand, to justify such demand for their services whose "unique insights" might otherwise be missed in their valuable capacity as advisers for galactic barons and whatnot, then surely they'd be aware of the phramacology and subjective phenomenology of their substance of choice. And surely the abuse of it lies not in the stains on the lips, but perhaps a clue is found in the litany against sapho addiction, if you will. "It is by will alone I set my mind in motion" so as to suggest that improper use will tend to cause the mind to lose its coherence and power without going into a downward spiral of dependence upon Sapho juice. It is apparently a warning to "drink in moderation".

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Can you cite any sources for this, or is it just speculation? Answers need supporting evidence; please read How to Answer. – DavidW Aug 29 at 3:28
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I would posit that some specific DNA strains (most notably those of the mentats) would be genetically adaptable to have Sapho work on them differently. The expanded writings about sapho having a cure that must be "survived" while not in the original certainly may be true for those who are not genetically comparable like many mentats are. But it is also important to note that the mentats are genetically comparable because they will themselves to change/adapt.

Non-Universal results would make it seem to the outside Dune world as being "questionable" in the efficacy of Sapho. Being addicted to Sapho may even be a side effect that means lack of genetic comparability.

Additionally, the Mentats mantra "It is by will alone" supports the idea and claim that they will themselves to adapt. A mantra that constantly reminds them they are not randomly beneficiaries of sapho juice. It is also why so much of the landsraad treats mentats as a "religion".

This theme is also held by the bene gesserit, but they have a different philosophy to how they approach the end result. The goal of bith schools of thought, (Mentat and bene geserit) is the Creation of the super being. The mentats through self-will, the bene gesserit through a secret breeding program.

The bene gesserit got to the end goal first with Paul Atradies. But they had to fill the gap in lost genetics (due to war) by joining house harkonnin and Atradies. That link was in jessica who was reveled to be the baron harkonins biological daughter from his early life before he strictly preferred young boys.

The Spice, was the step trigger that initially opened paul's Consciousness was just the pre-step to the Water of Life. An opening of mind and body so great that it was only effectively used by bene gesserit, until Paul.

The irony of the story is that both schools were right, but neither had a complete view. It took genetics through breeding AND self will to create the Super Being, the quisach haderach. By the time he was created, he was not controllable by either group, (much to their dismay) and worse, he was in control of the Spice itself.

A lesson to us about the possibility that the answers of our greatest struggles and dreams may have answers that are more than binary (yes/no).

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    There are some very bold statements here without any evidence to back them up. Can you explain where you've got this information from? – Valorum Oct 12 '18 at 18:54
  • I refer to Duncan Idaho that is referred to as the True quisach haderach. Even though there is no mistaking that Paul was the first. God Emperor of Dune, the Duncan Idaho's memories are unlocked, and one version of Duncan Idaho was both a Mentat and a Truthsayer at the same time. Also the mentats were being hidden by the bene geserit order in God Emperor.: "My orders were to suppress the Mentat school you thought you had hidden there ... I, a Mentat, forced to suppress a school that trained people the way I was trained. I knew why he ordered it, of course, and so do you." – Doc Oct 12 '18 at 21:35

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