Monday, December 14, 2009

On poison, naturally

Image of something angular and round, lit up by night titled 'What is this?'.Dear Gentle Reader,

After Friday, I kept thinking about poison. And food.

I thought about strychnine, for example.

Strychnine brought me back to Dr. Thomas Neil Cream (1850-1892), the Lambeth Poisoner, who gave strychnine to young woman, from the USA to England, who aroused him.

When young ladies came to his practice dressed inappropriately, according to his private determination (read arousal), he would retaliate (?) by giving them candy--strychnine tablets.

The young women would be dead by the next morning.

Those 'candies' were taken by the girls themselves, but at least they didn't know what they were popping into their mouths.

I say that because the next person and poison I thought of was poor Socrates (469 BC - 399 BC) who was required by the State to willingly drink hemlock.

Socrates was required to pour a draught of hemlock down his own throat, froma cup he held in his own hand, with the full knowledge of what the consequences of those swallows would be.

The thing about hemlock is it triggers paralysis of the body while the mind stays perfectly alert.... so, at all times you understand what is happening as your body slowly shuts down and you drown in the fluid that collects in your lungs.

This, to me, sounds perfectly horrid, similar to the shut-in syndrome that some stroke patients suffer from.

These nasty thoughts, naturally, (strychnine is naturally derived from Strychnos nux vomica, the strychnine tree, from Asia, whilst hemlock is naturally derived from poison hemlock, conium maculatum) led me to the Italian wine/poison, cantarella.

Cantarella was the fabled poison of the Renaissance Spanish/Italian Borgia family.

The House of Borgia came to prominence with election of one of their own, Alfonso de Borja (1378-1458), as Pope Calixtus III (1455-1458).

Ensconced in Italy, after moving with Alfonso de Borja from Valencia, Spain, the House of Borgia became known for their political prowess which allowed them to get another member of the family elected as Pope; Rodrigo Borgia (1431-1503) became Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503).

More accurately, the Borgias become notorious for the way that people who opposed them, or who stood in their way, or who possessed large sums of liquid cash (which the family would later seize) would die.

By poisoning.

The Borgias are believed to have made a mixture of arsenic and wine which they would give to people, and this poison became known as cantarella.

The Borgias reputedly experimented on animals and, later, on people, to determine how to vary the dosages so that the poison would (a) not be detected, and (b) they could determine beforehand when their victim would die.

Knowing when death would occur was good for both building alibis and for arranging votes, or transfers of funds...

The recipe of cantarella has been lost to time but it is rumoured that it involved arsenic which had been rendered more efficacious by being mixed with the entrails of animals and squeezed out in solution...

What is known is that cantarella remained tasteless and undetectable when added to red wine.

The Borgias were a bit like the spinster Brewster aunts from Joseph Kesselring's "Arsenic and Old Lace".

But, far more successful.

And, who would refuse a dinner with the Borgias?

It is a bit hard to imagine any Westerner, during the Renaissance, refusing a dinner with the Pope or with one of his family members.

You are likely wondering where this is all heading, today.

Well, all this thought of poisoning, and of food, brings to mind a bit of poisoning your humble scribe experienced, a while ago.

Food poisoning, yes, but more in the sense of the Borgias. And, more natural.

Do you want to know more?

Same time, Friday.

After 3WW on Wednesday.

I'll tell you all about it, then.


Click to hear 'Love Potion No. 9' by The Coasters 'cause you have to love something to kill for it, no? Even if it's just the thrill... iTunes



Fireblossom said...

Perhaps George Trepal, who poisoned his neighbors with thalium which he mixed into their bottles of Coca Cola before replacing the caps, had his eye on the papacy.

But I think he did it because their kids were noisy. Nice fellow.

Teresa said...

Well, dear Scribe, you have taken to writing mystery novels of late. I am going to guess that the Heroine decided that neither you (Sir Hagrid) nor the bodacious Pommes were big-boned enough to support your body weight. She has put you on a diet of Muesli for breakfast (with only skim milk and strawberries on top). Protein powder for lunch and Kartoffeln und quark for dinner. You have decided to malign your poor loving wife and compare her to the ungrateful people of Athens AND Lucretia Borgia with your nefarious inuendoes. And all because she won't let you indulge yourself with dim sum for breakfast till elevenses, Man Han Quan Xi for lunch, high tea with buttery crumpets and scones in the afternoon, followed by a jaunt to the sushi/sashimi bars where you eat eels, octopi, and puffer fish (which can be very, very deadly if not prepared right).

But are you grateful to her? No siree. You and Pommes just sit and sulk and threaten all women with coal in their stockings for Christmas. Spoiled, spoiled husband, you!


Cloudia said...

now I'm a bit worried about you...

rebecca said...

Well, I just learned a few things today. That's always a good thing. Dark, but I liked it.

Wishing you and your Heroine a most wonderful and joyous Holiday.


Richard said...

what do you suppose Claudius used on the King?

The United Statesian said...

Like the blowfish...Is that related to the next poisoning article?

We are intrigued... do tell more.

murat11 said...

All this talk of poisoning, and nobody thanking you for that most tasty tune.

Music, praises be, is back in Muravia. What wonders a car wash will do.

Serve it up
And drink it down...