The Art of Darkness

Medieval Poisons

March 14th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Whilst digging around in the depths of my computer the other day, I ran across the file below. It dates from my AOL-hosting days and I think it had something to do with a Halloween special feature they were doing; beyond that I have no idea where it came from or why I still have it. It’s pretty neat, though; a discussion of Medieval poisons that was apparently posted to an SCA newsgroup (remember newsgroups?) in 1994. Here it is, unedited except for minor formatting (and giving me all sorts of nostalgic feels; I haven’t thought about FidoNet in years).

From: (Gunnora Hallakarva)
Date: 29 Aug 94 02:56:00 -0500
Subject: 01 medieval poisons
Organization: Fidonet: Cygnus IIN/San Antonio

Good gentles… over the course of past weeks, I have noticed the many letters on poisons in period. For your information _only_ I present my research into the subject…

The Viking Answer Lady, aka Gunnora Hallakarva

Poisons and Antidotes in the Middle Ages

There are many substances readily available that will kill. Usually “poison” is used to refer to a substance which destroys the health or life of a living being by reason of its chemical constitution, and usually a poison will kill in very small quantities. Poison was usually classed with medicaments in the Middle Ages, and was numbered “in the fourth degree of medicament, wherein the destruction or death of tissue is produced.”[1]

The Greeks attributed the discovery of poisonous plants to Hecate, the goddess of sorcery. The Assyrians knew of both vegetable and mineral poisons as long as 3000 years ago. The ninth century Arabs brought poisoning to an art form (not a remarkable feat, when one considers the highly spiced foods that are consumed in the Near and Middle East, all the better to hide noxious substances in!). Galen, Dioscorides and Nicander provided the Classical world with descriptions of poisons, their actions and treatment. These writings were then preserved and enlarged upon by Muslim physicians such as Ibn Wahshiya in his _Book on Poisons_ or the Rabbi Moses Maimonides’s _Treatise on Poisons and their Antidotes_.

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