Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,023,469 words | ISBN-13: 9789350501351

This is the English translation of the Kathasaritsagara written by Somadeva around 1070. The principle story line revolves around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the Vidhyādharas (‘celestial beings’). The work is one of the adoptations of the now lost Bṛhatkathā, a great Indian epic tale said to have been composed by ...

Appendix 2.3 - Poison-Damsels

On page 91 of this volume we read of the methods employed by Yogakaraṇḍaka, the minister of King Brahmadatta, against our hero, the King of Vatsa:

“He tainted, by means of poison and other deleterious substances, the trees, flowering creepers, water and grass all along the line of march. And he sent poison-damsels as dancing-girls among the enemy’s host, and he also dispatched nocturnal assassins into their midst.”

The tactics of this minister are as curious as they are unscrupulous. We have read of wells being poisoned and even of diseased clothes being left for the enemy to find, but the poisoning of the vegetation and the dispatching of poisoned women are much more uncommon.

This subject is of great interest from many points of view, and as there appears to be very little published on the matter, especially poison-damsels, I will discuss the whole question in some detail.

Although by far the greater part of this appendix will be on poison-damsels, I will first give a few notes on the practice of poisoning water, etc., in both classical and modern times.


Poisoned Water, Etc.

The references to such practices in Sanskrit literature are not numerous. They are, however, mentioned, and even advocated, in the Code of Manu, vii, 195, where, in the chapter on the duties of kings, we read[1]:

“When he has shut up his foe (in a town) let him sit encamped, harass his kingdom and continually spoil his grass, food, fuel and water.”

The glosses of the commentators on this text refer in general terms to bad or harmful substances which are mixed with the grass, etc., or to destroying them by fire, water and so on. The bad substances may be supposed to include poison. In only one of the glosses is the actual word “poison” used.

In the well-known medical work dating from about the beginning of the Christian era, the Suśruta Saṃhitā,[2] we read in a chapter on the subject of the nature of animal poisons, etc., the following: —

“A sheet of poisoned water becomes slimy, strongsmelling, frothy and marked with (black-coloured) lines on the surface. Frogs and fish living in the water die without any apparent cause. Birds and beasts that live (in the water and) on its shores roam about wildly in confusion (from the effects of poison), and a man, a horse or an elephant, by bathing in this (poisoned) water is afflicted with vomiting, fainting, fever, a burning sensation and swelling of the limbs. These disorders (in men and animals) should be immediately attended to and remedied, and no pains should be spared to purify such poisoned water. The cold ashes of Dhava, Aśva-karna, Asana, Pāribhadra, Pātalā, Siddhaka, Mokṣaka, Rāja-druma and Somavalka burnt together, should be cast into the poisoned pool or tank, whereby its water would be purified; as an alternative, an Añjali-measure (half a seer) of the said ashes cast in a Ghata-measure (sixty-four seers) of the required water would lead to its purification.

“A poisoned ground or stone-slab, landing-stage or desert country gives rise to swellings in those parts of the bodies of men, bullocks, horses, asses, camels and elephants that may chance to come in contact with them. In such cases a burning sensation is felt in the affected parts, and the hair and nails (of these parts) fall off. In these cases, the poisoned surface should be purified by sprinkling it over with a solution of Ananta and Sarva-gandha (the scented drugs) dissolved in wine (Surā), or with (an adequate quantity of) black clay dissolved in water, or with the decoction of Viḍaṅga, Pāthā and Katabhi.

“Poisoned hay or fodder, or any other poisoned food-stuff, produces lassitude, fainting, vomiting, diarrhoea, or even death (of the animal partaking thereof). Such cases should be treated with proper anti-poisonous medicines according to the indications of each case. As an alternative, drums and other musical instruments smeared with plasters of anti-poisonous compounds (Agadas) should be beaten and sounded (round them). Equal parts of silver (Tāra), mercury (Sutāra), and Indra-Gopa insects with Kuru-Vinda equal in weight to that of the entire preceding compound, pasted with the bile of a Kapila (brown) cow, should be used as a paste over the musical instruments (in such cases). The sounds of such drums, etc. (pasted with such anti-poisonous drugs), are said to destroy the effects of even the most dreadful poison.”[3]

Turning to Europe, we find that from the earliest times writers on military law have continually distinguished between the law of nature and the law of nations, showing how the two sometimes coincide, but as often operate in opposite directions. They have, moreover, condemned the use of poison in warfare as being against all laws—human and divine.

Hugo Grotius in his great work, De jure belli ac pads, writes as follows[4] (Book III, chap. iv, sec. 15, etc.):—

“As the laws of nations permit many things... which are forbidden by Natural Law, so they forbid some things which are permitted by Natural Law. For him whom it is lawful to put to death, whether we put to death by the sword or by poison, it makes no difference, if we look to Natural Law. It is doubtless more generous to kill so that he who is killed has the power of defending himself; but this is not due to him who has deserved to die. But the Laws of Nations, if not of all, at least of the best, have long been, that it is not lawful to kill an enemy by poison. This consent had its rise in common utility, that the dangers of war, which are numerous enough, may not be made too extensive. And it is probable that this rule proceeded from kings, whose life may be defended from other causes, better than the lives of other persons; but is less safe than that of others from poison, except it be defended by the scruples of conscience and the fear of infamy.

“Livy (xliii, 18), speaking of Perseus, calls these clandestine atrocities: so Claudian (De Bello Gild., v, 273) and Cicero (De Offic., iii, 22) use like expressions. The Roman consuls say that it is required, as a public example, that nothing of the kind be admitted, in the epistle to Pyrrhus which Gellius (Noct. Attic., iii, 8) gives. So Valerius (vi, 5, 1). And when the prince of the Catti offered to procure the death of Arminius by poison, Tiberius rejected the offer, thus gaining glory like that of the ancient generals (Tacitus, Ann., ii, 88).

“Wherefore they who hold it lawful to kill the enemy by poison, as Baldus, following Vegetius (Cons., ii, 188), regard mere Natural Law, and overlook the Instituted Law of Nations.... To poison fountains, which must be discovered before long, Florus says (Lib. II, 20), is not only against old rule, but also against the law of the gods; as the Laws of Nations are often ascribed to the gods; nor is it to be wondered, if to diminish dangers, there be some such tacit conventions of belligerents, as formerly in the permanent war of the Chalcidians and Eretrians (Strabo, x, p. 488) it was agreed not to use missiles.

“But the same is not true of making waters foul and undrinkable without poisoning them (Æsch., De male ob. leg., p. 262 a), which Solon and the Amphictyons are said to have justified towards barbarians: and Oppian mentions as customary in his time. For that is the same thing as turning away a stream, or intercepting a spring of water, which is lawful both by Natural Law and by consent.”

Nearly a hundred years later (1758) Emeric de Vattel, the Swiss jurist, published his Droit des Gens. It was founded on the works of Wolff and Leibnitz, with many quotations from Grotius.

After practically repeating the above extract, he continues[5]:

“Assassination and poisoning are, therefore, contrary to the laws of war, and are alike forbidden by the Natural Law and the consent of civilised nations. The sovereign who makes use of such execrable means should be regarded as an enemy of the human race, and all nations are called upon, in the interest of the common safety of mankind, to join forces to punish him. In particular, an enemy who has been the object of his detestable practices is justified in giving him no quarter. Alexander the Great declared

‘that he was determined to take the most extreme measures against Darius, and no longer treat him as an enemy in lawful war, but as a poisoner and an assassin’ (Quint. Curt., iv, 9, 18).

The interest and the safety of those in command, far from allowing them to authorise such practices, call for the greatest care on their part to prevent the introduction of them.

“Eumenes wisely said

‘that he did not think any general would want to obtain a victory by the use of means which might in turn be directed against himself’ (Justin., xiv, 1,12).

And it was on the same principle that Alexander condemned the act of Bessus, who had assassinated Darius (Quint. Curt., vi, 3, 14).”

The importance of Grotius’s De jure belli ac pads lies chiefly in the fact that it forms the foundation of the International Law of the present day. It was the first of such works to influence sovereigns and statesmen, for it showed in an exhaustive and masterly fashion what all men were beginning to feel.

The value of Vattel’s work is due to the fact that it consists of all that is best in the works of his predecessors, Grotius, Pufendorf, Leibnitz, Bynkershoek and Wolff. Consequently it became the handbook of statesmen and jurists, and is still quoted as one of the great authorities.

As we have already seen, both these jurists condemned all unnecessary methods of killing an enemy—particularly by any form of poisoning. But, as history is largely a record of cruelty exercised by those in power, we must not be surprised to find that, especially in mediæval times, the number of deaths due to some form of poisoning was very large. At the same time superstition and general ignorance of medicine probably lay at the bottom of many so-called poison mysteries of ancient days, while in some cases, as with the Borgias, reliable evidence is weak.

There are, however, many occasions on which poison in some form or other has been used in warfare.

For instance, when the young Egyptian Sultan Faraj withdrew before the conquering hosts of Tīmūr (Tamerlane) in 1400 he took care to poison both the fields and water before leaving. It is related[6] that in consequence Tīmūr lost so many men and animals that he desisted from the pursuit.

In India the most deadly poison is undoubtedly the variety of aconite found in the Himālayan districts. This is the so-called “Nepal aconite,” known as bīś, biṣ, bikh, etc. There are numerous forms of the series, the most deadly being A. spicatum. It is so poisonous in the Sikkim Terai that the sheep often have to be muzzled. The uses to which the aconites are put vary, for the rural drug-dealer has a great knowledge of the plant and finds many commercial uses for it, such as an adulterant in making bhāṅg from Indian hemp, for poisoning arrow-heads (for which see Lewin, “Arrow Poisons,” Virchow’s Archiv Path. Anat. und Phys., 1894, pp. 138, 289) and many other uses.

The Indian aconites are confined to the mountain tracts of the north-eastern boundary, stretching from Afghanistan and Balucistan, through Kashmir, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam to Burma.[7]

The Gurkhas of Nepal regard the plant as a great protection against enemy attacks, and Hamilton[8] describes how they can destroy whole armies by poisoning the water, and in the Nepalese war the British found the wells poisoned with crushed aconite.

The poisoning of water is not confined to India. Thus Burton[9] tells us that the Yuta Indians have diminished in numbers owing to the introduction of arsenic and corrosive sublimate in springs and provisions.

Similar havoc was wrought among the Australians,[10] while in Tasmania[11] poisoned rum was used to exterminate the aborigines.

In Brazil, when the import of African slaves rendered the capture of the natives less desirable than their extermination, the Portuguese left the clothes of people who had died of smallpox and scarlet fever for them to find in the woods.[12] It is also said[13] that the caravan traders from the Missouri to Santa Fé communicated smallpox to the Indian tribes of that district in 1831 by infectious clothing and presents of tobacco.

But vile as all these acts are, they are easily eclipsed by the inhuman methods of warfare introduced by the Germans in the Great War. They have cast a blot on European history which neither compunction nor time can ever eradicate.

This is not the place to describe in detail the different varieties of poison-gases used in the Great War, but I would give a few reliable references sent me by the War Office: L. Georges, L'Arme bactériologique future concurrente des armes chimique et balistique; tentatives allemandes répetées de son emploi de 1914 à 1918, 1922; Col. Zugaro, “Les bactéries comme arme de guerre,” Bull. Beige des Sci. Milit., June 1924 (the original article appeared in Exercito e Marina, 4th March 1924). See also A. A. Roberts, The Poison War, 1915, and the bibliography at the end.

The Historical Section of the War Office informs me that in General Botha’s campaign in German South-West Africa the poisoning of wells was both authenticated and admitted. It is believed that the poison used to make the wells unserviceable was chloride of mercury, which was available as it was employed in the gold-mining industry. The official records of the campaign are in the hands of the Government of the Union of South Africa.

The following references may be consulted by readers generally interested in the subject of poisons:—

A. Wynter Blyth, Old and Modern Poison Lore, International Health Exhibition, London, 1884; A. W. and M. W. Blyth, Poisons: their Effects and Detection, new edition, 1920; C. J. S. Thompson, Poison Mysteries, 1923; M. P. Naidu, The History of Professional Poisoners and Coiners of India, Madras, 1912; T. N. Windsor, Indian Toxicology, Calcutta, 1906; R. Calmette, Les Venins, les animaux venimeux et la serotherapie antivenimeuse, Paris, 1907.

We now pass on to the study of the poison-damsel.


The Poison-Damsel in India

Although the poison-damsel is found in the Kathā Sarit Sāgara, her appearance in Sanskrit literature is rare.

There are, however, two or three works in which she is mentioned. Of these the most important is undoubtedly Viśākhadatta’s political drama, the Mudrā-Rākṣasa, or Signet-ring of Rākṣasa. This play, written about the seventh century a.d., deals with events which happened, or were supposed to have happened, at the formation of the great Maurya Empire in 313 B.C. From the commencement of this dynasty dates the unbroken chain of Indian history, and Candragupta, its founder, must be regarded as the first paramount sovereign or emperor of India. He obtained the throne of Pāṭaliputra under circumstances which have a distinct bearing on the subject under discussion. At the end of 327 B.C. or in the early spring of the following year[14] Alexander the Great began his invasion of Northern India. He had gradually pushed farther and farther eastwards until, at the river Ὓϕασις (the modern Beās, a tributary of the Sutlej), his victorious advance received a sudden, but none the less definite, check by his army refusing to proceed with the expedition.

Thus he was prevented from attempting the overthrow of two great peoples, the Prasii and the Gaṅgaridae, which, he was informed, inhabited a district beyond the Ganges.

The king of these peoples was a certain Agrammes or Xandrames (according to the Greek writers), who has been identified by some with Dhana-Nanda, Nanda,[15] or Nandrus, King of Magadha (South Bihār).

At this time Candragupta, an illegitimate relation[16] of Nanda, held the position of Commander-in-Chief in his army. He chanced to incur Nanda’s displeasure and fled to the Pañjāb, where he is said to have met Alexander and to have made a close study of his methods of warfare.

However this may be, the mention of Alexander in connection with Candragupta is of the greatest interest in this inquiry. For, as we shall see later, the European versions of the poison-damsel find their origin in a certain Pseudo-Aristotelean work purporting to have been written for Alexander and sent to him on his campaigns, when age prevented his learned tutor from continuing his duties personally. This work was known as the Secretum Secretorum, and will be fully discussed in the course of this appendix.

It will suffice here merely to draw attention to the fact that it was Aristotle who was credited with the wise teachings and prudent counsels which helped Alexander so much in his Eastern campaigns, and it was he who, in the Secretum Secretorum, prevented him from losing his life at the hands of the poison-damsel.

In just the same way, Candragupta benefited by the advice of a wise minister. For at the very time that he fled to the Pañjāb there was a certain Brāhman named Chāṇakya (Kauṭilya or Viṣṇugupta[17]) who, incensed against King Nanda, owing to an effrontery to which he had been subjected, became not only a fellow-conspirator with Candragupta in the overthrow of Nanda, but was the directing force guiding every movement of the plot. Although details of the defeat of Nanda are hidden under a veil of mingled fact and fiction, it seems almost certain that Candragupta had the assistance of strong allies, the chief of whom was Porus,[18] who ruled on the far side of the Hydaspes (Jhelum).

On his ascending the throne of Pāṭaliputra Candragupta, not forgetful of the part played by Chāṇakya in his success, made him his chief minister, and it is at this point that the Mudrā-Rākṣasa commences. We find Chāṇakya involved in a maze of political intrigue, employing every form of cunning and strategy imaginable. His chief object is to win over the late king’s ex-minister Rākṣasa and so sever the one remaining link with the old line of Nanda kings. In this he is ultimately successful, but only after he has answered every stroke of his opponents by a more effective counterstroke, at the same time shielding Candragupta from the numerous attempts on his life. These attempts were of different kinds, including a poisoned draught and nocturnal assassins who were instructed to get into Candragupta’s sleeping chamber by a subterranean passage and kill him in his sleep.

The plot was, however, discovered by Chāṇakya. In relating the circumstances to Rākṣasa, one of his secret agents, Virādhagupta, speaks[19] as follows:—

“——Before the king retired to rest,
The watchful minister was wont to enter
The chamber, and with diligent scrutiny
Inspect it—thus, he saw a line of ants
Come through a crevice in the wall, and noticed
They bore the fragments of a recent meal;
Thence he inferred the presence of the feeders
In some adjoining passage, and commanded
That the pavilion should be set on fire
That moment—soon his orders were obeyed,
And our brave friends, in flame and smoke enveloped,
Unable to escape, were all destroyed.”

Rākṣasa replies:

“’Tis ever thus—Fortune in all befriends
The cruel Candragupta—when I send
A messenger of certain death to slay him,
She wields the instrument against his rival,
Who should have spoiled him of one half his kingdom.
And arms, and drugs, and stratagems are turned
In his behalf, against my friends and servants,
So that whate’er I plot, against his power,
Serves but to yield him unexpected profit.”

The “messenger of certain death” was the poison-damsel which Rākṣasa had prepared for Candragupta’s undoing. The plot was discovered by the ever-watchful Chāṇakya, who, instead of killing or returning the girl, passed her on to Parvataka, who, although a former ally of Candragupta, was thought best out of the way.

It appears that the girl could poison only once, and, like the cobra, would be of little danger after the accumulated poison had been spent in her first embrace.

Rākṣasa, thinking of the well-known incident in the Mahābhārata, says (Cakravarti’s translation):

“Friend, see how strange I As Karṇa in order to kill Arjuna reserved a strong lance capable of destroying only one person once and for all, I too kept a vigorous poisonous maid to kill Candragupta. But as the lance, to the great advantage of Kṛṣṇa, killed the son of Hiḍimbā, so she killed the Lord of the Mountains [Parvataka] to be destroyed by the wicked Chāṇakya, to his very great advantage.”

There is no need to pursue this reference further. Sufficient has now been said to show the analogy between Candragupta and Chāṇakya on the one hand, and Alexander and Aristotle on the other. Both kings were saved from the deadly results of a poison-damsel by their equally clever ministers, both were in the Pañjāb during the reign of the last of the Nanda kings, and both would naturally be the cause of endless plots.

Although the possible connection of what may be two versions of a single incident (whether fact or fiction) is nothing more than a suggestion, the idea is none the less fascinating, and one on which much research might be carried out.

Before dealing with the Secretum Secretorum I should mention other occurrences of the poison-damsel in Sanskrit literature.

In the Pariśiṣṭaparvan we find a slightly different version of the story. Here it is Nanda himself who has prepared the poison-damsel, and his minister Rākṣasa has nothing to do with it.

The passage is as follows[20]:—

“Then Candragupta and Parvata [sîc] entered Nanda’s palace and began to divide his great store of treasures. Now in the castle there lived a maiden who was cared for as if all treasures were combined in her. King Nanda had had her fed on poison from the time of her birth. Parvata was seized with such a passion for her that he locked her in his heart like his guardian deity. Candragupta’s teacher [Chāṇakya] gave her to him, and he immediately began to celebrate the ceremony of taking hands. During this, however, poison was transferred to him through her, because their perspiration, caused by the heat of the sacrificial fire, was mixed together.

The strength of this poison caused Parvata great agony; all his limbs relaxed, and he said to Candragupta:

‘I feel as if I had drunk poison; even speaking is well-nigh impossible. Help me, friend. I am surely going to die.’”

Chāṇakya, however, advises Candragupta to let him die, as then he will have the entire treasure to himself. Thus that king of the Himālayan mountain died, and Candragupta became ruler of two mighty kingdoms.

That the poison-damsel was well known and regarded with the greatest fear is clear from the seventy-first tale of the Suvābahuttarīkathā, where, on the demand of Dharmdat for King Kāmsundar’s daughter, the wily minister Siddhreh gets out of the difficulty by saying that the girl is a poison-damsel, and by a clever trick persuades Dharmdat to depart.[21]

Both Hertz[22] and Bloomfield[23] state that there is a treatise in Sanskrit for finding out whether a woman is a poison-damsel. It is described by Weber,[24] but appears on inspection to be nothing more than a treatise on horoscopes which sometimes show if a child is going to be a poison-damsel when grown up, but there is no method given for discovering if a woman one might chance to meet is a poison-damsel or not.


Secretum Secretorum

After thus briefly enumerating the chief Sanskrit references to poison-damsels, we must now take a big jump to Europe in search of further evidence. This does not mean that there is no trace of our motif in Persia, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Syria and Asia Minor, but merely, that as Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages was the centre of great literary activity and the entrepôt between East and West, it is here that we are most likely to find data to help us in our inquiry. Having surveyed the evidence, we must look eastwards for links with India, and westwards to mark the extent of its ultimate expansion.

In the first place, then, it is necessary to become more acquainted with the character of the Secretum, to ascertain, if possible, why it was written, the cause of its immense popularity, and what is known of the history of the work itself.[25] We shall then be in a better position to estimate the value of the inclusion of such a motif as that of the poison-damsels.

About the very time that Somadeva wrote, a work appeared in European literature in the Latin language, translated from the Arabic. It was entitled Secretum Secretorum, De Secretis Secretorum, or De Regimine Principum.[26] It purported to be nothing less than a collection of the most important and secret communications sent by Aristotle to Alexander the Great when he was too aged to attend his pupil in person. Such letters had been circulated from the earliest times, but here was a treatise containing not only the essence of political wisdom and state-craft, but regulations for the correct conduct of body and mind, and an insight into the mysteries of occult lore.

Since his death in 322 B.C. the reputation of Aristotle had gradually increased, and in the Middle Ages any work bearing his name was sure to be received with the greatest enthusiasm. Furthermore, the name of Alexander was surrounded by an ever-growing wealth of romance and mystery. No wonder, then, that the discovery, or supposed discovery, of the actual correspondence between these two great men created something of a sensation.

The Secretum, however, is not reckoned among Aristotle’s genuine works, but as one of a number of unauthenticated treatises which, reflecting as it does theories and opinions contained in his famous philosophical writings, was readily accepted as a work of the Master himself. Its popularity was so great that it became the most widely read work of the Middle Ages, and contributed more to Aristotle’s reputation than any of his fully authenticated writings. It was translated into nearly every European language, and consequently played a very considerable part in European literature.

As already mentioned, the Latin version of the Secretum first made its appearance in the twelfth century. There were two distinct recensions, a longer and a shorter one, both derived from Arabic MSS., which in their turn were said to rest upon Greek originals. Owing to the complicated and uncertain history of the Secretum it was considered necessary in the later MSS. to account in some way for the appearance of this hitherto unheard of correspondence between Aristotle and Alexander. A kind of prologue was accordingly added, both to the longer and shorter rescensions, written by the alleged discoverer of the work, Yaḥya ibn Baṭrīq[27]i.e. John the son of Patricius, who was a Syrian freedinan under the Khalifa al-Ma’mūn (circa 800).

He first gives what he describes as the preliminary correspondence between Aristotle and Alexander, and states that in accordance with the commands of the Khalifa, who had somehow heard of the existence of the Secretum, he started on a prolonged search for the MS. and

“left no temple among the temples where the philosophers deposited their hidden wisdom unsought,”

until finally he came across the object of his search in the Temple of the Sun dedicated to Æsculapius (Asklepios). It was written in letters of gold, and he immediately translated it first into Rumi (Syriac), and then from Rumi into Arabic. Whether Yahya was really the double translator is unknown. He certainly would know Syriac and Arabic, but if he was ignorant of Greek we must assume that the translation from the Greek into Syriac had been made earlier. It has been suggested that it was on the occasion of the second translation that the other treatises previously existing independently were incorporated, thus accounting for the longer and shorter recensions found both in the Arabic and Latin versions. The number of existing Latin MSS. is very large, and every library of any note possesses a number of copies.[28]

As was only to be expected with a popular book like the Secretum, it suffered greatly at the hands of copyists, who removed or added chapters as they thought fit. The work was, moreover, so wide in its scope that in some cases a chapter was enlarged to such a degree that it appeared as a fresh work of its own and was circulated separately. This is what happened with the chapters on Regimen Sanitatis —rules for preserving the health—and that on Precious Stones, while that on Physiognomy was incorporated into the works of Albertus Magnus and Duns Scotus.[29]

A comparison of the various texts and translations shows that in all probability these very chapters, or sections, which are also found as separate works, did not form part of the original composition, but were added at a later date. The chief reasons for arriving at this conclusion will be given a little later. Thus a kind of “enlarged edition” was formed, which would naturally enjoy a greater circulation. Without going over the ground that has already been sufficiently covered,[30] I would merely mention the two men who are reputed to have made the Latin translations. The first was a Spanish Jew, who, on his conversion to Christianity, took the name of Johannes Hispaniensis, or Hispalensis. He flourished in the middle of the twelfth century, and translated only the section dealing with the health-rules and the four seasons. It had, however, the prologue prefixed to it, and bore the Latinised form of the Arabic title, “In Alasrar.” The other translator was a French priest, Philip Clericus of Tripoli,[31] who at the request of his Archbishop, Guido of Valencia, translated the whole work from an Arabic original he had found in Antioch. His date is fixed at the beginning of the thirteenth century. As time went on these two versions got blended, and any knowledge of the separate works was lost. The most interesting and important of the Arabic originals have been compared and discussed by Steinschneider,[32] who found a similar confusion of the chapters as in the Latin texts.

There is also a Hebrew version, which is quite as old as any of the complete texts. It is now almost universally recognised as the work of Judah Al-Ḥarīzī,[33] who flourished in the early thirteenth century. It formed, in all probability, one of the cycle of Alexandrian legends upon which Harīzī was working. This Hebrew version, translated by Gaster,[34] is important in tracing the history of the Secretum as it follows the Arabic faithfully, and represents the work before it was encumbered with the enlarged chapters on Astronomy, Physiognomy, etc. One of the most convincing proofs of the subsequent addition of these chapters is the fact that none of them is included in the index of either the longer Arabic or Hebrew texts, and the Latin versions derived from them. But apart from this Forster has traced the chapter on Physiognomy to the Greek treatise of Polemon, while Steele has ascribed part of the Rule of Health section to Diodes Carystius (320 B.C.). The medical knowledge displayed in the enlarged chapters places the author in the eighth or ninth century, but when restored to their original proportions we can reduce the date by at least a century. Scholars are agreed that there is no Greek text in existence, and no proof that it ever did exist. Now if we look more closely into the longer Arabic and Hebrew texts, we find that the background of the book is wholly Eastern—Persian and Indian—while, on the other hand, there is hardly a mention of Greece. If any analogy or simile is needed, it is the sayings and doings of Persians or Indians that are quoted. The allusion to chess, the occurrence of Eastern place-names, and animals, all tend to point to the influence under which the Secretum really originated. Among similar Eastern works whose history is now fairly completely known may be mentioned Syntipas, Kalilah, and Barlaam and Josaphat. All these slowly migrated westwards, changing their character with their environment, and readily adapting themselves to any new purpose for which they might be wanted. Among the later insertions added by the Greek author of Barlaam is a “Mirror of Kings,” which closely resembles portions of the Secretum. The composition of this work is now placed at about the first half of the seventh century, and the vicissitudes through which the two works have gone are in all probability very similar.[35]

Having thus briefly glanced at the history of the Secretum, we are now in a better position to examine the actual reference to poison-damsels. In the first place we should note that it is omitted in both those sections which were not included in the index (see supra), but occurs in the oldest portion—that of the rules for “the ordinance of the king, of his purveyance, continence and discretion.”

According to the text, Aristotle is warning Alexander against entrusting the care of his body to women, and to beware of deadly poisons which had killed many kings in the past. He further advises him not to take medicines from a single doctor, but to employ a number, and act only on their unanimous advice. Then, as if to prove the necessity of his warnings, he recalls a great danger which he himself was able to frustrate.

“Remember,” he says,

“what happened when the King of India sent thee rich gifts, and among them that beautiful maiden whom they had fed on poison until she was of the nature of a snake, and had I not perceived it because of my fear, for I feared the clever men of those countries and their craft, and had I not found by proof that she would be killing thee by her embrace and by her perspiration, she would surely have killed thee.”

This is from the Hebrew text (Gaster’s translation), and, as has already been mentioned, represents the early recension. It will be noted that the person who sent the poison-damsel was a king of India. In some of the Arabic texts it is the king’s mother, and in most of the later versions the queen of India, who sends the poisoned woman. Then again the contamination differs—sometimes it is caused by the kiss or bite, in other versions by the perspiration, intercourse, or even only the look.

The translation[36] of one of the Arabic texts (MS. Gotha, 1869) is as follows

“Remember the mother of the Indian king who sent to thee presents, one of which was a girl who had been brought up on poison until her nature had become that of poisonous serpents. And if I had not found out through my knowledge of the Indian kings and physicians, and had not suspected her to be capable of inflicting a fatal bite, surely she would have killed thee.”

Another MS. (Laud. Or., 210) ends with: “she surely would have killed thee by her touch and her perspiration.”


The Spread of the Legend in Europe

As already mentioned, the work has been translated in full, or partly edited, in numerous European languages. These include Spanish, Italian, Proven£al, Dutch, French and English. Full bibliographical details will be found in the excellent article, “Die Sage vom Giftmädchen,” by W. Hertz,[37] to which I am indebted for many useful references and translations. There are, however, only one or two of these which, owing to their importance in literature or curiosity of their version, interest us here.

The incidents of the story must have been well known in Spain by the fifteenth century, as Guillem de Cervera when referring to the tricks of women in his Romania, xv, 96, verse 1000, observes: “The Indian wanted to murder Alexander through a woman”; and later, when advising care with regard to presents, he continues:

“Alexander took gifts from India, and the maiden who thought to rouse his passion was beautiful. If Aristotle had not been versed in astronomy, Alexander would have lost all he possessed through presents.”[38]

Heinrich von Meissen, a German poet of the thirteenth century, generally known as Frauenlob, and famous for the display of learning in his poems, tells us that[39] a certain queen of India was so clever that she brought up a proud damsel on poison from infancy. She gave, according to the text, “poisoned words”—that is to say, the breath from her mouth when speaking was poisonous—and her look also brought sudden death. This maiden was sent to King Alexander in order to cause his death and thus bring freedom to her land. A master saw through this and gave the king a herb to put in his mouth, which freed him from all danger.

Frauenlob cites the above as a warning to princes to beware of accepting gifts from conquered foes. The idea of the miraculous herb is entirely new and seems to have been an invention of the poet.

A peculiar rendering is found in a French prose version of the early fourteenth century. It has been described by Ernest Renan in the Histoire Littéraire (xxx, p. 567 et seq.). The work is in three different texts. According to the most recent (sixteenth century), Le Cuer de Philosophie, by Antoine Vérard, the tale of the “Pucelle Venimeuse” is roughly as follows:—

A certain king was once informed by a soothsayer that a child, named Alexander, had just been born who was destined to be his downfall. On hearing this disconcerting news, the king thought of an ingenious way in which to get rid of the menace, and gave secret orders for several infant girls of good family to be nourished on deadly poison. They all died except one, who grew to be a beautiful maiden and learnt to play the harp, but she was so poisonous that she polluted the air with her breath, and all animals which came near her died.

Once the king was besieged by a powerful army, and he sent this maiden by night into the enemy’s camp to play the harp before their king. She was accompanied by two others, who were, however, not poisonous. The king, struck by her beauty, invited her to his tent. As soon as he kissed her he fell dead to the ground, and the same fate overtook many of his followers who gathered round her on the same evening. At this juncture the besieged army made a sortie and easily overcame the enemy, who were demoralised by the death of their leader.

Delighted with the success of his experiment, the king ordered the damsel to be even better cared for, and nourished with even purer poison than hitherto.

Meanwhile Alexander, grown to manhood, had started his campaigns, besieged and conquered Darius, and made his name feared throughout the world.

Then the king, anxious to put his long-conceived plan into execution, had five maidens beautifully attired, the fifth being the poisoned damsel, more lovely and more richly clad than the rest; these he sent to Alexander, ostensibly as a mark of his love and obedience, accompanied by five attendants with fine horses and rare jewels. When Alexander saw the lovely harpist he could scarcely contain himself, and immediately rushed to embrace her. But Aristotle, a wise and learned man of the court, and Socrates, the king’s tutor, recognised the poisonous nature of the maiden and would not let Alexander touch her. To prove this Socrates ordered two slaves to kiss the damsel, and they immediately fell dead. Horses and dogs which she touched died instantly. Then Alexander had her beheaded and her body burnt.

In some of the German versions[40] the name of the poison is mentioned.

The most curious version, however, is that occurring in the Italian edition of Brunetto Latini’s Li limes dou Tresor,[41] and which runs as follows:—

There ruled a wise queen in the land of Sizire, and she discovered by her magical art that a son of Olympus, Alexander by name, would one day deprive her of her kingdom. As soon as she was informed of the birth of this hero, she considered how she might destroy him and thus evade her fate. She first procured Alexander’s portrait, and seeing that his features betrayed a sensual nature, made her plans accordingly.

In that country there exist snakes so large that they can swallow a whole stag, and their eggs are as big as bushel baskets. The queen put a baby girl, just born, into one of these eggs, and the snake-mother hatched it out with her other eggs. The little one came out with the young snakes and was fed by the snake-mother with the same food that she gave her own young ones. When the young snakes grew up, the queen had the girl brought to her palace and shut up in a cage. She could not speak, and only hissed like a snake, and anyone coming near her too often either died or fell into disease. After seven weeks the queen had her fed with bread, and gradually taught her to speak.

After seven years the girl began to be ashamed of her nakedness, wore clothes and became accustomed to human food. She grew into one of the most beautiful creatures in the world, with a face like an angel.

Once upon a time Alexander chanced to come to that country, and the queen, thinking that her opportunity had arrived, offered him the girl, with whom he at once fell in love, saying to Aristotle, “I will lie with her.”

But Aristotle, without whose permission he would not even eat, saw the beauty of the maiden, her glittering face and her look, and said to Alexander:

“I see and recognise in this creature the bearing of snakes. Her first nourishment was poison, and whoever comes in contact with her will be poisoned.”

Seeing that Alexander was loath to believe him, Aristotle continued:

“Procure me a snake and I will show you.”

He ordered the girl to be kept carefully overnight, and the next morning a dreadful snake was brought to him which he shut up under a big jar. Then he ordered a basket of fresh dittany to be ground in a mortar, and with the juice thus obtained he drew a circle round the jar about an ell away from it. Then a servant lifted the jar and the snake crawled out and crept along the circle of juice trying to find a way out. But it could find no outlet and crawled continuously round and round until it died.[42]

“See,” said Aristotle, “that will also happen to that maiden.” Then Alexander had the three girls brought, and drew a circle of the juice all round them, and called them to him. The two maidens ran to him, but the third, the poisoned damsel, remained within the circle, looking in vain for an outlet. She then began to choke, her hair stood on end, and she died suddenly like the snake.

It is impossible to say if this tale is really old, or merely emanated from the poet’s own imagination. Although the kingdom of Sizire appears to be unknown, it is interesting to note the mention of the huge swallowing powers of the snakes, which naturally point to India as the home of the story.

As already pointed out (p. 98n4 et seq.), the magic circle could be used as a vantage-ground from which to summon spirits and also as a barrier from which there was no escape. It appears that even in the early Babylonian texts the prototype of the magic circle possessed these same properties, and in his Semitic Magic R. Campbell Thompson describes it as a kind of ḥaram through which no spirit could break. The circle was sometimes made of kusurra (flour), flour of lime, which may, perhaps, have been a mixture of meal and lime, while in other cases flour and water were used for tracing the circle. The mixture was described as the “net of the corn-god,” thus fully explaining the office it was supposed to perform.

Hertz (op. cit., p. 105) refers to a mediæval legend told by Hieronymus Rauscher. Once upon a time a terrible dragon overcame a land and no human power could destroy him; then the bishop ordered the people to fast for ten days, whereupon he said:

“In order that you may discover what power lies in fasting, you must all spit into this mug.”

After this he took that saliva and traced a circle round the dragon, which was unable to get out of it (Das ander Hundert der Bapistischen Lügen, Laugingen, 1564, c. 32). Aristotle (Hist. Anim., viii, 28, 2) and Pliny (Nat. Hist., vii, 2, 5) believed that human saliva, and especially that of a fasting person, was dangerous to poisonous animals. The same effect is attributed to the juice of garlic. Johannes Hebenstreidt (Regiment pestilentzischer gifftiger Fieber, Erfford, 1562, Folio H., p. 16) tells us that a white worm was found in the heart of a prince who had died after a long illness. When they put this worm on a table surrounded by a circle of garlic, he crawled round until he died (cf. Harsdorffer, Der grosse Schauplatz lustu. lehrreicher Geschichte, Frankfurt, 1660, ii, 113, N. 9). Wolfgang Hildebrand (Magia naturalis, 200) states that a circle drawn round a snake with a young hazel branch will cause its death.

The spread of the tale of the poison-damsel in Europe was greatly increased by its inclusion in the famous collection of stories,

“invented by the monks as a fire-side recreation; and commonly applied in their discourses from the pulpit,”

known as the Gesta Romanorum. These tales date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In Swan’s English translation, edited by Thomas Wright, the tale forms No. 11 of the collection. We are informed that it was the Queen of the North (Regina Aquilonis) who, having heard of Alexander’s proficiency, nourished her daughter upon poison and sent her to him. The story as told here is very brief indeed, chief importance being laid upon the “application,” in which any good Christian is represented by Alexander, the Queen of the North is a superfluity of the good things in life, the envenomed beauty is luxury and gluttony, which are poison to the soul. Aristotle exemplifies conscience, and the moral is: Let us then study to live honestly and uprightly, in order that we may attain to everlasting life.

The popularity of the Gesta Romanorum must have done much to cause the spread of the poison-damsel motif, and as time went on, the idea found its way, sometimes little changed and at other times hardly recognisable, into the literature of most European countries.

When discussing the different methods of poison transference we shall meet with numerous interesting versions. The most recent adaption of the story is probably that of the American poet, Nathaniel Hawthorne.[43] It appeared under the title of “Rappacini’s Daughter,” and tells of a certain doctor of Padua who was always making curious experiments. Soon after the birth of his daughter the heartless father decides to use her for his latest experiment. He has a garden full of the most poisonous plants, and trains her up to continually inhale their odours. As years pass she not only becomes immune from poison, but so poisonous herself that, like Siebel in Faust, any flowers she touches wither. The girl herself was beautiful, and a young man falls in love with her, but marriage seems out of the question. A colleague of her father’s, however, prepares a potion for the lover which would neutralise the poison. The plan succeeds, but because poison has now become part of her very life the sudden application of the antidote kills her.

This idea might be well taken from similar results that the sudden complete stoppage of drugs in a habitual drug-fiend would produce. We shall consider the possible connection of opium with our motif a little later.

I now propose to look rather more fully into the different methods by which the poison-damsel was said to transfer her poison.

Some versions speak merely of the kiss. Thus in the Persian version of the Fables of Pilpay, the Anvār-i-Suhailī, we read of a queen who wished to kill her husband, so knowing he had a special weakness for kissing the neck of his favourite concubine, she has it rubbed with poison. The plot is, however, discovered by a slave.[44]

The same idea is found in the Vissāsabhojana-Jātaka, where a herd of cows yield but little milk through fright of a lion in the neighbourhood. Finding out that the lion is very attached to a certain doe, the herdsmen catch it and rub it all over with poison and sugar. They keep it for a day or two until it has properly dried, and then let it go. The lion mean while has missed its friend and on seeing it again licks it all over with pleasure, and so meets its death.

Then as a kind of moral[45] we read:

“Trust not the trusted, nor th’untrusted trust;
Trust kills; through trust the lion bit the dust.”

Other methods are through the look, the breath, the perspiration, the bite and, finally, sexual intercourse.

We will consider the fatal look first.


The Fatal Look

As has already been mentioned in some versions of the story, it is merely a look from the poison-damsel which is fatal. When we consider the practically universal fear of the evil eye, it is not to be wondered at that such an idea should have crept into these versions. A large number of examples from all parts of the world will be found in Hertz, op. cit., pp. 107-112 ; reference should also be made to F. T. Elworthy, The Evil Eye, 1895, and his article, “Evil Eye,” in Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth., vol. v, pp. 608-615.

There is a wide-spread Oriental belief that the look of a snake is poisonous, hence the Sanskrit name drig-viśa or driśti-viśa, “poison in a glance.” The Indians also believed that a single snake dihya could poison the atmosphere with its eyes (Wise, Commentary on the Hindu System of Medicine, London, 1860, p. 399).

Similar snakes are reported by the Arabs as living in the desert (see Barbier de Meynard, Les Colliers d’Or, allocutions morales de Zamakhschari, Paris, 1876, p. 94). Likewise al- Qazwīnī in his Kosmographie tells of snakes existing in the Snake Mountains of Turkestan which also killed by their glance. It is interesting to note that these deadly snakes have entered into stories connected with Alexander the Great.

Thus in the Secretum Secretorum[46] we read:

“I furthermore command thee and warn thee that thy counsellor be not red-haired, and if he has blue eyes, in Arabic called azrk, and if he be one of thy relations, do not trust them, do not confide in them any of thy affairs, and beware of them in the same manner as thou bewarest of the Indian snakes which kill with their look from a distance.”

According to another myth,[47] during one of his campaigns Alexander came across a valley on the Indo-Persian frontier guarded by deadly serpents whose mere glance was fatal. Learning that this valley was full of precious stones, he erected mirrors in which the serpents might stare themselves to death, and so secured the gems by employing the carcasses of sheep in a manner with which we have already become accustomed in the story of “Sindbad the Sailor.” See also the description of Epiphanius.[48] According to Albertus Magnus the scheme was suggested by Aristotle.[49] He also tells a somewhat similar tale of Socrates in his commentary on the Pseudo-Aristotelean work on the properties of the elements and planets.[50] In the reign of Philip of Macedon, who is himself described as a philosopher and astronomer, the road between two mountains in Armenia became so poisoned that no one could pass. Philip vainly inquired the cause from his sages until Socrates came to the rescue and, by erecting a tower as high as the mountains with a steel mirror on top of it, saw two dragons polluting the air. The mere glance of these dragons was apparently not deadly, for men in air-tight armour went in and killed them.

Thus it seems that it was the breath of the dragon that caused death.[51] This will be discussed shortly. The fatal glance of snakes reminds us at once of Medusa, whose hair was composed of serpents, one glance at which was sufficient to turn the unwary into stone.

It is in myths like that of Perseus and the Gorgon that the fatal glance is more understandable. For in the case of the Alexander story, if a single look produced death, the warning of Aristotle would come too late. Some of the translators seem to have realised this, and in cases where the text read “by the glance” it has been altered to “continual (or prolonged) look.” It is clear, I think, that the reading is not correct and is found only in some of the later texts.


The Poisonous Breath

The idea of poisonous breath, such as we find in some of the versions of the poison-damsel story, is quite a common one in fiction. As we saw in Frauenlob’s version, the girl’s breath was poisonous. The same statement is made by Peter of Abano,[52] the Jesuit Del Rio,[53] Michael Bapst, Wolfgang Hildebrand and Gaspar de los Reyes.[54] For further details see Hertz, op. cit., pp. 112, 113.

The notion of the poisonous breath may perhaps be traced in some cases to stories of people living on poison in order to protect themselves against any attempt on their lives by the same means. The story of Mithradates (Pliny, Hist.Nat., xxv, 3) is a well-known case in point. Discovering that the Pontic duck lived on poison, he utilised its blood as a means of inoculation, and finally was able to eat poison regularly.

Of more interest to us, however, as showing the Indian belief in the use of poison as nourishment, is the tale of Maḥmūd Ṣāh, King of Gujarāt. It was current about 1500, and versions are found in the travels of Varthema[55] and Duarte Barbosa.[56]

The story goes that Mahmūd’s father reared his son on poison to frustrate any attempts on the part of enemies to poison him. In Varthema’s account we read:

“Every day he eats poison. Do not, however, imagine that he fills his stomach with it; but he eats a certain quantity, so that when he wishes to destroy any great personage he makes him come before him stripped and naked, and then eats certain fruits which are called chofole, which resemble a muscatel nut. He also eats certain leaves of herbs, which are like the leaves of the sugar orange, called by some tamboli; and then he eats some lime of oyster shells, together with the above-mentioned things. When he has masticated them well, and has his mouth full, he spurts it out upon that person whom he wishes to kill, so that in the space of half-an-hour he falls to the ground dead. This sultan has also three or four thousand women, and every night that he sleeps with one she is found dead in the morning. Every time that he takes off his shirt, that shirt is never again touched by anyone; and so of his other garments; and every day he chooses new garments. My companions asked how it was that this sultan eats poison in this manner. Certain merchants, who were older than the sultan, answered that his father had fed him upon poison from his childhood.”

In Barbosa’s version we have a very interesting and accurate account of gradual inoculation by poison compared with the taking of opium:

“He began to eat it in such small doses that it could do him no evil, and in this manner he continued so filled with poison that when a fly touched him, as soon as it reached his flesh it forthwith died and swelled up, and as many women as slept with him perished.

“And for this he kept a ring of such virtue that the poison could have no effect on her who put it in her mouth before she lay down with him. And he could never give up eating this poison, for if he did so he would die forthwith, as we see by experience of the opium which the most of the Moors and Indians eat; if they left off eating it they would die; and if those ate it who had never before eaten it, they too would die; so they begin to eat it in such small quantities that it can work them no ill, as they are reared on it, and as they grow up they are accustomed to it. This opium is cold in the fourth degree; it is the cold part of it that kills. The Moors eat it as a means of provoking lust, and the Indian women take it to kill themselves when they have fallen into any folly, or for any loss of honour, or for despair. They drink it dissolved in a little oil, and die in their sleep without perception of death.”

Dames (op. cit., p. 122) notes that it was Ramusio’s versions of the travels of Varthema and Barbosa which spread the story through Europe, until it found its way into Purchas (ii, 1495).

Butler’s allusion in Hudibras, where he turns the poison into “asps, basilisks and toads,” is as follows:—

“ The Prince of Cambay’s daily food
Is asp, and basilisk, and toad;
Which makes him have so strong a breath,
Each night he stinks a queen to death.”

      Part II, canto i, line 753 et seq.

Dames refers to a curious tale he heard about Nādir Ṣāh among the Baloches (see Folk-Lore, 1897, p. 77), in which the king’s breath was so poisonous that of the two girls who helped him to clean his teeth, one died outright, and the other only just managed to recover.

It is interesting to note that in Varthema’s account of Mahmūd Ṣāh he distinctly speaks of the practice of betel-chewing so widely distributed throughout the East. The fruit called chofole, coffolo, or in Arabic fūfel, faufel, is the betel nut, the fruit of the areca—Areca Catechu. The tamboli are the leaves of the betel vine or pan— Chavica Betel. The third ingredient, “some lime of oyster shell,” is the small pellet of shell lime or chunam which is added to the piece of dried nut, both being wrapped in the leaf. Although betel-chewing is not poisonous, as was proved as early as the fifteenth century by the botanist Clusius (Charles de l’Escluse or Lécluse, 1526-1609),[57] it has been known to have curious effects on people strongly addicted to the habit, and it is quite natural that such effects would be exaggerated in the hands of story-tellers, or merely in the gradual spread of a local story first told, perhaps, with a large percentage of truth, which in time would become smaller and smaller.

The spitting of betel juice in a person’s face was an Indian way of offering a gross insult. In speaking of the city of Kail, or Cail (a port, now forgotten, on the coast of the Tinnevelly district of the Madras Presidency), Marco Polo[58] says:

“If anyone desires to offer a gross insult to another, when he meets him he spits this leaf or its juice in his face. The other immediately runs before the king, relates the insult that has been offered him, and demands leave to fight the offender. The king supplies the arms, which are sword and target, and all the people flock to see, and there the two fight till one of them is killed. They must not use the point of the sword, for this the king forbids.”

In an interesting letter to me on the subject, Dr J. D. Gimlette,[59] the Residency Surgeon of Kelantan, tells me that in the old days Malays were in the habit of conveying poison to anyone they wanted “out of the way” in a “chew” of betel. The modern Malay criminal may also attempt to poison his victim during the process of betel-chewing. The poison, consisting of the bile of the green tree-snake (ular puchok, Dryophis prasinus, Boie-Dipsodomorphinæ) mixed with that of the green water-frog and that of the jungle-crow, is smeared on the gambier used in betel-chewing. White arsenic, a common Eastern poison, could easily be mixed with the lime, and might well go undetected if the betel leaf was not carefully wiped to remove any grittiness. The Malays must always have been suspicious of such tricks, as even to-day they always wipe the leaves thoroughly before commencing chewing.

Sufficient has now been said to show how, in the East especially, exaggerated stories of poison breaths might arise. I shall have more to say on betel-chewing in a later volume.



Significant, too, is the mention of opium by Barbosa. He speaks of “opium which the most of the Moors and Indians eat.” Although the contrary view has been expressed, the weight of evidence appears to indicate that the eating and drinking of opium is much more deleterious than smoking it.

Both Maḥmūd Ṣāh and his son have been described as great opium-eaters, and at this time the practice was on the increase. The early history of the drug is very uncertain, but the discovery of opium began to attract attention about the third century B.C., when references to it are found in the works of Greek writers. The home of the Papaver somniferum appears to have been the Levant, whence it soon spread to Asia Minor. It was, however, the Arabs who were chiefly responsible for disseminating the knowledge of the plant and its varied uses, and to the Mohammedans can be attributed its introduction into both India and China. Thus all the vernacular names for the drug are traceable to the Semitic corruption of opos or opion into afyūn.[60]

It was not long before opium found favour with the Hindus. There were many reasons for this. It was looked upon as a cure for several diseases, and enabled those who took it to exist on very little food during famines; it was a great restorative, a means of imparting strength in any laborious work, and was, moreover, considered a strong aphrodisiac. Apart from all this, opium was welcomed by ascetics, and, besides gārija, or Indian hemp (from which bhāṅg is made), became a means of producing the physical inertia and abnormal mental exaltation required for the complete conquest of all sensation and movement. It was also found to aid the observance of a protracted fast.

Then, again, it was venerated on account of the pleasant and soothing visions it produced, which were regarded as the excursions of the spirit into paradise.

No wonder then that such a powerful drug took a strong hold of the people, and appears in some form or other in literature. True it was unknown in India in the time of Somadeva, but there was no lack of other poisons, as is clear from the most cursory glance at the earliest Hindu medical works.

Russell[61] says that opium is administered to children almost from the time of their birth, partly because its effects are supposed to be beneficial, and also to prevent them from crying and keep them quiet while their parents are at work. One of the favourite methods of killing female children was to place a fatal dose of opium on the nipple of the mother’s breast. The practice of giving children opium is said to be abandoned at the age of eight or nine, but as that is about the marriage age of girls it seems as if the harm would be already done, and the habit a very difficult one to break. I can find no evidence as to whether children were given poisonous herbs to suck before opium was introduced; the possibility, however, seems quite a likely one. The prohibition of alcoholic liquor by the Brāhman priesthood only led to the use of noxious drugs, and opium contributed much to the degeneration of the Rājpūts, the representatives of the old Kṣatriya or warrior class.[62]


Poison by Intercourse

The fatal look and poisonous breath which help to characterise the poison-damsel’s snake nature cannot be taken alone. They appear to be mere variants of the original idea stated, or perhaps only hinted at, in the story as told in India. There are several considerations that help to show what was originally meant. In all versions we are told that the girl was very beautiful and at once captured the admiration of her intended victim. The evil effects of her bite are mentioned. Remembering the Eastern origin of the tale, we must regard this as an amorous bite on the lip, probably drawing blood, and so allowing the poisonous saliva of the girl to enter the whole system of the man. Then, again, the perspiration is mentioned.[63] All these facts point to intercourse as the most obvious and successful way of passing on the poison.

Aristotle told Alexander that if he had had intercourse with the poisoned woman he would have died. I take this to include all the numerous methods which in later versions were taken separately. The idea would be appreciated by the Hindu, who would imagine the woman bringing into play the whole ars amor is indica, as detailed by Vātsyāyana. It is almost surprising that no versions suggest nail-scratchings as a means of conveying the poison.

So much for the actual idea of poisonous intercourse, but the question which is of far greater interest is, What gave rise to such an idea?

Perhaps it depends on the interpretation of the word “poisonous.” It is well known that in many countries the first intercourse after marriage is looked upon with such dread, and as an act of so inauspicious a nature, that the husband either appoints a proxy for the first night, or else takes care that if the girl is a virgin the hymen be broken by artificial means.[64] It is hard to say exactly why the first sexual connection was so greatly feared, but the chief idea seems to have been that at any critical time evil spirits are especially active. We have already seen (pp. 166-169) how special care had to be taken at birth; so also at marriages it was equally important to guard against any malign influences which may be at work trying to do harm on the first night of the marriage. Such attempts, however, would not be renewed, and if only the husband could shift the primary danger on to someone else’s shoulders all would be well.

There is no evidence that any form of poisoning was feared, but the idea occurs in a curious passage from Mande-ville. In describing the islands in the lordship of Prester John, he says[65]:

“Another Yle is there toward the Northe, in the See Occean, where that ben fulle cruele and ful evele Wommen of Nature; and thei han precious Stones in hire Eyen: and thei ben of that kynde, that zif thei beholden ony man with wratthe, thei slen him anon with the beholdynge, as doth the Basilisk.[66]

“Another Yle is there, fulle fair and gode and gret, and fulle of peple, where the custom is suche, that the firste nyght that thei ben maryed, thei maken another man to lye be hire Wifes, for to have hire Maydenhode: and therfore thei taken gret Huyre and gret Thank. And ther ben certain men in every Town, that serven of non other thing; and thei clepen hem Cadeberiz, that is to seyne, the Foies of Wanhope. For thei of the Contree holden it so gret a thing and so perilous, for to have the Maydenhode of a Woman, that hem semethe that thei that haven first the Maydenhode, puttethe him in aventure of his Lif. And zif the Husbonde fynde his Wif Mayden, that other next nyghte, aftre that sche scholde have ben leyn by of the man, that is assigned therefore, perauntes for Dronkenesse or for some other cause, the Husbonde schalle pleyne upon him, that he hathe not done his Deveer, in suche cruelle wise, as thoughe he wolde have him slayn therfore. But after the firste nyght, that thei ben leyn by, thei kepen hem so streytely, that thei ben not so hardy to speke with no man. And I asked hem the cause, whi that thei helden suche custom: and thei seyden me, that of old tyme, men hadden ben dede for deflourynge of Maydenes, that hadden Serpentes in hire Bodyes, that stongen men upon hire Zerdes, that thei dyeden anon: and therefore thei helden that custom, to make other men, ordeyn’d therfore, to lye be hire Wyfes, for drede of Dethe, and to assaye the passage be another, rather that for to putte hem in that aventure.”

Although we must look upon the above as an invention of Mandeville himself, the idea could well have been founded on fact. For instance, apart from the custom of employing proxies for the first night of marriage, there has always been a curious connection between snakes and intercourse. In India the snake is often represented as encircling the liṅga. In a paper read before the Asiatic Society, J. H. Rivett-Carnac[67] refers to certain paintings in Nāgpūr, and says that

“the positions of the women with the snakes were of the most indecent description and left no doubt that, so far as the idea represented in these sketches was concerned, the cobra was regarded as the phallus.”

The subject has been treated by many scholars[68] and cannot be discussed here further.

The most simple explanation of the true meaning of poisoning by intercourse which at once suggests itself is that it was merely venereal disease unrecognised as such. Here we at once open up an enormous field of research, much too complicated and technical to pursue here. All I can hope to do is to state briefly what the chief opinions on the subject are, and the consequent bearing they have upon the question of poison-damsels.

In spite of assertions to the contrary, it is a generally accepted fact that syphilis was introduced into Europe by way of Spain in 1493 by Columbus’ men, who had contracted the disease in Haiti. From Spain it spread to Italy, being carried there by the Spanish troops who enlisted in Charles VIII’s army. This view is held by Havelock Ellis[69] and many other authoritative writers. It is also accepted by the National Council for Combating Venereal Disease and the British Medical Journal (see below).

There has, however, been considerable controversy on the subject, some attempting to prove that venereal disease has existed in all countries from the earliest times, and that mummies from ancient Egypt show undoubted signs of syphilis. One of our greatest authorities on such subjects, however, Prof. G. Eliot Smith, tells me that there is absolutely no evidence even to suggest that the disease existed in Egypt before mediæval times. He says, moreover, that there is no sign of it in ancient Egyptian remains, and that had it existed there it most certainly would have left its mark.[70]

In Central America, however, the antiquity of the disease is fairly well established. As time went on, the natives became practically immune, but when it spread to the Spaniards, the disease assumed a virulent form. In an article on the subject one of the greatest authorities[71] on Central America declares his belief in the American origin of syphilis. He quotes (among others) Monte jo y Robledo in the fourth report of the International Americanists’ Congress at Madrid in 1881 (Actas, Tomo I, p. 331 et seq.).

That the Mexicans looked upon the disease as something divine is clear from the fact that they had a god of syphilis, named Nanahuatzin, who was a satellite of the sun-god. The only known statue of the god is in Mr Fenton’s collection, inspection of which leaves little doubt as to its identification. Mr Fenton also showed me the sun-god, which is represented as having gap-teeth, in keeping with the disease which undoubtedly forms one of its attributes.

Although scholars are not unanimous in their acceptance of the above theory, evidence to the contrary seems to be quite unconvincing.

However this may be, stories certainly existed in the Middle Ages in Europe which seem to show undoubted reference to the disease, which was looked upon as a magic poisoning, the handiwork of a witch, or exceedingly clever woman, whose knowledge was something out of the ordinary. Take, for instance, the legend of the death of King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia in 1305.

According to the contemporary poet, Ottacker,[72] the king grew daily weaker without any apparent cause. Suspicion fell on the king’s favourite and trusted mistress, one Agnes, a most beautiful and accomplished woman. It was rumoured that she had accepted bribes from certain men to defile herself in such a manner as to bring about the king’s death by her embrace.

“How could you do a deed like this?” says the poet.

“How could you mix poison with the fathomless sweetness which you carry in your delicate body? Mistress, you betrayed him, just as the Romans did when they betrayed an emperor. They brought up a child on poison, who later became the emperor’s mistress, and after he had lain with her he died. But that case was different, as the child had been trained by the Romans that she might poison the Emperor.”

The poet, in conclusion, curses her and calls down the wrath of heaven on any such treacherous woman.[73]

About a hundred years later we find a curious tale dealing with the death of King Ladislao (also called Ladislaus, Ladislas, or Lanzilao) of Naples. He aspired to absolute rule of Italy, but, according to one version, was mysteriously poisoned by a trick of the Florentines. The story goes[74] that they bribed a certain unscrupulous doctor of Perugia, whose beautiful daughter was the mistress of Ladislao. The unnatural father persuaded the girl that if she wanted to be loved exclusively and unceasingly by her royal lover she must secretly rub herself with a certain ointment which he himself had prepared for her. The deluded girl believed him and did his bidding, used the ointment, which was composed chiefly of the juice of aconite (monk’s-hood), and both she and the king lost their lives.

Although such stories as these are of considerable interest, they afford no conclusive proof of the existence of venereal disease in Europe before the end of the fifteenth century. It is impossible to say what was the exact nature of these mysterious illnesses or how they originated.

Syphilis appears to have been unknown in India till the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century, when it was introduced by the Portuguese.[75]

But quite apart from such evidence as this, the time the disease takes to show itself is greatly against its use in a story where the effect has to be immediate and causing practically instantaneous death.

It seems, therefore, that we must look for some means of imparting death which

  1. existed undoubtedly from olden times in India,
  2. is practically instantaneous, and
  3. has a distinct connection with poison.

Although poisonous plants could be cited, there is a much more obvious and certain thing—namely, the sting of the cobra. Here, I think, we have the clue to the whole idea.

In the first place we are fully aware of the great antiquity of the reverence paid to the cobra in India, a reverence which, however, is naturally mixed with dread. How great that dread must be we can better appreciate when we glance at the amazing statistics of deaths due to snake-bite. The average annual death-roll is about 20,000 people. In 1889 there were 22,480 human beings and 3,793 cattle killed by snakes, the chief being the cobra, the krait and Russell’s viper. In more recent years the figures have increased. Thus in 1911 the deaths due to snake-poison were 24,312 ; in 1915, 26,406, while in 1922 the figure dropped to 20,090.[76]

No further evidence is needed to emphasise the deadliness of the sting of the cobra and the krait. If the poison enters a large vein, death is very rapid and all so-called antidotes are unavailing. The poison of a snake becomes exhausted after it has struck frequently, and in cases where a cobra’s sting does little harm it is usually to be explained by the fact that the reptile must have already bitten and not yet re-formed its poison.

It is a curious fact that a snake cannot poison itself or one of its own species, and only any other genus of venomous snake in a slight degree. This brings us a step nearer our inquiry. It is obvious that in a country like India, infested with snakes, and where the resulting mortality is so large, the customs of the reptiles should have been studied in detail. This has been largely done by snake-charmers, whose livelihood depends on their ability to catch them alive and train them sufficiently for their particular object in view. A snake-charmer’s secret lies chiefly in his dexterity and fearlessness. There is, however, another important factor to be considered—inoculation. It is a well-known fact that snake venom is perfectly digestible, and that if the mouth and stomach are free from abrasions quantities of venom can be taken with no ill effects. It is on this principle that the snake-charmers work, inoculating themselves with increasing doses of venom until they are immune from the bite of the par ticular snake whose venom they have used. For instance, if cobra-venom is chosen, immunity will be obtained only against cobra-venom, and viper-venom would prove fatal in the usual way.[77]

It is a fairly widely recognised fact that a child who has once had measles is not likely to get it again, for the simple reason that a stronger resistance is set up by the one attack. We are all aware that vaccination is a protection against smallpox, and that anti-typhoid inoculation preserves one to a considerable degree against typhoid fever. In the former case the vaccine lymph actually causes a mild attack of smallpox (just in the same way as the snake-charmer gets slightly poisoned by his repeated bites), and in the latter case dead typhoid bacilli are injected under the skin. Just as cobra-inoculation is no protection against viper-venom, so vaccination is no protection against typhoid.

As the system on which the snake-charmer works became more and more familiar, and experience showed only too well the fatal results of cobra bites to people who are not immune, it is quite reasonable to imagine that this knowledge would find its way into fiction. It would, indeed, be curious if it was not so, for as history affords so many examples of vegetable and mineral poisoning, we can well understand that stories, at any rate, would arise telling of snake-poisons.

All the story-teller had to do was to transfer the idea from the snake-charmer to a beautiful maiden, and introduce the possibility of passing on a poison thus accumulated. The method of doing this would naturally be intercourse, a bite, perspiration and so on.

As is to be expected, we find stories where the poison is definitely stated as being derived from plants. The chief of these was el-bīś (the Arabic form of the Sanskrit viṣa). In al-Qazwīnī’s[78] Kosmographie we read:

“Among the wonders of India may be mentioned the plant el-bīé, which is found only in India, and which is a deadly poison. The Indian kings, we are told, when they want to conquer an enemy ruler, take a new-born girl and strew the plant first for some time under her cradle, then under her mattress and then under her clothes. Finally they give it her to drink in her milk, until the growing girl begins to eat it without hurt. This girl they send with presents to the king whom they wish to destroy, and when he has intercourse with her he dies.”



To summarise briefly, I would say that the motif of the poison-damsel originated in India at a very early period before the Christian era. The poison-damsel herself has no existence in actual fact, but is merely the creation of the story-teller, who derived the idea from what he saw around him. First of all he was acquainted with poisonous herbs and knew something of the uses to which they were put, but he was still more familiar with the ways of the snake-charmer and the methods of his gradual inoculation. He could not help being fully aware of the fatal results of the bite of the cobra and krait, and the reverence and fear of the snake throughout India was everywhere evident. Thus there was plenty of material for the creation of the poison-damsel, and in later days the knowledge of opium and other foreign drugs would merely introduce some new variant of the tale.

Like so many Eastern stories, the legend of the poison-damsel travelled slowly westwards, and received its greatest impetus by becoming attached to the Pseudo-Aristotelean myths of mediæval Europe. Its inclusion in such a famous collection as the Gesta Romanorum was a further means of its increasing popularity.

I need hardly say that I have touched only the very fringe of the subject. Whilst many important and extremely interesting queries have been raised in the course of this appendix, I have, for the most part, refrained from offering any solution, and have been content with stating facts and giving references.

Most readers will, I think, agree with me that, despite many disadvantages, there is much that is attractive about the poison-damsel.

Footnotes and references:


Bühler’s translation, Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxv, p. 247.


English translation, edited by K. K. L. Bhiṣagratna, Calcutta, 1911, vol. ii, pp. 696-698.


See also Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra, new edition, J. Jolly and R. Schmidt, Lahore, 1923, ix, 6, 86; xii, 4, 6-8, 14.


Trans. W. Whewell, Cambridge, J 853, vol. iii, chap. iv, pp. 86-88.


Les Droit des Gens, ou Principes de la Loi Nalurel/e appliques à la Conduite et aux Affaires des Nations et des Souverains, E. de Vattel, translated by C. G. Fenwick, Washington, 1916, vol. iii, ch. viii, pp. 288-289. —n.m.p.


Hans Schiltberger’s Reisebuch, ed. by Langmantel, Tübingen, 1885, 25, 38.


The different species of aconites are fully discussed in Watt’s Commercial Products of India, the abridgment of The Dictionary of the Economic Products of India, 1908, pp. 18-24.


Francis Hamilton, Account of the Kingdotn of Nepal, Edinburgh, 1819, p. 99.


City of the Saints, 1 861 , p. 576.


E. J. Eyre, Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, 1845, vol. i, pp. 175-179.


Bowick, Last of the Tasmanians, p. 58.


J. J. von Tschudi, Reisen durch Südamerika, vol. ii, p. 262.


J. Fröbel, Seven Years’ Travel in Central America, 1859, p. 272; and A. R. Wallace, Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, p. 326.


Scholars differ about the duration of Alexander’s Indian expedition. See V. A. Smith, Early History of India, 1904, pp. 106, 107, and also the 3rd edition, 1914; A. E. Anspach, De Alexandri Magni Expeditione Indica, London, 1903; F. W. Thomas in ch. xviii of the Cambridge History of India, with the Bibliography on pp. 674-676.


We have already come across a legend of his reign in Vol. I, pp. 13, 17, 35 et seq.


Said to have been the áon of Murā, a concubine of the king. Hence his surname Maurya.


Chāṇakya appeared in Vol. I, p. 55 et seq., as a Brāhman who brought about Nanda’s death by a magical rite. In the same volume (p. 233) his name is mentioned as an alternative of Kauṭilya, the supposed author of the Arthaśāstra. See p. 233n1.


Jacobi’s edition of Hemacandra’s Sthavirāvalīcharita, p. 55 et seq.; and Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, vol. ii, pp. 313-317.


The translation given is that by H. H. Wilson, Select Specimens of the Theatre of the Hindus, vol. iii, 1827, p. 71. Reference should be made to his Introduction, which contains the different versions of the tale of Nanda, Candragupta and Chāṇakya. For more recent translations of the Mudrā-Rākṣasa see those by S. C. Cakravarti, Calcutta, 1908, and B. Goswami, Calcutta [1909].


Ausgewählte Erzählungen aus Hēmacandras Pariśiṣṭaparvan, Johannes Hertel, Leipzig, 1908, viii, line 327 et seq. Bloomfield refers to this in his Life and Stories of Pārçvanātha, p. 198. On p. 62 of this work the word “poison-damsel” is used as a simile of a stolen jewel-casket which was destined to bring bad luck to whoever touched it.


“Ūber (lie Suvābahuttarīkathā,” Johannes Hertel, Festschrift fur Ernst Windisch, Leipzig, 1.914, pp. 146, 147.


“Die Sage vom Giftmädchen,” Abhandlungen d. k. hayer. Akad. d. Wiss., vol. xx, 1893, p. 143.


Op. cit., p. 199 .


Verzeichnis der Sanskrit Handschriften der Königlichen Bibliothek, Berlin, 1853, vol. i, p. 263 (No. 879), note 2.


Although space will not permit any detailed discussion of this tangled mass of evidence, I shall endeavour to supply ample reference to the existing literature on the subject.


For other titles see Forster, De Aristotelis quæ feruntur secretis secretorum commentatio, Kiliæ, 1888, 1.


See Steinschneider in Virchow’s Archiv für pathologische Analomie und Physiologie, lii, p. 364 et seq.; and Forster, op. cit., p. 23 et seq.


There is no complete bibliography of the MSS., prints, etc., of the Secretum in all the different languages in the libraries of Europe, but Forster made a list of no less than 207 Latin MSS. See the Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen, vol. vi, 1889, p. 1 et seq.


See Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, vol. ii, pp. 266, 267.


Wüstenfeld, “Die Uebersetzungen arabischer Werke in das Lateinische,” Abhandl. der K. Gesell. der Wissensch., Göttingen, vol. xxii, 1877, p. 25 et seq.; Sucier, Denkmäler provenzalischer Literatur und Sprache, Halle, 1883, vol. i, p. 531; Forster, op. cit., p. 25 et seq.


Favre, Mélanges, Genève, 1856, vol. ii, p. 41, N.l; Knust in Jahrbuch fur romanische und englisclie Literatur, vol. x, p. 156 et seq.; Cecioni, Il Secretum Secretorum attributo ad Aristotele, see Il Propugnatore, N.S., II, part ii, p. 84 et seq., Bologna, 1889; and Brunet, Violier des Histories Romaines, Paris, 1858, p. 429.


Uebersetzungen, p. 995— cf. also p. 245 et seq., where a full bibliography is given.


Steinschneider, Hebr. Biblioth., ix, p. 44 et seq., xi, p. 74; Knust in Jahrbuch fur romanische u. englische Literatur, xii, p. 366 et seq.; Wüstenfeld, op. cit., p. 83; Revue des Études Juives, iii, p. 241.


“The Hebrew Version of the Secretum Secretorum,” Journ. Roy. As. Soc.y Oct. 1907, pp. 879-912, and Jan. and Oct. 1908, pp. 111 - 162 , 1065-1084.


For further notes on this see Gaster, op. cit., Oct. 1908, p. 1080.


See the appendix to Fasc. V of Steele’s Opera hactenus inedita Rogeri Baconi, by A. S. Fulton, Oxonii, 1920, p. xl.


Abhandlungen der k. bayerischen Akad. der Wissensch., I, Cl. xx, Bd. 1, Abth, München, 1893.


Alexandri pres do             Aristotils no fos
D’Indis et le puciela         Apres d’ astronomia,
Quel cuydet passio           Alexandri per dos
, car era tarn biela.    Perdera quant avia.

    Romania, xv, 107, verses 1149-1150.


Frauenlob’s poetry was edited by L. Ettmüller in 1843; a selection will be found in K. Bartsch, Deutsche Liederdichter des 12. bis 14. Jahrhunderts (3rd edit., 1893). An English translation of Frauenlob’s Cantica canticorum, by A. E. Kroeger, with notes, appeared in 1887 at St Louis, U.S.A. See also A. Boerkel, Frauenlob (2nd edit., 1881), and F. H. Von der Hagen, Minnesinger, iii, 111a, verse 3.


Georg Henisch, Neünhundert Gedächtnuss-würdige Geheimnuss vnnd Wundenwerck, in Hochteutsche sprach gebracht, Basel, 1575, 36; Michael Bapst von Rochlitz, Artzney Kunst vnd Wunder Buch, Eissleben, 1604, i, 19.


Il Tesoro di Brunetto Latini versificato, see Atti, Series IV, Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, vol. iv, part i, 111 et seq., Roma, 1888.


For numerous references on the use of dittany in the works of classical writers, particularly Plutarch and Pliny, see Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, vol. i, pp. 218, 495.


Mosses from an Old Manse, Peterson’s Shilling Library, New England Novels, Edinburgh, 1883, p. 93.


See the translation by Eastwick, 1854, p. 582. See also Benfey, Das Pañcatantra, vol. i, p. 598. For other references see Chauvin, op. cit., ii, p. 87.


See the Cambridge edition, No. 93, vol. i, p. 228.


Gaster’s Hebrew version, section 48, op. cit., Jan. 1908, pp. 137, 138.


“Pseudo-Aristotelisches Steinbuch von Lüttich,” Zeitschrift fur deutsches Altert., xviii, 364, 28 et seq. Cf. Samuel Ibn Zarza, Michlal Jofi. In Brunetto Latini these basilisks are destroyed by warriors who are protected from them by large glass bottles (Li Livres don Tresor, p. p. Chabaille, Paris, 1863, L. V, c. 141). Cf. Laistner, Rätsel der Sphinx, 1898, vol. ii, p. 26’3 et seq.


Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, vol. i, p. 496.


De mirabilibus mundi (De secretis mulierum, Amstelodami, 1669, p. 176 et seq.).


De causis et properietatibus elementorum, II, ii, 1. See also the complete edition of his work by Augustus Borgnet, vol. ix, p. 643. The extract quoted above and those immediately following are taken from Thorndike, op. cit., vol. ii, pp. 262-263.


Compare the poisonous breath of the snakes in the Jātakas —e.g. Daddara-Jātaka (No. 304), Cambridge edition, vol. iii, p. 11.


Lib el lus de veneris, c. 3 (Conciliator, Venetiis, 1548, fol. 2, 278, col. 2).


Disquisitiones Magicæ, Moguntiæ, 1606, i, 55.


Ely si us Campus, 483.


Travels of Ludovico di Varthema, G. P. Badger, Hakluyt Society, 1863, pp. 109 - 110 .


The Book of Duarte Barbosa, M. Longworth Dames, Hakluyt Society, 1918, vol. i, pp. 121-123.


See the note to his translation of Garcia de Orta, L. I, c. 25 (Aromatum Historia, Antverpiæ, 1567, p. 122 et seq.). The English translation, The Simples and Drugs of India, is by Clements Markham, London, 1913.


The Book of Ser Marco Polo, Yule, vol. ii, p. 371 .


See the 2nd edition (1923) of his Malay Poisons and Charm Cures.


The full history of opium has yet to be written, but I would refer readers to Watt’s Commercial Products of India, 1908, pp. 845-861, which is a revised and abridged account from his Dictionary of the Economic Products of India, and contains many useful references. The latest and most interesting information will be found in a little pamphlet by Prof. H. A. Giles, Some Truths about Opium, Cambridge, 1923. The article “Opium,” by E. M. Holmes, in the Ency. Brit, is also well worth perusal.


Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces, vol. iii, p. 319.


See Col. Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rājasthān, edited by W. Crooke, Oxford, 1920; the latter’s articles on the Rājpūt clans in his Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh; and Russell, op. cit., vol. iv, p. 423 et seq. For evidence against the Rājpūts being the offspring of the Kṣatriyas see Forbes, Rās Mālā, edited by H. G. Rawlinson, 1924, vol. i, p. 21n2.


In one version, that in the Pariśiṣṭaparvan, the perspiration was caused by the heat of the sacrificial fire (see supra).


See Ploss, Das Weib in der Natur u. Völkerkunde, 3rd edition of Bartels, Leipzig, 18.01, p. 310 et seq. For the use of the proxy see Antoine de Moya, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, Paris, 1890; Moncelon, Bulletins de la Sociélé d’Anthrop. de Paris, 3 série IX, 1886, p. 368. Further references will be found in Westermarck, History of Human Marriage, vol. i, p. 170 et seq.


The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundevile, Kt., with an Introduction, Additional Notes and Glossary, J. O. Halliwell, 1839, p- 285 et seq. (In the 1866 reprint the page is 284 et seq.) The 1895 edition, illustrated by Layard, omits all the above except the first paragraph (p. 355).


Pliny, Lib. VII, c. 2.


“Rough Notes on the Snake Symbol in India,” Journ. Roy. As. Soc., Bengal, 1879-


C. F. Oldham, “The Nāgas,” Journ. Roy. As. Soc., July 1901, pp. 461-473; J. A. Macculloch, “Serpent Worship (Primitive and Introductory),” Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eih., p. 409, and W. Crooke, “Serpent Worship (Indian),” ditto, p. 415. See also E. S. Hartland, “Pliallism,” ditto, vol. ix, p. 815 et seq., and the references given in these articles.


Psychology of Sex, vol. vi (“Sex in Relation to Society”), p. 321 et seq.


See “The Alleged Discovery of Syphilis in Prehistoric Egyptians,” The Lancet, 22nd August 1908 . Readers wishing to pursue the subject will find the following references useful:—Buret, Le Syphilis Aujourd’hui et chez ler Anciens, 1890 ; A. V. Notthaft, “Die Legende von der Altertums-syphilis,” Rindfleisch Festschrift, 1907, pp. 377-592; Okamura in Monatsschrift für praktische Dermatologie, vol. xxviii, p. 296 et seq.; Virchow in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, Heft 2 and 3, 1899, p. 216 ; J. Knott, “The Origin of Syphilis,” New York Medical Journal, 31st October 1908 ; Rosenbaum, Geschichte der Lustseuche im Altertume, 5th edition; K. K. Chatterji, Syphilis in General Practice, with special reference to the Tropics, Calcutta, 1920 (see especially pp. 4 and 5).


E. Seler, Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur Amerikanischen Sprach-und Alter-tumskunde, Berlin, 1904, vol. ii, p. 94 et seq. (originally published in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1895, pp. 366, 449 et seq.). See also Brasseur de Bourbourg, Popol Vuh, Paris, 1861, p. cxlii; Joyce, Mexican Archæology, p. 239; and Las Casas, Historia Apologetica, cap. 19.


This is the German poet and historian who flourished at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries, and must not be confounded with the King of Bohemia (Ottacker or Ottakar) of about the same date.


For the complete passage see R. D. P. Hieronymus Pez, Scriptores rerum Austriacarum veteres ac genuini, Tom. Ill, Ratisbonæ, 1745, cap. dccliv, pp. 741-742.


Angelo di Costanzo, Historia del regno di Napoli, Aquila, 1581, p. 279 seq. Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelaller, VI, 2nd edition, p. 625.


See J. Jolly, Indische Medizin, Strassburg, 1901; I wan Bloch, Ursprung der Syphilis, Jena, 1901, vol. i, p. 283 et seq. The British Medical Journal tells me that they know of no evidence of the occurrence of syphilis in India before 1495 and consider its introduction can be placed with very little doubt about a.d. 1500. It was due to the Portuguese explorers, who had been infected as a sequel to the introduction of the disease in Europe by Columbus’ men.


For further details of deaths from snake-bite in India prior to 1891 see Sir Joseph Fayrer, On Serpent-ivorship and on the Venomous Snakes of India, being a paper read before the Victoria Institute, 1892. For the recent figures I am indebted to the High Commissioner for India.


I have to thank Miss Joan Procter, Curator of Reptiles at the Zoological Society, for giving me valuable information about cobras and vipers. See A. T. Wall, “On the Difference of the Physiological Effects produced by the Poison of Indian Venomous Snakes,” Proc. Roy. Soc., 1881, vol. xxxii, p. 333; G. Lamb, Some Observations on the Poison of the Banded Krait, Calcutta, 1904.


Silvestre de Sacy, Chrestomathie Arabe, 2nd edition, Paris, 1826, iii, 398. J. Gildemeister, Scriptorum Arabum de Rebus Indicis loci, 219- Gutschmid in Zeitschr. d. deutschen morg. Gesel., xv, 95.

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