Pedro Teixeira on Bezoar
A note to Boodt on Bezoar

From Relaciones de Pedro Teixeira d'el origen descendencia y succession de los reyes de Persia, y de Harmuz, y de un viage hecho por el mismo autor dende la India Oriental hasta Italia por tierra, "Kings of Persia", chapter XXXIII; translated and annotated by William F. Sinclair, with further notes by Donald Ferguson. London: Hakluyt Society, 1902 (Ser. 2, Vol. 9, pp. 229-234).


[The first digression is on the provinces of Nixabur, producing the Turkish stones (turquoises), the mention of which leads our author to speak of bezoar stones. He says:—]

The Persians call any stone sangh, and the Arabs ager.1 But the Persians distinguish the bezar stone2 as pá zahar, meaning "an antidote against poison", from zahar, poison, and pa, a cure. In Arabic there is no letter P, but B or F takes its place, so pazahar becomes bazahar, which we corrupt a little more into bezar. This is the real meaning, and not that the stones are sold, in the bazar or market, because they never are sold there.

There is in the province of Parç or Persia3 a well-known district called Sthabanon, from a city of that name therein, three days' march from Lara.4 Its pastures abound in a plant like saffron, and feed many sheep, in whose stomachs these stones are produced. They are the best of all, and of such cost that Xá Abás, King of Persia, keeps guard there, to secure for himself all above a certain size, as the King of Pegu doth in his land in respect of gems. These sheep are somewhat different from ours, and it is known when they bear the stones, because, according to the number and size of these, they suffer and are sluggish, or [when they are not suffering from the stone, they] are active. The chief cause of the stones is that pasture, for the same sheep do not bear them on other lands.

[Then comes a statement that all the inhabitants of the province of Sthabanon are bald-headed: of which fact a servant of Sháh Abbás took advantage, by obtaining the royal permission to levy a poll-tax on every bald pate.]

Besides those Persian bezar stones, there are some also in India, and the second best are those of the Isle of Cows, near Manar, between Seylan and the coast of Choromandel.5 These are produced in goats, and sometimes there are as many as thirteen in one goat, and those not very small. Here in this isle it was well seen that the pasture is the cause of the stones. For when, in 1585 A.D., there was a terrible sea-flood along the coast, that Isle of Cows was drowned outright, and the pastures ruined by its remaining water-logged with salt water.6 The goats, carried elsewhere to graze, produced no more stones; but after some years the soil recovered its quality, the salt wasted away, and good pasture sprang up; the goats came back to the isle, and they produced stones as before.

The third quality of these stones includes those from the south, that is, from Malaca, Pam, Patane, Sunda, Borneo, Maniar Macem,7 et cetera, where they abound. But the best are the Persian, and I have seen wonders wrought with them in cases of poisoning.

These stones are sometimes counterfeited, but it is easy to know them, by either of two tests. The first is to take in one's hand a little lime worked up with water, and sprinkle the stone therewith, and if the lime turns yellow, and the stone is not wasted, it is genuine. The second test is better and surer, that is, to weigh the stone, put it into a vessel of water, leave it there six or seven hours, take it out, and weigh it again. If it keeps its form and weight, it is good, but if it breaks up, or melts, or gains weight, it is counterfeit.

The pazar stone is used with good effect in all cases of internal poisoning and of poisoned wounds, and in short against all ills. The Persians take it as a preventative, in March, beginning on the 20th, which they call Neu Rus, meaning New Day, because their solar year is counted from that day.8 I have seen many bezars in the city of Mexico in America, which the natives call Tenus Titlan, meaning "the city of prickly pears,"9 the fruit of that bush on which the cochenilla is bred. If these [sc. the bezoars, not the prickly pears or the cochenille] were of quality equal to their size, they would be almost priceless, but they are all nearly inert, and so of no value. The largest perfect pazar stone, of many that I saw in Persia, weighed seventeen meticals* and a half, or two ounces and a half, a little more or less.

[Teixeira then says that from a mountain in the province of Sthabanon issued a liquid called by the Persians momnahy knoy, or "precious mummy produced by the earth", and highly prized for its healing properties. Another antidote, pazar khony, from Masulipatam, is mentioned, and our authors continues:—]

Many other medicinal stones are produced in the bellies of beasts, as that of monkey, very like the pazar, that of the deer, which is brought from Solor, as big as a tennis-ball,10 crusty and scaly without, spongy and fibrous within, and rather bitter.

Above all, there is the stone of the porcupine,11 which grows in his belly, of such excellent virtue that only such as have tried it can believe it without a doubt. Whereof I am a good witness, having seen its effect at different times and in various places, and especially in the city of Cochin, in the years 1590 and 1591. The Governor12 there used up two such stones in the service of the poor, working wonders against a disease more dangerous and violent than the plague, which lasted for two whole years, and carried people of in four or five hours.13 This was a choleric complaint, which the Indians call morxy, and the Portuguese mordexin.14 An infusion of this stone in water is effective in all maladies, and may be safely given in all, except to pregnant women, in whose case some inconvenience may result from its extreme bitterness. These stones are produced in Syaka, a realm very near that of Malaca;15 and are sold, like pazars of those parts, by mazes,16 each of three-sixteenths of an ounce, a grain or so more or less. In order to see whether the beasts which produce these stones agreed with their name, I procured one from Syaka while I was in Malaca, and found it to be a porcupine, just like the common sort.17

[Another medicinal stone, Teixeira says, is called "of the islands", or "of Cananor". He then speaks of diamonds, describing the method of obtaining them in the kingdom of Lave (in Borneo), where the fine rota (rattan) and the pure camphor are found. Then other precious stones are spoken of, including rubies, cat's-eyes, and coco-stones. In connection with the hardness of diamonds, Teixeira says:—]

I remember, on the coast of Choromandel, and in Malaca, a little weed of no esteem that grows in the streets. If its tender roots be chewed, so that the teeth remain moist with its juice, and any stone, however hard, be chewed after it, the stone is reduced to dust so easily as not to hurt the teeth, or do any harm; as proved many times in my own person, and by means of others; which surely should make us all praise the Creator, who has granted such power to a weed.

No less wonderful is another plant, which was given in the Isle of Seylan to a Captain of Columbo's wife.18 It was like an ear of barley, but black and hairy. Such was its effect in facilitating childbirth, that if good care were not taken to remove it from the thigh [muslo] at the moment of birth, the bowels would follow the babe.19 This has been proven a thousand times; and I am witness of the case of that very lady who owned it. When she was with child, she got it back from a borrower and put it in a box, which her slave put under the lady's bed. It happened that she miscarried, with such a flow of blood as could not be checked, and that she was like to die, and prayed for the sacrament. In preparation for this, something was wanted out of that box, which was opened, and the herb found in it. They thought that its power might have been such as to affect the patient, and took it to another house. The bleeding ceased at once, and the lady was cure completely without any return of it. This happened in Goa, and I was present. I have not named these herbs, because the first has none, and the possessor of the other knew none for it; and though I made inquiry afterwards when I was in Seylan, none could tell me about it. I pass by another which, if thrown into a vessel of water, curdles it;20 and yet more of wonderful qualities, found in the East, as foreign to the matter at hand.

[The lapis judaicus and the lapis lazuli are then spoken of; and the writer proceeds:—]

In the Gulf of Persia, near the Isle of Gerun or Harmuz, much stone is quarried from under sea, which the inhabitants use in building, because it is very light.21 They call it sangh may, that is, fish stone,22 because it grows at the bottom of the sea, and is light. But the wonder about it is that it grows again as fast as quarried. The same is found in the Sea of Malaca, where the Portuguese use it, less as building stone than to make lime, which they report to be very good.

Before I close this chapter, I would like to mention three or four things worth noting. The first is of a monkey that I saw, in whose thigh was found a pazar stone, and on breaking up this, to see its centre or nucleus, an iron arrow-head: for all those stones are built up around some central object, such as a straw, weed, twig, or sometimes a date-stone. A similar case was that when in Harmuz I would examine a xamana of amber, that is a natural ball of it, and pricked it with a hot needle; it split in two, and in the middle I found a little bird's beak and some feathers, and fragments of shells; which amazed not only me, but others of much experience in such matters.23

[Teixeira here harks back to the hog-stone, apropos of which he relates two more of his "medical" stories, and in connection with the second says:—]

In all India there is but one tree that is leafless in the rains, and it and its fruit are called ambare.24


1. Hajar: the pronunciation of Teixeira's ager would be the same in his phonetic system. The Persian word appears in the everlasting sangas of Indian border war, which are stone breastworks, and the Arabic in a rather odd place, the West African coast, where it characterises the "aggry bead".

2. Cf. what follows with G. de Orta, Colloquio XLV, and f. 225v; Linschoten, vol. ii, pp. 142-145. See also Baldæus, Malabar and Coromandel, chap. xxiv.

3. Now usually called "Fars".

4. Not now identifiable. The saffron plant, of course, is a crocus. [Ferguson: "Sthabanon," its pagens and bald inhabitants, are again mentioned by Teixeira in his Brief Account of the Provinces of Persia. The province and town in question are entered in the Survey of India Map as "Savonat" and "Savonnat or Istabonat" respectively. The town lies in about 54 deg. E., 29 No., to the south-east of Lake Niris, and is about 100 miles in a direct line north-west of Lár (rather more by the road via Darab). I cannot find any confirmation of the statements our author makes in connection with this province.]

5. The Ilha das Vacas referred to (not to be confused with the one off Cambay) is Neduntívu, or Delft (as the Dutch named it). See Baldæus, Ceylon, chap. xliv (of English translation in Churchill's Collection, vol. iii), Malabar and Coromandel, chap. xxiv; also Garcia de Orta, ff. 169 v, 225v. The horse-breeding experiment begun by the Portuguese on this island, and continued by the Dutch and British, has, after a long period of neglect, been recently [remember that these notes are from around 1900] revived by the Ceylon Government.

6. These islands off the north-west of Ceylon are liable to such inundations. Baldæus records one that occurred in 1658. I have found no other reference to the overflow mentioned by Teixeira.

7. "Pam" is now Pahang, celebrated by Mr. Clifford, and Maniar Macem is generally called on our maps "Banjarmasin," with variations.

8. This is quite independent of the religious chronology of Islam starting from the Hijra, or Flight, in which the year is so short that any given festival works steadily backwards on our calendars.

9. Original, Tunas.

* mettical[le] or miskal: "An Arabian measure of weight, equivalent to 24 carats or about 1-1/2 dirhems; the corresponding English weight is given variously for different countries at from 71 to 74 grains Troy". Thus the Oxford English Dictionary.

10. Pelota flamenca. I have followed Stevens's translation.

11. Regarding the pedra do porco, or hogstone, see Garcia de Orta, f. 225v; Linschoten, vol. ii, p. 144; Baldæus, Malabar and Coromandel, chap. xxiv.

12. The original has el governador que alli era ("the Governor who was there"). There was only one "Governor" in India at the time,, viz. Manoel de Sousa Coutinho, who vacated the office on the arrival of the Viceroy Mathias de Albuquerque, on May 15th, 1591. But, as Teixeira wrongly describes Manœl de Sousa Coutinho as "Viceroy", so, I think, in this place by "Governor" he means the Captain of Cochin. The holder of that important post at the period mentioned was, apparently, Don Jeronimo Mascarenhas, nephew of a former viceroy, D. Francisco Mascarenhas (see Arch. Port. Or., fasc. 3, p. 261). If so, the incident recorded of him by Teixeira is in pleasing contrast to the picture drawn by Couto, whose history reveals him as a man of violent temper, and arrogant of his rank (see Couto, Dec. X, Liv. II, cap. xi; Liv. IV, cap. xii; Liv. VII, caps. iv-vi; cf. also Linschoten, vol. ii, p. 172).

13. I can find no reference in any of the contemporary documents to this epidemic (Couto's Decade covering this period is, unhappily, lost).

14. Asiatic cholera. [Ferguson adds "See Hobson-Jobson, s. v. "Mort-de-chien", which, incredibly enough, is actually on line.]

15. In Linschoten's Map of the Eastern Seas, "Siaà" is shown on the east coast of Sumatra, opposite to Malacca. Barros calls it "Ciáca". It is the Malay state of Siyak.

Map of Sumatra

16. The másá or máshá of India.

17. Hystrix cristata is the European and North African porcupine. It may well have been more abundant in Spain in Teixeira's day than now. [It is nearly extinct in most of its former range in southern Europe at the beginning of the 21st century.] The Malacca species is now distinguished as H. longicauda [syn. brachyura].

18. The captain of Columbo, whose wife is here spoken of, was probably João Correa de Brito, referred to above [Chap. XXIX]. According to Teixeira's own statement further on, the incident here recorded took place before his visit to Ceylon, which occurred at the end of February, 1588. It must, therefore, have happened between October, 1587, and February, 1588.

19. The Abbé le Grand, in his Addition to chap. iii, Bk. I, of Ribeiro's History of Ceylon, says:— "Texeira [sic] dit qu'il croît dans l'Isle de Ceylan une herbe qui porte un épi semblabe [sic] à l'épi d'orge, mais plus noir & plus barbu, qui étant appliqué sur le ventre d'une femme grosse, la fait accoucher aussi-tôt; & il ajoûte que si on l'y laissoit trop long-tems, l'enfant tomberoit par morceaux, & que la femme auroit une perte de sang que rien ne pourroit guerir. Feu Monsieur Herrmans [sic] Docteur en medecine, & qui à son retour de Ceylan a donné au public une description exacte des plantes, herbes & fleurs que l'on cultive, ou qu'on tâche d'élever dans le Jardin de Leyde, a fait graver une plante, que les Chingulais appellent Adhatoda, & qu'il pretend être l'Ecbolium des Grecs; laquelle a presque la même vertu que Texeira [sic] attribuë à cette herbe qu'il ne nomme point." It will be noticed that Le Grand dœs not quote Teixeira quite correctly. His reference, as he shows in a footnote is to Hermann's Hortus Acad. Lugduno-Batav., p. 642. The virtue attributed by Hermann to Adhatoda vasica is quite imaginary. [Not absolutely; see, for instance, Adhatoda vasica.]

20. This property of some drugs is known to modern chemists. Possibly that in question was a salep. [Made from the root of various orchids.] These form a thick jelly, with even forty parts of water, and are still great favourites in the East.

21. Or "free in working" (liviana para fabrica). Stevens translates "soft".

22. Sang mahi; the translation is correct. Presumably coral, but the Portuguese used the produce of reef-building annelids in the same way on the Thana coast, where there are few corals, and none massive. [Ferguson adds: The Dutch fort at Jaffna, in the north of Ceylon, like the Portuguese one that preceded it, is built of coral stones.]

23. According to Johnson's Pers.-Arab.-Eng. Dict., Pers. shamáma = "a perfumed pastille". This is a little beyond a mere "fly in amber". It has to be remembered that perhaps Teixeira's drug was ambergris.

24. Spondias mangifera, sometimes called in English "hog-plum", the West Indian name of another plant. Ambára is a Marathi name for it, and it comes into leaf much later in the rains than other trees. [Garcia de Orta, on f. 26 of his Colloquia, describes the fruit under the name of ambares, but says nothing of the tree.]

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