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But who, I say, can sufficiently venerate the zeal and spirit of research displayed by the ancients? It is they who have shown us that aconite is the most prompt of all poisons in its effects —so much so indeed, that female animals, if the sexual parts1 are but touched with it, will not survive a single day. With this poison it was that M. Cæcilius2 accused Calpurnius Bestia of killing his wives in their sleep, and this it was that gave rise to that fearful peroration of his, denouncing the murderous finger of the accused.3 According to the fables of mythology, this plant was originally produced from the foam of the dog Cerberus, when dragged by Hercules from the Infernal4 Regions; for which reason, it is said, it is still so remarkably abundant in the vicinity of Heraclea in Pontus, a spot where the entrance is still pointed out to the shades below.

And yet, noxious as it is, the ancients have shown us how to employ aconite for the benefit of mankind, and have taught us as the result of their experience, that, taken in mulled wine, it neutralizes the venom of the scorpion: indeed such is the nature of this deadly plant, that it kills man, unless it can find in man something else to kill. When such is the case, as though it had discovered in the body a fit rival to contend with, that substance is the sole object of its attack; finding another poison in the viscera, to it alone it confines its onslaught; and thus, a truly marvellous thing! two poisons, each of them of a deadly nature, destroy one another within the body, and the man survives. Even more than this, the ancients have handed down to us remedies employed by the animals themselves, and have shown how that venomous creatures even effect their own cure. By the contact of aconite the scorpion is struck with torpor,5 is quite benumbed, assumes a pallid hue, and so confesses itself vanquished. When this is the case, white hellebore is its great auxiliary: the very touch of it dispels its torpor, and the aconite is forced to yield before two foes, its own enemy6 and the common7 enemy of all.

Now, after this, if any one should be of opinion that man could, by any chance or possibility, make such discoveries as these, he must surely be guilty of ingratitude in thus appre- ciating the beneficence of the gods! In countries frequented by the panther, they rub meat with aconite, and if one of those animals should but taste it, its effects are fatal: indeed were not these means adopted, the country would soon be overrun by them. It is for this reason, too, that some persons have given to hellebore the name of "pardalianches."8 It has been well ascertained, however, that the panther instantaneously recovers if it can find the opportunity of eating human ordure.9 So far as these animals are concerned, who can entertain a doubt that it was chance only that first led them to this discovery; and that as often as this happens the discovery is only a mere repetition of the accident, there being neither reason nor an appreciation of experience to ensure its transmission among them?

(3.) It is chance,10 yes, it is chance that is the Deity who has made to us these numerous revelations for our practical benefit;11 always understanding that under this name we mean Nature, that great parent and mistress of all things: and this is evident, whether we come to the conclusion, that these wild beasts make the discovery from day to day, or that they are gifted from the first with these powers of perception. Regarded in another point of view, it really is a disgrace that all animated beings should have an exact knowledge of what is beneficial to them, with the exception of man!

The ancients, openly professing their belief that there is no evil without some admixture of good, have asserted that aconite is a remarkably useful ingredient in compositions for the eyes. It may therefore be permitted me, though I have hitherto omitted a description of the poisonous plants, to point out the characteristics of aconite, if only that it may be the more easily detected. Aconite12 has leaves like those of cyclaminos13 or of the cucumber, never more than four in number, slightly hairy, and rising from near the root. This root, which is of moderate size, resembles the sea-fish known as the "cammarus,"14 a circumstance owing to which the plant has received the name of "cammaron" from some; while others, for the reason already15 mentioned, have called it "thelyphonon."16 The root is slightly curved, like a scorpion's tail, for which reason some persons have given it the name of "scorpio." Others, again, have preferred giving it the name of "myoctonon,"17 from the fact that the odour of it kills mice at a considerable distance even.

This plant is found growing upon the naked rocks known as "aeonæ;"18 and hence it is, according to some authorities, that it is called "aconitum," there being not so much as dust even about it to conduce to its nutriment. Such is the reason given for its name by some: but according to others, it receives this appellation from the fact that it fatally exercises the same effects upon the body that the whetstone19 does upon the edge of iron, being no sooner employed than its effects are felt.

1 See B. xxv. c. 75.

2 Properly "Cælius "—the same M. Cælius Rufus who is mentioned in B. vii. c. 50. See also B. xxxv. c. 46.

3 "Hinc illa atrox peroratio ejus in digitum." Sillig is probably right in his suggestion that the word "mortiferum" is wanting at the end of the sentence. Bestia was accused of having killed his wives by the contact of aconite, applied, through the agency of the finger, to the secret parts.

4 See B. vi. c. i.

5 See B. xxv. c. 75.

6 The hellebore. See B. xxiii. c. 75, and B. xxv. c. 21.

7 The scorpion.

8 "Pard-strangle."

9 See B. viii. c. 41.

10 He seems here, by implication, to contradict himself, and, by his explanation, to be sensible that he does so. He would appear not to have known exactly what his belief was in reference to first causes.

11 "Hoc habet nomen" is omitted; for, as Sillig says, it is evidently a gloss, which has crept into the text.

12 The ancients no doubt knew several plants under the common name of Aconitum. The one here described, is identified by Fée with the Doronicum pardalianches of Linnæus, Leopard's bane.

13 See B. xxv. c. 67. Fée says that neither the leaves of the Doronicum, nor of any plant of the genus Arnica, bear any resemblance to those of the Cyclamen, or the cucumber. He remarks also, that the contact solely of it is not productive of poisonous effects.

14 A kind of crab.

15 At the beginning of this Chapter.

16 "Female-bane," or "female-killer." See B. xx. c. 23.

17 "ice-killer." This assertion is incorrect.

18 So called from , "without," and κόνις, "dust," Theophrastus says that it received its name from the town of Aconæ, in the vicinity of which it grew in great abundance.

19 Also called ἀκόνη.

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