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Poison Paranoia: Mythical Antidotes of Ancient Alchemists

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Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners by Alexandre Cabanel (1887) (Public Domain)

Poison Paranoia: Mythical Antidotes of Ancient Alchemists

Of all the ways to murder someone poisoning must be the most underhanded and downright evil way to proceed. The whole art of poisoning, as it is often referred too, was developed as a stealth way to murder one’s enemies before 4500 BC. Murder by poison required administering toxins in either large or repeated dosages and it was generally the choice mode of death of women trusted with the preparation of food and medicines. As civilizations expanded in size, people from all sexes and classes began poisoning one and another and as a deadly weapon it naturally inspired the creation of many, sometimes bizarre, anti-venoms. As ‘poison paranoia’ spread people went to sometimes bizarre lengths to protect themselves.

Ancient Civilizations in Toxic Shock

Compared to spearing, slashing or clubbing, poisoning is a tidy and more subtle, less detectable cause of death and early humans used varying potencies in their weapons. The ancient secrets of preparing killer brews were often closely guarded by elders who used their deadly knowledge to gain greater power and status within groups, which some scientists believe may have evolved into the Shaman, or medicine man clans of indigenous cultures.

Gold amulet discovered in Egypt dated to 2000-100 BC. Belied to providing protection from poison a female cobra, a uraeus, was a symbol of authority used by ancient Egyptian kings and queens. (Wellcome Images / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Gold amulet discovered in Egypt dated to 2000-100 BC. Belied to providing protection from poison a female cobra, a uraeus, was a symbol of authority used by ancient Egyptian kings and queens. (Wellcome Images / CC BY-SA 4.0)


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