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Arsenic as a Medical Cure? *

To be clear, arsenic is a deadly poison. It is the poison of choice for kings... meaning that it is the poison most used ON KINGS and other noblemen. Arsenic is rarely found in its elemental form, but by 1649, Johann Schröder will publish two methods for extracting elemental arsenic from other compounds. This year arsenic is used for the first time as a medical treatment. Exactly what they are treating is unclear, but before antibiotics are discovered in the 20th century, arsenic will be one of the few cures for syphilis... the other cure being malaria. Apparently if you make yourself so sick that you are about to die, the syphilis expires shortly before you do. Then, hopefully, you can recover. Don't bet on it, though. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Some poisons do have medical purposes. Botox is a toxin. When it is injected into a muscle it can reduce spasms. Supposedly it also prevents wrinkles. Extracts from the Belladonna plant (that is, the Deadly Nightshade) have been used by women to make their pupils larger and thus prettier. Ophthalmologists have used it for dilating the eyes but nowadays there are more reliable methods. In Victorian times, women would eat a concoction of arsenic and chalk to improve their complexion. I shudder to think of how many women over the centuries have sacrificed themselves on the alter of vanity. Please don't mess with these poisons. I really don't want you to die... not even for beauty. [6] [7] [8]

The Battle for China and the Rise of the Sweet Potato

It has been a few years since the Manchu dynasty declared its dominance over the Ming dynasty but the rebellion continues. The Manchu forces have surrounded the city of Kaifeng which are supporters of the Ming Emperor. Kaifeng has undermined the dam holding back the Yellow River. The idea is to break the siege and drown the rebellious Manchu. Instead, the waters get out of control and flood the city instead. The city stands at the crossroads of major merchant traffic, but this man-made flood will diminish the city forever. This flood also ends the Golden Age of Jewish settlement in China. The Kaifeng Jews will scatter, and many will be lost. The lone synagogue that has stood since 1163 has been swept away by the waters. This rebellion will go on for two more years. When the Manchu forces finally enter Beijing, the Emperor will take his own life and the transition to Manchu control will be complete. [9] [10]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
This rebellion began as a farmer's reaction to drought, economic chaos and foolish government policy. With the Little Ice Age and volcanic activity, the troubles only became worse. That is why the sweet potato was so vitally important to China. It is a plant of the New World that can grow in poor soil... even in the mountain areas of China where many of the people were hiding out. It is difficult to quantify how many people the sweet potato saved during the time of the rebellion but years later, the central government was taxing only people in the valleys where rice was grown and ignored the people in the hills because you can't grow rice on the top of a hill. How many people could possibly live there? Then a government official decided to count them. The sweet potato was sustaining a large population under harsh... and tax-free... conditions. [11] [12]

The King Declares War Against His Own Government

At the end of last year the British Parliament (called the Round Heads) laid a document of complaints before King Charles the 1st. He has considered them carefully and tries to have the opposition leadership arrested. Apparently the strength of the opposition is greater than the King anticipated so he escapes London and raises his standard over the castle in Nottingham. It is the beginning of the first British civil war between the Round Heads that support the Parliament and the Cavaliers who are the royalists. Oliver Cromwell is rising quickly within the military. They call him "Old Ironsides" and he will eventually defeat the royalists. [13] [14] [15]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
People have mixed feelings about Oliver Cromwell. On the one hand he did what was needed. On the other hand, what was needed was an autocratic dictator. My buddy is Irish and when I mentioned to him that I was writing about Oliver Cromwell, he reacted badly. Cromwell was quite harsh to the Irish when they attempted to rebel in the midst of the chaos. I pointed out that Cromwell hadn't started the abuses against the Irish. It wasn't his plan, but certainly he completed that plan. Apparently, after hundreds of years, one Irishman still resents it.

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1642, Wikipedia.

See Also


* The asterisk in the section header indicates that it was read on the podcast.
  1. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster. “Arsenic prescribed for medicinal purposes for first time” 
  2. Daya R. Varma (August 19, 2006). "From Witchcraft to Allopathy: Uninterrupted Journey of Medical Science". Economic and Political Weekly (Economic and Political Weekly) 41 (33): 3605-3611. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4418591. Retrieved November 9, 2015. "Indeed, almost all medications used by the allopath until the end of 19th century were derived from plants or metals. Many remained popular even till quite late, many are still used and many are being added. Take for example the use of arsenic for the treatment of syphilis. It was the only medication available until the discovery of penicillin soon after the second world war.". 
  3. Allopathy - definition of allopathy (2015). Retrieved on 11 September 2015. “the method of treating disease by the use of agents that produce effects different from those of the disease treated”
  4. Paracelsus (2015). Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a... - Paracelsus at BrainyQuote. Brainy Quote. Retrieved on 11 September 2015. “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”
  5. Johann Schröder - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 September 2015. “In 1649, he produced the elemental form of arsenic by heating its oxide, and published two methods for its preparation.”
  6. Arsenic poisoning - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 September 2015. “Symptoms of arsenic poisoning begin with headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, and drowsiness.”
  7. Botulinum toxin - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 September 2015. “When injected in small amounts, it can effectively weaken a muscle for a period of three to four months.”
  8. Atropa belladonna - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 September 2015. “The common name belladonna originates from its historic use by women - Bella Donna is Italian for beautiful lady. Drops prepared from the belladonna plant were used to dilate women's pupils, an effect considered to be attractive and seductive.”
  9. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (BOOK), Knopf. ISBN 9780307265722. “Still, Fujian was lucky that sweet potatoes arrived when they did. The crop spread through the province just in time for the fall of the Ming dynasty, which ushered in decades of violent chaos. Incoming Manchu forces seized Beijing in 1644, beginning a new dynasty: the Qing. The last Ming emperor hanged himself, and pretenders emerged to lead a rump state.” 
  10. Ming dynasty - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 16 August 2015. “In 1640, masses of Chinese peasants who were starving, unable to pay their taxes, and no longer in fear of the frequently defeated Chinese army, began to form into huge bands of rebels. The Chinese military, caught between fruitless efforts to defeat the Manchu raiders from the north and huge peasant revolts in the provinces, essentially fell apart. Unpaid and unfed, the army was defeated by Li Zicheng— now self-styled as the Prince of Shun —and deserted the capital without much of a fight. On 26 May 1644, Beijing fell to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng when the city gates were treacherously opened from within. During the turmoil, the last Ming emperor hanged himself on a tree in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City.”
  11. Sweet potato - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 September 2015. “The origin and domestication of sweet potato is thought to be in either Central America or South America.[8] In Central America, sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago.[9] In South America, Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found.”
  12. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (BOOK), Knopf. ISBN 9780307265722. “Farmers moved in numbers to these areas, which had previously been lightly settled.” 
  13. Oliver Cromwell - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 9 September 2015. “He entered the English Civil War on the side of the 'Roundheads' or Parliamentarians. Nicknamed 'Old Ironsides', he was quickly promoted from leading a single cavalry troop to become one of the principal commanders of the New Model Army, playing an important role in the defeat of the royalist forces.”
  14. English Civil War - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 9 September 2015. “The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians ('Roundheads') and Royalists ('Cavaliers') in the Kingdom of England over, principally, the manner of its government. The first (1642–46) and second (1648–49) wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third (1649–51) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The war ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.”
  15. Antonia Fraser. Cromwell (Ebook), Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. ISBN 9780802195821. “It was a few days after this, on 4 January 1642, that the King’s patience snapped and he made his historic attempt to surprise those Five Members whom he considered the ringleaders in these prolonged and treasonous attempts to wrench away his royal authority and thus overthrow the monarchy. The Five Members were John Pym, John Hampden, Sir Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holies and William Strode.” 

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