Henry Peacham (1638) The Valley of Varietie, Chapter V, pp. 37-48.

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Of many who having received Poyson, have not onely miraculously escaped, but beene thereby cured of (else) incurable Diseases.

Many things have been accidentally found out, which allowed of after by Use and Experience, have become infallible and constant Rules: Of this Galen gives us an excellent Example,1 and most worthy admiration, which was this:

A certaine man (saith Galen) being extreame sicke of a Disease which they call Elephantiasis, or Leprosie, kept company a good time with some Companions of his, untill one above the rest was infected with the contagion of the Disease: for hee was not to bee endured, by reason of the most loathsome stench that proceeded from his uncleane bodie: beside, he was growne monstrously deformed; wherefore a Cottage was built for him neere the Towne, upon a Hill remote from people, a faire Spring running hard by, and herein this Leper was placed, with a man attending to bring him victuals, and other necessaries every day.

But about the beginning of the Dog-dayes, sweet Wine being brought in an earthen pitcher into the Field to the Mowers neere the place, hee that brought it, set it not farre from them, and went his way. Being gone, and some of them being thirstie, and having occasion to drinnke, one takes up the Pitcher, to poure out the Wine into a great Bowle halfe full of water, which they mixed with their Wine, and out falls a drowned Viper from the pitcher into the bowle. Hereupon the Harvest-men being amazed, let the Wine alone, and dranke and contented themselves with other water: But when they had finished their dayes worke, and were to goe out of the Field, as it were out of pitie, they gave to the poore Leprous man that Wine wherein the Viper was drowned, supposing it better for him to dye, than to live in that miserie. But hee, when hee had drunke it, was as it were, miraculously cured: For all that thicke and most loathsome scabbie swelling of the Disease, that as a Coat covered him all over, fell away from him, like the hard out-side of a Crab-fish, or Lobster, new skinne and flesh succeeding underneath in the place, not much unlike that soft and thin skinne of Crab-fishes, when the outward shell is taken away.

Another Example hereof, though upon an unlike occasion, happened in Mysia, a Towne of Asia, not farre (saith Galen) from the Citie where I dwell: A certaine man who was extreamely leprous, went unto a hote Bath, hoping to finde helpe thereby. This man had a very fayre and handsome young wench to his servant, who was an arrant ——— This wench had many Suitors, some of whom shee well affected: but these being gone, and shee having occasion to use water in the house, went into an out-place, or some ruinous shedde neere to the house, which was full of Vipers, by chance one of them fell into a pot of Wine, being somewhere carelessly set, and there was drowned: shee thinking to make good use heereof for her owne profit, fills her Master, at his returne, a large Cupp of this Wine, which hee dranke quite off, and hereby, (as the other before that lived in the Cottage) was perfectly cured. Hitherto Galen.

Heereby it appeareth (as I said before) most true, that many things have been found out by chance, which afterward being confirmed by Reason and Experience, have been received gladly into the closet of Aesculapius.

And at this day there is nothing better to cure a Leprosie, then the drinking of that Wine wherein a Viper hath been drowned: If any make doubt hereof, our best and learnedst Physicians will soone resolve him.

Moreover, I heere observe two remarkable Arguments of Gods divine goodnesse; the one is, That there is nothing so ill created by God to punish sinnfull man withall, whereunto there is not some commoditie adjoyned. The Viper is the most venimous creature that is, but yet it is not onely good against the Leprosie, but in Treacle, (which is made of the flesh of Vipers) it is the most excellent Receipt that is against all poysons. Heereof see Galen, lib. 1. de Antidot. The other is, (which is also observed by Galen) the Divine Providence oftentimes disposeth of things ill meant by malicious man, to wholsome and good ends; whereof Ausonius in elegant Verse gives us an excellent Example:

Toxica Zelotypo, dedit uxor mœcha marito;
Nec satis ad mortem, credidit esse datum.
Miscuit argenti, lethalia pondera, vivi,
Congerat ut celerem, vis geminata necem.
Dividat hæc siquis, faciunt discreta venenum,
Antidotum sumet, qui sociata bibet &c.
Ergo inter sese dum noxia pocula certant,
Ceßit Lethalis noxa salutiferæ,
Protinus & vacuos alvi petiêre recessus.
Lubrica dejectis qui via nota cibis.
Quam pia cura Deum? prodest crudelior uxor,
Et cum fata volunt, bina venena juvant.

That one poison expels and prevailes against another, it is so well knowne that it were in vaine here to goe about to prove it. Cantharides are a present remedie against the biting of a mad Dogge; the Scorpion heales his owne wounds, and the Viper (the head and taile being cut off) being beaten and applyed, cures her owne biting: insomuch, there is nothing, be it never so bad, but it containes some profitable goodnesse in it. Hemlock is a deadly Plant, yet the juice applyed, heales Ignis Sacer, and hot corroding Ulcers, and much asswageth the Inflammation of the eyes. Nerium, or Rose-laurell, kils Asses, Mules, and Horses, which shall eate of it; yet being drunken in Wine, it cures those who are bitten of Serpents. Meconium, the juice and leaves of Poppie, brings the takers into an everlasting sleep; yet notwithstanding, it helps the most painfull aking, or smarting Diseases. Here is now place and occasion offered, to shew how some Diseases have beene proper to some Countreyes; as the Elephantiasis unto Ægypt, which Lucretius a most ancient Poet witnesseth, saying:

Est Elephas morbus qui propter flumina Nili,
Gignitur Ægypti in medio, neque præterea usquam
Hac suæ tentatur gressus oculique trementes.

Also the swelling in the Throat, or Mentagra, to Asia onely; the Sweating-sicknesse σκελοτὐμβη, and στομακάκη to the Inhabitants of the North: but now by the just judgement of God, that same main Leprosie, Elephantiasis, as many other before named, are common to all Countries in generall. But for certaine (if wee may beleeve Plinie2) this Elephantiasis was utterly unknowne to Italie, before the time of Pompey the Great. I might here also speake of the divers Species, or kinds of Leprosie which are curable, and which are not; according as Moses hath given in charge,3 to judge betweene Leprosie and Leprosie: what Lepers for a time were to be removed, and who were to be by themselves secluded for ever: but I shall find both place and occasion to speake hereof elswhere.


1. Galen lib. 11. Simpl. Med.

2. Plin. lib. 26. [v(7)]

3. Levit. 23.

This page by James Eason.