Boo the CatBoo the Cat. 1987-2002.


The Second B O O K.

Of the strange Diseases and Accidents

Where divers of Dr. Browns vulgar
errors and assertions are refuted, and the
ancient Tenents maintained.1



1. Divers ways to resist burning. 2. Locust eaters, the lowsie disease, the Baptist fed not on Locusts. 3. Mans flesh most subject to putrifaction, and the causes thereof; How putrifaction is resisted; Mumia. 4. The strength of affection and imagination in dying men. Strange presages of death. 5. Difference of dead mens skuls, and why.

THAT some mens bodies have endured the fire without pain and burning, is not more strange then true; which may be done three manners of ways: 1. By divine power, as the bodies of Shadrach, Meschech, and Abednego, received no hurt or detriment in the fiery furnace.* 2. By a Diabolick skill; so the Idolatrous Priests among the Gentiles, used in some solemn sacrifices to walk securely upon burning coals, as the Prince of Poets shews, Aen. lib. 11.*

————Medium freti pietate per ignem,
Cultores multa premimus vestigia pruna.

And as the men in the Sacrifices of Apollo, so women in the Sacrifices of Diana, used to walk upon burning coals, as Strabo witnesseth, lib. 12.[II.7]* Of this custome Horace also speaks, (Hor. 1. Od. 1 Incedis per ignes suppositos cineri doloso.[II.1.7]* So Propertius [Pro. El. 5 l. 1.] Et miser ignotos vestigia ferre per ignes.* And so it was used as a Proverb, auq eakwn upoxainon, to walk upon coals when a man undertook any dangerous business. The Scripture also sheweth, that the Gentiles used to make their sons and daughters passe through the fire:2 they used also in swearing, to take a burning iron in their hands without hurt, as Desiro sheweth in his Magick. Pliny and Sueton write, that Pyrrhus his thumb, and Germanicus his hearte, could not be burned.3 3. The body is made sometimes to resist fire by natural means, as by unguents; so those Hirpia, or Hirpini in Italy, of whom Pliny, Varro, and others make mention, used to anoint the soles of their feet with this unguent, that they might walk on the fire. Busbequius [Epist. 4.] was an eye-witnesse at Constantinople, of what was done in this kind by a Turkish Monk, who after dinner took an hot burning iron out of the fire, held it in his hand, and thrust it in his mouth, so that his spittle did hisse, without any hurt; whereas one of Busbequius his men, thinking this Monk had onely deluded the eye, takes the same Iron in his hand, which so burned his palm and fingers, that he could not be healed again in many days. this was done by the Monk, saith Busbequius, after he had put some thing in his mouth when he went forth into the Court, prentending it was to seek a stone. The same Authour witnesseth, that he saw at Venice one who washed his hands in scalding lead; and why may not the body be made to resist the fire, as well as that kind of Linum, called therefore Asbestinum, by the Greeks, and Linum vivum by the Latines, [Pancerol. de Lin. viv.] in which they used to wrap their Emperours bodies when they buried them, that their ashes might not be mingled with the ashes of their fire; this Linum being incombustible. The Salamander also liveth sometimes in the fire, though not so long as some have thought. [Pyraustæ are gendred in the fire;4 So Aristotle and Scaliger.] Nor must we think it fabulous (as Dr. Brown too magnificently concludes, Of Errors, 7. Book c. 18.) What is written of the Spartan Lad, and of Scævola, the Roman, who burned their hands without shrinking; he doubts the truth of this, and yet makes no doubt of that which is more unlikely, to wit, of Saint Johns being in the Chaldron of scalding oyl without any hurt at all. [Book 7. c. 10.*] he that will question the truth of Scævola's burning his hand, and of Curtius, leaping into the burning gulf, may as well question the broiling of Saint Lawrence on the Grediron, or the singing and rejoycing of other Martyrs in the midst of their flames.5

II. That in Ethiopia there is a people whose sole food are locusts, is witnessed by Diodorus and Strabo, [l. 4. c. 16. {Strabo XVI.4}] these from their food are called Acridophagi; they are a lean people, shorter and blacker then others; they are short lived, for the longest life among them exceedeth not 40 years: their countrey affordeth neither fish nor flesh, but God provides them locusts every Spring, which in multituds are carried to to them from the Desart by the West and South-west winds: these they take and salt for their use. These wretched people die all of one disease, much like our louse sicknesse: A little before their death, their bodies grow scabby and itchy, so that with scratching, bloody matter and ugly lice of divers shapes, with wings, swarm out of their belly first, then from other parts, so that they pine away and die in great pain. This disease doubtlesse proceeds partly from the corruption of the aire, and partly from the unwholesomenesse of their diet, which turns to putrid humours in their bodies, whence the disease is Epidemical. This vermin breeds most in those who are given to sweat, to nastinesse, and abound with putrified humours, between the flesh and skin, whose constitutions are hot & moist, as children; and according as either of the four humours are predominant, so is the colour of lice, some being red, some white, some brown, some black; sometimes they burst out of all parts of the body, as in Herod, and in that Portugal, of whom Forestus speaks [l. 4. de vitiis capitis] out of whose body they swarmed so fast, that his two men did nothing else but sweep them of, so that they carried out whole baskets full. Sometimes they breed but in some parts onely, as in the head or arm-pits Zacuta mentioneth one who was troubled nowhere but in his eie-lids, out of which they swarmed in great numbers. Some have voided them by boils and imposthumes. Forestus speaks of one who had them only in his back, whom he advised to hold his naked back so close to the fire, till it blistered, out of which blisters they came, and so he was cured. Salt is an enemy to them, yet they are bred in those Æthiopians by the frequent eating of the salt locusts: But perhaps it is not the eating of the salt meat so much, as the nastinesse, and sweat, and unwholesom waters, and corrupted air that breeds them. And it is certain, that wild and savage people are most given to them, because of their carelesse uncleanlinesse, using no other remedy against them, but shirts died with Saffron, which some wilde Irish doe wear six months together without shifting. But sometimes this disease is inflicted by the immediate hand of god, as a punishment of sinne and tyranny. Examples we have in Sylla, Pherecides, Herod, Philip the second of Spain, and others who died of this malady. Now because Locusts are such an unwholesome food, I cannot think that John Baptist did feed on them; and therefore it is no vulgar error, to hold, that akrideV in Matth. 3. doth signifie the tops of hearbs rather than locusts, both because these were an unwholesome food, and unpleasant to the palat and nose, used rather for Physick then diet, as Dioscorides and Galen shew, that Locusts are good against the Cholick and Stone, and may be more safely given then Cantharides to provoke urine. And although the Æthiopians did eat them for food, yet this is no argument to prove, that John did eat them; which is all the reason that Beza and Casaubon bring to prove their assertion: neither can it be proved, that Locusts were a food ever used in Judæa: For Pelusiota, who lived an Eremite many years in those Desarts, never knew any such food used there. But whereas they alledge, that in Levit. [c. 11. v. 22.] Locusts are set down for clean food: I answer with Munster [on Levit. 11. 22. who though an excellent Hebrician, yet confesseth, that neither he, nor the Rabbins themselves, doe know the true meaning or signification of the proper tearms there used. Therefore the Hebrew word Harbe, which we translate Locust, the Septuagints call Bruchus, which is another kind of Insect. And the French in their Bibles have left the Hebrew word untranslated. And so did Luther before, as not knowing what that word meant, nor the other three Hebrew words. Dr. Brown then had done well rather to have reckoned the Baptists eating of Locusts among the Vulgar Errors, then his feeding upon hearbs in the Desart.6

III. There is no flesh so much subject to putrefaction, as mans body, because it abounds in heat and moisture, so that oftentimes some parts of it doe putrifie before the soul leave it, which cannot so long preserve it from corruption, as salt, spices, the juice of Cedar, and other means by which the Ægyptians used to embalm their dead bodies. For indeed heat and siccity are enemies to putrefaction; therefore where the ambient air (which is properly moist) is excluded, there the bodies remain unputrified. Hence the bodies which are digged out of the hot and dry sands in Egypt, have there continued many hundreds of years uncorrupted. Alexanders body lay many days unburied and unbalmed, yet stunk not, but smelled odoriferously, because he had dried up the superfluous moisture of his body, by continual drinking of strong and fragrant wines. There be also some winds7 that preserve dead bodies uncorruptible, by reason of their cold and exsiccating quality. So we read in the Indian stories, that upon the Mountains of Chily, bodies have been found there, which have many years without corruption continued. The first detectors of those Countries found it so by experience; for many of them were killed by the piercing subtil quality of those winds, and preserved from putrefaction by the excessive drinesse thereof. I have read of Horsemen sitting on Horse-back, with their bridles in their hands, yet dead many months before without any corruption. It is also opinion of som, that bodies thunder-struck do not putrifie. I am apt to believe, that either they putrifie not at all or not in a long time, because of the exsiccating quality of the sulphurous vapour which comes from the thunder and lightning. But there is nothing more apt to preserve dead bodies from corruption, than the juice of Cedar, therefore much used among the Ancients, both in preserving their books and bodies; which by reason of their extream bitternesse and driing quality, gives life to the dead, and death to the living, extinguishing the temporary life of the body, and in recompence giving it immortality. So then we see that siccity is the main enemy to putrefaction, which is the cause the Peacocks flesh is not so apt to putrifie as of other creatures, because of its drinesse, as Saint Augustine in the City of God sheweth, who speaks of a Peacock which in a whole year did not putrifie. The diet also is a great help to further or retard putrefaction; for they that feed plentifully on flesh, fish, or other humid meats, which breed much blood and humours, are apter to putrifie then those who feed sparingly on hard and dry meats. In the siege of Amida, by Sapor the Persian King, this difference was found; for the European bodies, who lay four days unburied, did in that time so putrifie, that they could scarce be known: but the Persian bodies were grown hard and dry, because of their hard and dry food, having contented themselves with bread made of Nasturtium, which we call Cresses, or nose-smart, an hot and dry hearb. Concerning the stone Sarcophagus which consumes flesh in forty days, as Pliny witnesseth, l. 36. c. 17.8 is no fable; for Scaliger writes, (Exerc. 132.) that in Rome, and in the Town where he then was, the dead bodies were consumed in eight days. But the stone Chernites is a preserver of flesh from corruption; therefore the Tomb of Darius was made of it.9 The like is written of the hearb Clematis, or Vinca pervinea,10 which resisteth putrifaction; therefore of old they used to binde the head of young men and maids deceased with garlands of this hearb. And Korrimanus (de mirac. mortuorum) speaks of a dead head so crowned with this hearb, which in the year 1635. being taken out of the grave, was found uncorrupted. And as dead bodies embalmed with spices, are preserved from corruption; so by the same dead bodies, men are sometimes preserved alive: for that stuffe which proceeds from them, called by the Arabians Mumia, is an excellent remedy against diseases arising from cold and moisture. Francis the first carried always some of it about him. It was found in the Tombs of those Princes who had been imbalmbed with rich spices; but that which is found in ordinary graves, is not the true Mumia, but false, uselesse, or rather pernicious for the body, as not being of the same materials that the true Mumia was.11

IV. That the presence of a dear friend standing by a dying man, will prolong his life a while, is a thing very remarkable and true, and which I found by experience: for about tenne years ago, when my aged Father was giving up the ghost, I came towards his beds side, he suddenly cast his eyes upon me, and there fixed them; so that all the while I stood in his sight, he could not die till I went aside, and then he departed. Doubtless, the sympathy of affections, and the imagination working upon the vital spirits, kept them moving longer then otherwise they would have done; so that the heart the seat of affection, and the brain the house12 of imagination, were loth to give off, and the spirits remain in them, to rest from their own motion, so long as they had an object wherein they delighted. The like I have read of others: And truly the sympathy of affections, and strength of imagination is admirable, when the mind is able to presage the death or danger of a friend though a great way off. This also I found in my self: for once I suddenly fell into a passion of weeping, upon the apprehension I took that my dear friend was dead whom I exceedingly loved for his vertues, and it fell out accordingly as I presaged; for he died about the same hour that I fell into that weeping fit, and we were at that time 60. miles asunder, nor could tell certainly, that he was dead till two days after. Thus to some the death of friends is presaged by bleeding at the nose, and sudden sadness, by dreams, and divers other ways, which the learned Poet was not ignorant of when he saith,

Agnovit longe gemitum præsaga mali mens. Æn. l. 10.*     So by the Greek Poet the soul is called kakomantiV,13 a soothsayer of evil: The cause of this the Gentiles ascribed to the sun, which they held to be the soul, and our souls sparks of that great Lamp. A Platonical conceit which thought mens souls to be material; we were better ascribe this to the information of that Angel which attends us.

V. That which Herodotus (in Thalia c.3.14) writes on this difference between the Persian and Ægyptian skuls, may be no fable; for in the wars between them such as were killed on either side, were buried apart: after their bodies were putrified, it was found that the Persian skuls were soft, but the Ægyptians so hard, that you could scarce break them with a stone. The reason of this might be, because the Ægyptians used from their childhood to cut their hair, to go bareheaded; so that by the Sun their skuls were hardned. Hence it was, that few among them were found bald; but the Persians who wore long hair, and had their heads always covered, must needs have had soft skuls, by reason the humidity was kept in, and not suffered to evaporate, nor the Sun permitted to harden them.



1. Arcana Microcosmi is entered (manually) from the 1652 London edition. The Second Book begins on page 92 of Arcana Microcosmi. Page numbers are indicated in the source code and are named links (so that page 97, for instance, is at ""; you may thus type in the ending glyph and numbers to take you to a particular page, if you know what page it is. You may see the page breaks in the source code; when a page break is in the midst of a word, that too is noted. The running title for the Second Book is "Dr. Browns Vulgar Errors / Refuted and Answered" (or occasionally, by mistake, "Refuted and Answered / Refuted and Answered").
   Some sources (say to Dan. 3:20 ff. on Abednego and company) are indicated simply by linked asterisks in the texts, rather than leading here. These sources will open in a new window.

2. 2 Kings 16:3: Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah "walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel."

3. It was, as Browne remarks several times, Pyrrhus's toe that could not be burnt (his right big toe — pollex in Latin, whence Ross's confusion). Pliny, HN VII.20. Germanicus's unburnt heart, taken as a sign that he must have been poisoned; a better token was that his wife was Agrippina and his adopted son had reached an age sufficient to claim the empire: Suetonius: Caligula I. Both, as well as most of Ross's other incidents and a few more, are mentioned by Browne in the text Ross is criticizing.

4. Pyrausta: from the Greek purausteV; a moth who has been singed by a flame, as they are wont to be; hence, a fabulous fly or insect engendred in flame. Also, in Latin, piralis or pyrota.

5. Browne's attitude toward St. John and the cauldron of oil is less straightforward than Ross would indicate. As for the rest, it would seem that to be tied to a gridiron, or to a stake, and burnt alive is a thing entirely different from voluntarily thrusting one's hand into a fire and leaving it there until it is a cinder. But if we get involved in pointing out the manifold inconsistencies and absurdities in this text, these notes will swell out of all proportion. Better far simply to sit back and enjoy the ride.

6. Browne does not number this among "vulgar errors"; this chapter, as do several other chapters, simply sets out the arguments on either side (far better and more completely than does Ross, who uses some of the same authorities) and leaves it there; except that he, quite properly, says there is no particular reason to believe that John did not eat insects, as locusts (both plain and bald, as well as grasshoppers) — whatever they might be — are clean food for Jews. (And while it is true that it is impossible to tell from Leviticus exactly which insects are being described, it is clear that at least the plain locust — the arbeh — is a pest: it's the one, for instance, that descends upon Egypt and the one that gets what the caterpillar leaves behind in Job.)

7. Winds: the text has wines, but this is clearly a typo.

8. Except for the teeth: Pliny HN XXXVI.xxvii.131.

9. Chernites, a form of marble resembling ivory, like Parian but less white. Pliny HN XXXVI.xxviii.132. The OED's first citation is 1731; perhaps they felt that it was here being used as a foreign word (although it should be pointed out that both the OED citations are from lexica).

10. Sc. "pervinca". See Pliny, HN XXI.68 and 172. Suitable for funerals presumably more because it is evergreen than because it preserves corpses.

11. There are (at least) two substances known as "mumia" or mummy, one a bituminous waxy oil used medicinally; the other the remains, powdered or otherwise, of mummified bodies (including nonhuman bodies). Both came from Arabic lands; the word comes from an Arabic word meaning "waxy".

12. The printed edition has "hous", but the final ess is a long one, indicating that the "e" was intended to be there.

13. Æneid, X, 843. Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes, Chorus 6, line 720, though whether this is of "the soul" or not is certainly arguable.

14. Herodotus III.xii; How & Wells' commentary says that Wilkinson "says that both the monuments and modern experience confirm H.'s statement as to the hardness of Egyptian skulls." Herodotus implies that the bodies had never been buried, and certainly does not say that they ever had been. It seems improbable that so many bodies would be left unburied, or that people, especially Egyptians, would engage in skull-crunching on the slain bodies of their compatriots. On the other hand, it is a story that Herodotus tells from his own experience.

This page is by James Eason.