12 June, the day for a pachyderm’s pearl and the gory tale of Paré’s cook

14 October 2010


Today among our curious acquisitions we received a bezoar found in the stomach of an elephant. A bezoar is a ball of matter which can accumulate in the stomach of animals or people. They were once believed to be an antidote to poisons, even their name is derived from a Persian word meaning protection from poison.

The ineffectiveness of a bezoar as a counter to poisoning was proved by surgeon Ambroise Paré in the 16th Century. Having caught his cook stealing from him, he saw an opportunity to test the folk-medicine of the bezoar and to exercise a little vigilante justice on the thief.

Paré gave poison to the cook with only the bezoar stone as a curative.  The cook apparently agreed to this experiment being performed – the perils of a guilty conscience perhaps.  The cook perished in agony several hours later, proving Ambroise Paré’s theory that the stone was not an antidote to all poisons.

I hope Paré’s ghost doesn’t drift in to repeat any macabre experiments with our beautiful loaned elephant stone!