What a ride! Big thanks to badkittyuno for putting this gem on my radar. Or, in the parlance of this book, allowing me to seek of the poisons of this tome via unicorn horn.
We, as humans, have done some pretty vile things to ourselves and others since…pretty much the dawn of time. The Royal Art of Poison illustrates-in graphic detail- the poisonous things that people (mostly royalty, but the common man is capable of critical nastiness as well) have been doing intentionally and accidentally to kill friends, lovers, rivals, and enemies throughout the last millennium. Medieval and Renaissance Europe are the main focus, but there is some background dating back to the plant-based poisons of antiquity and branching out into modern-day poisonings of Russian political dissidents.
I learned quite a bit during my time with this book, and I do not want to spoil the many gross and creative ways that people both caused and attempted to treat maladies. I will give you this tasty tidbit, though: “To cure epilepsy, doctors concocted recipes of dried human heart or made a potion of wine, lily, lavender, and an entire adult brain, which weighed about three pounds. Human fat was used to treat consumption, rheumatism, and gout. Physicians recommended those suffering from hemorrhoids to stroke them with the amputated hand of a dead man—a strangely unpalatable image to ponder.” We used to resort to cannibalism quite a bit in the quest for health and wellness! Speaking of wellness…
As kooky, spooky, and gross many of these remedies are, we are still caught in a lot of the same old cycles! Kings and Queens of the 15th and 16th century thought that gemstones could protect them from various scourges and poisons. They frequently adorned their tableware with gems, waved bejeweled hands full of rings over their food for protection, and added crushed and powdered gemstone “essences” to their food and drink. SOUND FAMILIAR? It’s all a bit goop-y. Rich people trying to stay rich longer with crystals and gems. You can currently find, in the “cosmic health” section (barf) a $65 “rose quartz crystal straw”- a metal straw with a big ol rock on it- and several different 85-100$ “quartz crystal infused water bottle(s)” that will “deliver you from bad vibes” (double barf). It’s bad enough that this stuff is out there pRoTeCtInG uS fRoM tOxInS but the flim-flammery is hardly contained in goop and goop alone. While medeival folks were out there rubbing mercury into their hair and eating bits of mummy to “prevent” any number of ills, there are plenty of snake oil shillers roaming the internet today saying they can CURE AUTISM (which does not need a cure, damn it) with essential oils. 16th century mummies = 21st century essential oil.
My only complaint with this book comes from the structure; it starts out strong with a rip-roaring rundown of poisons both intended and accidental, starts to slow down through a series of case-studies, then grinds to a halt while clumsily clomping into the modern age. Despite the slow end, I am happy to report that I have added aa good dozen books to my “to be read” list in order to learn more about the many bizarre moments in history spread throughout the adventure.
Be warned: this is not for the faint of heart nor the weak of stomach. It gets gross!