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JAMA 100 Years Ago
March 27, 2002


JAMA. 2002;287(12):1500. doi:10.1001/jama.287.12.1500

Every now and then there is a revival of stories of the famous poisoners of history. We are told of wonderful drugs that accomplished their fell purposes with timeliness and dispatch, yet without leaving any undesirable trace behind them by which the possessors of the secret might be rendered amenable to the law. An article on "Champion Poisoners" in the current number of a popular magazine1 is a fair sample of these quasi-historical collections of marvelous facts. There is the story of the wonderful poison rings found at Pompeii, whose touch to food or drink, it is fabled, was sufficient to cause death. The artistic poisoning methods are dwelt on most. There is the preparation of arsenic—tasteless, colorless, odorless—that might be smeared on one side of a knife with which a peach was cut, the poisoned half being given to the victim while the murderer could eat the other half with impunity. Then we are told the story of the drinking cup that turned wine into venom, and last of all the looking glass with the magical but at times accommodating power of killing anyone who looked into it. This last is too much for the veracious essayist, who says that modern science has denied the possibility of any such murderous influence, though of course modern science is very skeptical and has spoiled many a good story.

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