Did you read Part-1? If you didn’t – maybe outa sheer apathy or treachery – read it before you read Part-2, or else I’ll banish you to the 5th dimension where you’ll languish for eternity, with only Lex Luther and Mr.Mxyzptlk for company.
I apologize. Didn’t mean to offend your sensibilities. Just thought you needed a lighter moment in the middle of this horrendous Corona Virus outbreak. Honestly, those cute microscopic red and purple balls with green suckers that look like Shrek’s ears, are jerking us all off.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being jerked off, but by a fucking virus????
Mithridatus VI (Part-2)
“Everything has poison. It is the dosage that decides whether we live or we die…”
– Mithridates VI of Pontus (120-63BC)
Mithridates VI of Pontus (foreground center), in his ‘toxicology’ lab, about to administer an antidote to a condemned slave, minutes after he has forced the poor wretch to swallow belladona (c 70BC)
Just as present-day governments commission geological surveys for oil, back in 70 BC, Mithridates VI (a.k.a. ‘Mitsy’ in this blog) had his minions scour the countryside for poisonous plants and minerals, to develop poisons from.
Mitsy had a research facility going that had only one assistant – a herbalist by the name of Crataeus. So guarded was Mitsy about the stuff he was concocting that he had Crataeus’s family locked up under permanent house arrest 24/7, to be executed summarily in case Crataeus betrayed him. Albeit, Crataeus and his family were provided with a fortified palace to live in opulence, not wanting for any pleasure. If Crataeus’s wife wanted one of those well hung nubian slaves to orally stimulate her, she just had to say it.
Mitsy researched all sorts of poisonous herbs, like hemlock, aconite, deadly nightshade (belladonna), castor, hellebore, azalea, rhododendron, realgar (arsenic), mercury and sulphur, to name just a few. He had Crataeus blend and mix the powders and pastes and then fed the concoctions to captured prisoners and slaves. And while some of those unfortunate suckers were monitored for symptoms and duration of survival prior to death, others were put on an antidote regimen, to test the antidotes that he simultaneously engineered.
Countless prisoners and slaves died horrible deaths as a result of Mitsy’s experimentations. By today’s sensibilities, Mithridates would be recognized as a psychotic mass murderer, on par with the prominent Nazis like the infamous bio-weapons expert, Walter Schreiber and endurance medicine researcher, Josef Mengele, physicians who practiced a similar craft during the Second World War.
But those were the times that Mitsy grew up in. A man interprets morality as he sees it. Mitsy recognized his own mother’s treachery when she poisoned his father. Life inside any royal household in those times was an all-pervasive mantle of suspicion, conspiracy, treachery, intrigue and paranoia and Mitsy lived in the midst of that.
In that milieu, poisoning happened to be the preferred method of assassination. There was no such thing as forensic science and poisons left no trace. You could spike a guy’s wine with arsenic and pass the death off as cardiac arrest and no one would be the wiser.
Even when an assassination was carried out in broad daylight before hundreds of witnesses, the justice system in the ancient world perceived it as a crime if the folks that mattered saw it as such. Delivering his corny “Romans, countrymen and lovers, lend me your ears..” monologue in front of thousands of Romans, Brutus convinced them that killing Caesar was the right thing to do.
Wait right there, before you fact check me. The “lend me your ears” bit was from Mark Anthony’s rebuttal monologue, not Brutus’s.
Who gives a shit anyway?
Prior to 300BC, the civilized world (Southern Europe) had been an oasis of heightened consciousness – of discipline, obedience and the rule of law, the standards set by first the Greeks and then the Romans.
Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, things slid into an age of decadence and greed for the next 300 years, until the 1st century AD with the ascendence of the Julio-Claudian Emperor dynasty (Augustus – Tiberius – Caligula – Claudius – Nero) when everyone who was anyone was either poisoning or being poisoned, making this form of killing a sort of status symbol. You were a nobody if you simply died of old age.
During this period, women of the elite gained some notoriety as poisoners. Noblemen had multiple wives and concubines and these women were all conniving to ensure that the inheritance went to their biological son. Queens did likewise, to ensure that they could rule as regent until little Billy Bob came of age and was crowned the king.
Emperor Augustus’s wife, Livia Drusila was quite the Lalita Pawar of old Bollywood movies. She not only orchestrated the poisonings of a number of Augustus’s grandchildren, but she had Augustus himself poisoned, in her single-minded zeal to get her son, Tiberius from a previous marriage, to the throne. Likewise, all across Roman nobility, mothers were poisoning stepsons and encouraging their biological sons to poison their fathers if they lived too long.
Then there was the infamous trio, Canidia, Martina and Locusta, who poisoned their way through the entire Julio-Claudian dynasty and it’s court.
Not much is known about Canidia except that she was a vicious contract killer who poisoned hundreds of Roman noblemen for cash. Canidia is thought to have helped Livia murder Augustus. It was when she began thinking she was invincible and started taking money from both sides, that she met a gruesome end, eviscerated alive and strung up in public. No painless drifting off to death by poisoning for dear Canidia, no siree.
(The dreaded ‘chairman’ of Murder Incorporated, mafia don Albert Anastasia was killed for a very similar reason. If you are a contract killer you don’t profit from both sides, is the moral)
Martina poisoned Tiberius’s nephew and heir Germanicus. A highly competent general posted in Germania, Germanicus was winning battle after battle, expanding Rome’s influence over central and eastern Europe. To his troops and to the Roman populace, Germanicus was the Roman version of Alexander the Great. Unfortunately in ancient Rome it didn’t pay to be more popular than the emperor, unless you could back it up with the Praetorian Guards’ muscle.
Tiberius was getting antsy at all the adulation accorded to Germanicus. So he had Martina recruit a trusted henchman named Piso to poison Germanicus with a special “delayed-action” concoction over a period of 15 days, making it look like he simply took ill and gradually died. Those days contracting an unknown illness and dying from it was commonplace, so no one batted an eyelid.
And then there was Locusta. On the orders of Agrippina the Younger – empress to Claudius, Locusta poisoned his son from his marriage to Messalina, Britannicus, whom he had named after the island he had invaded and annexed – present day Britain. Agrippina wanted her own biological son, Nero, to be emperor. So, when it began to seem like Claudius would go on forever, she had Locusta poison him too. Nero was crowned and he later signed Locusta up on a lifetime contract as a sorta “court-appointed poisoner”.
If you were a Roman nobleman in the 1st Century AD, you knew better than to fuck with Locusta and the other two.
Alas, Locusta too met with a horrible death. Soon as Nero was dead (assisted suicide), his successor, Galba, had Locusta arrested and slaughtered in public.
The spread of Christianity did not seem to slow down greed even a bit. By 400AD, the Dark Ages – also known as the Middle Ages or Medieval Period – set in. It was a period of moral recession that wiped out every bit of enlightenment that had been attained through the early Greco-Roman civilization.
Christianity could do nothing to arrest the onset of the Dark Ages. Religion in fact is credited by some, to have been the catalyst which fueled the Dark Ages, rather than being the provider of enlightenment. Christianity brought with it religious bigotry and officially sanctioned oppression and even wholesale genocide by it’s overseers – the Catholic Church, perpetrated in the name of God in much the same way Islamic extremism goes about it’s business today.
It was as if civilization had pressed a reset button and gone back to the wantonness of 5000BC. (The dark ages lasted right up until the Renaissance in the mid-17th century.)
Through all the chaos, poisons and poisoning played a central role in the mayhem of the dark ages. Indeed, a whole dynasty of Catholic Popes, the infamous Borgias of the 15th century, thrived on the art of poisoning. The murderous patriarch of the family, Rodrigo Borgia, battered and slammed his way to the Papacy, becoming Pope Alexander VI. In time, he made his equally murderous son, Cesare – who was running an organized crime family at the time – a Cardinal.
The Borgias entertained frequently. With word having already spread about their prowess with poisons, guests who were invited to dinner at the Borgia residence considered the invitation a death sentence. Refusal meant almost certain death and so did acceptance of their invitations.
If I had met Jesus Christ personally I would have told him, “Cut it out, Dude. If Pontius Pilate summons you, make that deal with him and shut the fuck up.” Wouldn’t a live Jesus Christ have been better for the future of the world than a dead one?
Enough about the Romans and Christianity for now. I know how short your attention span is, so let’s get back to Mitsy.
Mitsy was a paranoiac. Those days every monarch had to be one. Fearing being poisoned with some unknown new concoction after he had gained the throne, he set out to perfect a “universal” theriac or antidote. After many tests which wiped out an entire prison population, he finally settled on a universal antidote. He named it Mithridatium and carried it with him in a tiny marble jar wherever he went.
However, the more he solidified his position on the throne, the more paranoid Mitsy got. The assuring presence of mithridatium didn’t help. Mitsy was smart enough to realize that new poisons were being created by others every frigging day and mithridatium needed constant upgrades if it had to remain effective. (Much like the cyber security industry today).
Not satisfied with having the all-in-one antidote, Mitsy began consuming sub-lethal doses of all kinds of poisons with the belief that this would build up his immunity against them. As to how far he was successful is debatable, though the concept of immunity through controlled ingestion is an infallible one.
Mitsy’s work in toxicology gave birth to a new kind of practice, called Mithridatism – protecting oneself against a poison by gradually self-administering non-lethal amounts.
Mithridatism had been in vogue in other parts of the world as well. In ancient India, legend has it that during the rule of the king Chandragupta Maurya (320–298 BCE), there was this practice of regularly administering poison in small amounts to specially hand-picked, extremely pretty pubescent young girls as they were growing up, gradually making them immune to poison.
The girls who got the doses were called vishakanyas (visha – poison, kanya – maiden). Vishakanyas found employment with the wealthy elite as assassins. The modus operandi was a simple one. A Vishakanya would be told to seduce a nobleman who had been shortlisted for murder. She would invite the sucker to share a pitcher of wine with her before engaging in sex. Witnessing her drinking from the same pitcher, the victim would surmise it was safe and he would drink too. While she survived, he would die. The moral : when a woman invites you over for a drink, be sure ta fuck her first.
Take it easy, this post is x-rated. Leave your prim and propahness at the door before you enter this blog. Here we talk dirty and have a belly laf over it. Sex is funny.
As a kid in India, I remember watching in awe while a snake charmer nonchalantly shoved his hand inside a sack filled with cobras, drawing one out and toying with it, pressing it’s jaws so they would reluctantly open and you’d see it’s fangs. Sometimes he’d deliver sharp whacks on it’s head with his open palm and you could see the cobra getting pissed it off, it’s head flattening into a broad hood, it’s upper lip quivering as it retracted, baring a purple-pink gum with two large fangs, it’s forked tongue flailing wildly, while it issued a hissing snarl. After a few whacks, unable to stand the humiliation any longer, the cobra would repeatedly lashed out with lightning speed and stick it’s fangs into him.
It was a fucking cobra and nothing ever happened to the guy! I used to wonder why.
I have covered Mitsy’s death in Part-1, so if you haven’t already read it, go read it before I send over a lactating vishakanya to get you.
The poison Mitsy took as Ptolemy’s forces closed in was not going to be sufficient to kill him, given his lifelong immunization through his own practice of mithridatism. He had to have his bodyguard stick a stiletto in him.
But Mitsy had to have known that the poison wouldn’t kill him. In fact, historians suggest he had secretly developed a deadly fast-acting ‘poison-x’ for which he had deliberately not created an antidote.
So, why didn’t he use that poison when the Romans were closing in?
Here’s what I think happened. Mitsy misplaced the containor and just when he needed it the most, he couldn’t find it. It must have been one of the first instances of shit happening.
Legend has it that two thousand years after Mitsy committed suicide – around the time Crimea became a part of the Soviet Union in 1921, Russian archeologists unearthed a small earthenware pot that was filled with some kind of a powder, at the site where Mitsy is believed to have taken his life.
When Soviet archeologist left the pot on top of a table and went out for lunch, his cat came in and sniffed around. On his return, Chuchukin found the cat dead under the table and the jar lying on it’s side open.
Minute amounts of the powder found inside the pot were tested and found to contain some of the deadliest herbs known to mankind – aconite, hellebore, belladonna, thorn apple and hemlock. However, 86% by weight was an unknown element that later on proved to be highly toxic thallium, a substance that is now known as the “poisoner’s poison”, since it is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
The pot was rushed to the Kamera (Russian for ‘chamber’), a highly secretive facility within the Active Measures section of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate where research was ongoing to find a poison that could kill quickly and leave no trace. Kamera had begun work in 1921, under Lenin’s Cheka, the Soviet secret police agency which would later transform into the KGB, now known as the FSB.
The lab report on the ingredients of the powder was being prepared when one of the technicians, the man who had gathered up the spilled powder from the table, collapsed from a heart attack. Later on, a pinch the size of a pin head, when administered to an otherwise healthy Sevostlag gulag inmate who was serving a life sentence without parole, killed him within two minutes. An invasive forensic autopsy showed no signs other than that of a heart attack.
That the contents of that little pot unearthed on the shore of the Black Sea were still potent after two milennia was testimony to Mithridates’ prowess as a toxicologist. Little could he have known though, that his ‘magic bullet’ would find use 2000 years later, at the Cheka-NKVD-KGB-FSB juggernaut, (who would then take it even further, to more exotic agents like Polonium-210).
As for Mithridates’ antidotes, Mithridatium is still available at apothecary outlets in present day Italy.