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Deadly Rye in the Rhineland

An outbreak of insanity and mad dancing in the street has struck the Rhineland but no land is free from the scourge of Saint Anthony's Fire (also called ergot poisoning). Ergot poisoning comes from eating rye products contaminated with a certain fungus. The fungus looks like a seed so for centuries people thought it was a natural part of the rye grain. This fungus produces alkaloids (poisons/hallucinogens) that hit the nervous system causing a burning sensation of the skin. It was initially called "Holy Fire" because it was perceived as a punishment from God for sin. The Brothers of St. Anthony was a religious order established to treat the disease... thus the disease became Saint Anthony's Fire. Ergot poisoning eventually results in gangrene and death. In later years bewitchment will be blamed and an outbreak of ergot poisoning around 1692 will precipitate the Salem Witch Trials. The last major outbreak will take place in France in 1951. 200 inhabitants of Pont Saint Esprit will go mad when rye flour used to make their bread becomes contaminated. Five people will die. [1] [2] [3] [4][5] [6] [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
When people try to coax me into eating something by saying, "It's natural!," I always reply, "Hemlock is natural. I'm not going to eat it." Alkaloids are generally poisons but they can have beneficial uses. For years Belladonna was used by eye doctors as a "natural" way to dilate the irises. Italian women believed that enlarged irises were attractive so they would use belladonna as a cosmetic for their eyes. (Belladonna means "pretty woman" in Italian.) Belladonna is also known as "Deadly Nightshade." Two to five berries of this plant will kill you dead, dead, dead. It is a relative of the tomato plant. For years people feared eating tomatoes because they believed they were poisonous. Tomatoes will not be used in Italian cooking until the late 1700s. (Did I mention that alkaloids are usually deadly poison? Just checking.)[9] [10] [11] [12]

Author! Author!

A gallon a day causes the author to sway. King Edward the III of England is so impressed with Geoffrey Chaucer that he grants him an allowance of "a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life". "The rest of his life" might be considerably shortened if he imbibes that amount personally. He will die at the age of 56 or 57... shortly after his patron dies. His patron is the second son of King Edward... John of Gaunt. He will also be the first poet to be buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. [13]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Geoffrey Chaucer is probably best known in the modern day for his Canterbury Tales. He writes it in a Middle English which is the vernacular, rather than Latin or French. Thus the Canterbury Tales becomes a very popular work, much like Dante's works. Dante became a much more popular writer simply because he wrote in the local speech of the people. And like Dante, Chaucer criticizes the clergy in many ways. Chaucer is also known for accusing the Jews in one story of using the blood of Christian children for some strange ritual. This blood libel is a most heinous lie and one wonders why Chaucer would include it in his stories since the Jews had not been living in England since 1290. [14] [15] [16]

Black Death: The Third Wave

The third wave of the Black Death has come to Europe but it will strike unevenly. It will follow a normal disease pattern which means it follows the merchant shipping beginning with coastal towns and spreading inland. The disease will be more virulent in the summer time which suggests the disease is passed along when the fleas are most active. Despite the reduction in its virulence, this auto-immune deficiency disease is still deadly. It will hit the Flanders area quite hard. Flanders is a coastal region with a major merchant port. The Black Death will also hit the forces of King Edward III of England fairly hard as he continues his war with France. [17] [18] [19]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Is there any place one could go to escape from the Black Death? Yes. Bohemia. (Think of Prague and Budweiser Beer.) Statistics can be misleading. When one hears that 25% of Europe was wiped out in the first wave of the Plague that does NOT mean that you have a 75% chance of survival if the Plague hits your town. YOUR town might be wiped off the map while three other towns miss the Plague entirely. The key to survival here is to MISS THE PLAGUE ENTIRELY or nearly so. Bohemia is doing something right from a disease perspective but from an economic perspective they have been in a recession since 1348. No one wants to go to Bohemia. The King's advisers tell him to run away from the Plague, but there is no better place for the King to run than to Bohemia itself.

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1374, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Clark, Josh. HowStuffWorks 'Ergot Poisoning', history.howstuffworks.com, 2014 [last update]
  2. St. Anthony's Fire -- Ergotism - Heart Center: Information on Cardiovascular Conditions, medicinenet.com, 4-8-2002 [last update] |quote=On 15 August 1951 one in twenty of the 4000 inhabitants of another village in France called Pont Saint Esprit (Bridge of the Holy Spirit) went mad. They had hallucinations, writhed in agony in their beds, vomited, ran crazily in the streets and suffered terrible burning sensations in their limbs.
  3. Linder, Douglas. An account of the Salem witchcraft investigations, trials, and aftermath., law2.umkc.edu, 2013 [last update]
  4. Ergot Poisoning (LSD) - the cause of the Salem Witch Trials - PBS Secrets of the Dead, customers.hbci.com, 2010 [last update]
  5. Salem witch trials - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  6. Ergotism (Saint Anthony's Fire) - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  7. Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  8. Medical explanations of bewitchment - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  9. Alkaloid - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  10. Conium (Hemlock, Poison Parsley) - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  11. Tomato - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  12. Atropa belladonna (Deadly Nightshade) - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  13. Geoffrey Chaucer - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  14. Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. (Barbara Tuchman, bio). A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Ballantine, 1979. pp. 111-112. (BOOK) quote="The blood libel formed the subject of Chaucer's tale of a child martyr told by the Prioresse and was the ground on which many Jews were charged, tried, and burned at the stake."
  15. The Canterbury Tales - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  16. Dante Alighieri - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  17. Cohn, Samuel K., Jr., The Black Death: End of a Paradigm. The American Historical Review, Vol. 107, No. 3 (June 2002), pp. 703-738. Oxford University Press (JOURNAL)
  18. Virulence - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  19. Bohemia - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]

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