The Magic of Jewels and Charms
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
By George Fedrick Kunz
Snake Stones and Bezoars
THE bezoar stone, according to the usual belief, was taken from the intestines or the liver either of the goat or of the deer. The Arabs told a strange tale as to the generation of this stone.1 They said that at certain seasons the deer
were wont to devour snakes and other venomous creatures, whereupon they would straightway hasten to the nearest pool and plunge into it until only their nostrils were above the water. Here they remained until the feverish heat
caused by the poison they had swallowed was alleviated.
During this time stones were formed in the comers of their eyes; these dropped as the deer left the pool, and were
found on its banks. The stones were a sovereign antidote for poisons of all kinds. When reduced to a powder and
taken internally, or when simply bound to the injured part, they effected a cure by inducing a profuse perspiration.
It is curious to note that this tale foreshadows, in a fanciful way, the latest progress of medical science; namely, the
use of a substance generated in the body of a diseased animal as an antidote for the disease from which the animal
We are also told that Abdallah Narach narrates the case of the Moorish king of Cordoba, Miramamolin, as
Monardes gives the name, to whom a violent poison had been administered and who was cured by means of a bezoar stone. The king, overcome with gratitude for the preservation of his life, gave his royal palace to the man who had brought him the stone. Monardes remarks: ''This certainly was a royal gift, since we see that at this day the castle of Cordova is
1 Nicolo Monardes, "Delle cose que vengono portate dall'Indie occidentali," Venetia, 1575, pp. 95-6.
something rare and of great value and the stone must have been highly prized when such a price was paid for it.2
The first mention of the bezoar stone is by the Arabic and Persian writers. ln the Arabic work attributed to Aristotle,
and which was certainly written as early as the ninth and possibly in the seventh century, it is even described
among the precious stones.
The same is true of the oldest Persian work on medicine, namely,
that of Abu Mansur Muwaffak, composed about the middle of the tenth century.
A valuable monograph on the bezoar was written in 1625 by Caspar Bauhin, a learned professor and physician of Basel; this work
contains all that was then known of the various qualities ascribed to this substance by the older authors.
The bezoar does not appear to have been used medicinally in
Europe before the twelfth century, when the so-called pestilential fevers became very prevalent. In their distress people turned to
the lapis bezoar, which was so highly recommended by the Arabic physicians whose works were, at that time, becoming more widely
known through the intercourse between the Spaniards and the
Moors. Caspar Bauhin writes:3 Even to-day princes and nobles prize
it very highly and guard it in their treasures among their most
precious gems; so that the physicians are forced, sometimes
2 Ibid., pp. 104-5.
3 Caspari Bauhini, "De lapidis bezaaris ortu natura,'' etc., Basilese, 1625, p. 3.
against their better judgment, to employ it as a remedy.
So great are its virtues that many imitations are made.''
The name bezoar, derived from the Persian padzahr (pad, expelling; sahr, poison), or some of its many variants, was often used to designate any antidote for poison, so that the Arabs would say that such or such a substance was the
bezoar for a particular poison. This should be understood to signify that the stone received its name because it was
regarded as a specially powerful antidote.
The various authors give many different sources for the bezoar. We have already cited Monardes and repeated his
account; other writers asserted that this concretion came from the heads of certain animals, others again said that it
was taken from their livers, and still others stated that it was formed in the eye of the stag. Naturally, concretions of
a similar form and quality may well have been obtained from any of these sources. Indeed, one of the most potent
bezoars was that taken from the monkey. A specimen of this kind is described and figured in the Museum
Brittanicum4 with the following description:
A Monkey's Bezoar, very much resembling one from the goat, of an oblong shape broke in two, with a long straw, or some such like substance in its centre; its colour brown, pink, or deep yellow. I found it set as generally they are for preservation in a little chest, or ease, of what is called Lignum Laevisiunum; the pith or medula of which appears to resemble the common elder, and may, for what I know, be as curious as the stone itself.
Toll quotes 5 Jacob Bontius to the effect that these monkey bezoars, which were rounded and a little longer than the finger, were considered the best of all.
As the chief quality claimed for the bezoar was that it induced a profuse perspiration, we might understand that it
could have a beneficial effect in some eases. It was
4 Museum Brittanicum, John and Andrew van Rymadyk, London, pp. 50-51.
5 De Boot, "De lapidibus," ed. Toll, Lug. Bat., 1636, p. 367.
also remarked that the solution of the stone blackened the teeth and those who used it were therefore obliged to take
great care that the medicine should not touch their teeth.
We learn that a genuine stone was valued at 50 gold crowns (about $125) in Calcutta; another is said to have brought 130 crowns ($325). De Boot states that a drachm of the powdered stone was worth two ducats ($5) in Lower
Germany and four ($10) in Upper Germany; why, he does not
say. Garcias ab Horto, a Portuguese physician of Goa, in India, describes a variety of the bezoar called the Lapis Malacensis,
used as an antidote for poisons in Malacca.
This was found in the liver of the hedgehog, and the substance
was held in such esteem that of two found in the liver of the hedgehog, and the substance was held in such esteem that of two found in the fifteenth century, one was sent as a very valuable
gift to the Portuguese Viceroy at Goa. Garcias describes this
as being of a light purple hue, bitter to the taste and smooth as
the skin of a toad. The custom was to steep the stone in water
for some time and then to give this water to the patient as a
medicinal draught. A specimen was brought to Eome from
Portugal by Cardinal Alexandrinus, and Mercato states that he had seen a test of its virtues as an antidote for poisons.
In the opinion of De Boot: "As an antidote for any poison which may have been administered, nothing more excellent than the bezoar stone can be had." 6 It
6 De lapidibus,"Lug. Bat., 1636, p. 370. See also Mercati," Metallotheca Vaticana," Romse, 1719, p. 179, with figure
of stone from hedgehog.
was even asserted that if a bezoar set in a ring were frequently placed in the mouth and sucked, this would afford a
cure for poison by inducing a profuse perspiration7 Besides its exceptional quality as an antidote for poisons, this
stone was regarded as a panacea for all chronic and painful diseases, especially if taken each morning for several
days, after the use of a cathartic.
Besides this use as a remedy or antidote, the bezoar was credited with the powers of an elixir of life, for some of the
Hindus employed it as a preservative of youth and vigor.
Twice a year, after dosing themselves with a strong cathartic medicine, they would take ten grains of powdered
bezoar daily for fifteen days, and they are said to have derived great benefit from this treatment.8
The celebrated practical test of the bezoar 's power as
7 Aldrovandi, " Museum metallicum," Bononise, 1648, p. 809.
8 Ibid., p. 809.
an antidote to poison, recorded by the famous French surgeon, Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), was performed in Paris
with one which had been brought from Spain to Charles IX of France. Clearly the only perfectly satisfactory means
of ascertaining whether the reputed virtues of this curious concretion were really present was to make an experiment
therewith upon a living human being. Now it chanced that just at this time there was in the royal prison a cook who
had stolen two silver dishes from his master, and who, in accord with the pitiless laws of that period, had been
condemned to death for this offence. Here was an excellent opportunity, therefore, to make a trial of the bezoar, but
as the adjudged legal penalty could not well be arbitrarily changed to some other form of death, the matter was first
laid before the condemned man himself, with the promise that should he not succumb to the poison he would be given
his liberty. As at the worst this was taking a chance of life in exchange for certain death, the cook readily consented. The necessary preparations having been made, the poison was administered and immediately thereafter the man was given a dose composed of a part of the bezoar reduced to powder and dissolved in liquid. The effects of the poison
were soon manifested by violent retching and purging, and when Pare was called in an hour later, he found the man in great agony, with blood issuing from his nose, ears and mouth, and from the other bodily apertures. He piteously complained that he felt as though consumed by an inward flame, and before another hour had passed he expired,
crying out that it would have been much better to have died by hanging. From his report, Pare seems not to have
been present when the poison was given and not to have been informed of its character, as he merely states that from the results of his autopsy and from the symptoms he had observed, he concluded that it
was corrosive sublimate. Probably, conscientious and truly religious as he was, lie was unwilling to take an active part
in such, an affair. The king ordered that his discredited bezoar should be cast into the fire and destroyed. As an
illustration of Ambroise Fare's humility and piety we may cite his remark on the recovery of one of his patients: "I
treated him and God cured him.9 It was Pare who operated upon Admiral Coligny after the unsuccessful attempt on
the latter 's life made a few days before his assassination on St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24, 1572, at the outset
of the dreadful massacre.
Alluding to the ill-success attending the experiment performed by Ambroise Pare, in order to test effectively the
supposed virtues of the substance as an antidote for poisons, Engelbert Kaempfer remarks that Pare's bezoar may
have been of inferior quality, and, moreover, bezoars could not be successfully used to counteract mineral poisons,
but were only useful when vegetable poisons had been taken. This opinion- was probably due to the fact that the
bezoar itself is largely or in the main a vegetable substance. That the interior layers of a specimen should be inferior
in quality to the external layers was not for Kaempfer a proof of its spurious character, but might easily be accounted for by a change of pasturage in the case of the creature in whose body the concretion had formed.
This writer asserts that he considered those bezoars to be genuine which were of a partly resinous and partly mineral composition, so that when pulverized they could be dissolved in nitric acid, the solution having a reddish hue.
The Persians not only attributed to bezoars the same virtues as did the Europeans, but also recommended the
administration of the bezoar elixir to persons in health, that they might avoid contracting disease and prolong their
9 Ambroise Pare, "Ceuvres Completes," Paris, 1841, vol. iii, pp. 341, 342.
more especially if the dose were taken at the beginning of the year. In general, however, he found that where
Europeans used the bezoar as a remedy, the Persians gave a dose of pearl tincture instead ; but as rarities, or
perhaps as talismans, bezoars were even more highly prized in Persia than in Europe, for there was hardly a Persian
of note who did not preserve one of these concretions among his treasures.
The price depended upon perfection of form and color, as well as upon size, one weighing a mishkel (about 75 grains
Troy) was commonly valued at one toman, the equivalent of 15 ounces of silver (about $20), according to Kaempfer's
computation, but the price rose rapidly with the size of the bezoar in a proportion similar to that observable in the
case of pearls. As Persian bezoars were so costly in Persia, and the home demand for them so great, those sold by
this name in Europe must have had another origin.10
Of several experiments made with criminals to whom poison was administered and then a dose of bezoar to test its virtues as an antidote, one of the most interesting has to do with a criminal incarcerated in the prison at Prague, in
the reign of Emperor Rudolph II. To this man a drachm of the deadly poison aconitum napellus was administered.
Five hours were allowed to elapse before the bezoar was given, so that the poison should have full time to be
absorbed by the system. During this time the effects were fully manifested, oppression at the chest, pain in the
gastric region, dimness of vision and dizziness. When the five hours had expired five grains of bezoar were given to
the man in a little wine. After taking the dose he felt some relief and vomited, but the bad symptoms soon returned
and even became aggravated, as though a supreme conflict for the mastery between poison and antidote were in progress. There
10 Engelberti Kaempferi, "Amoenitatum exoticarum fasc. V," Lemgovise, 1712, pp. 402, 403.
was delirium, extreme tension of the abdomen, repeated vomiting, and an irregular, feverish pulse; finally an acute
inflammation of the eyes supervened, causing such intense pain that the man declared he would rather die than
endure it longer. However, at the end of eight hours' time from the administration of the poison — three hours after
the dose of bezoar had been given — all the morbid conditions passed off, the patient was able to eat food with relish and he slept quietly. In the morning he was perfectly well, and never realized any subsequent bad effects. The
emperor released him from prison and even bestowed a handsome reward upon him."
A strange experiment to determine the character and quality of bezoars is related by Kaempfer on the authority of Jager. The latter asserted that while in Golconda he had the opportunity of examining recently captured gazelles for
the presence of bezoars, and that by compressing their abdomens he could distinctly feel two such concretions in the case of one of the animals and five or six in the case of the other.
They were kept some days for further observation, but as they absolutely refused all food, it was decided to kill them
rather than have them starve to death. This was done, but when the bodies were opened no trace of any bezoar could
be found, and Jager conjectures that the substance of these concretions had been absorbed into the system of the animal for lack of any other nourishment.12
In his memoirs, Jehangir Shah relates that an Afghan once brought from the Gametic two goats said to have bezoar
stones [pazahar] in their bodies. Jehangir was much surprised to note that these animals were fat and healthy
11 Andreae Baccii, "De gemmis et lapldibus pretiosis," Francofurti, 1603, p. 193 ; Latin version by Wolfgang Gabelchover of the original Italian.
12 Kaempferi, " Amcenitatvim exoticarum fasciculi V," Lemgoviae, 1712, pp. 400, 401. 14
looking, as lie had always been told that those having bezoars were invariably thin and wretched in appearance. However, the Afghan was shown to be correct in his conjecture, for when one of the goats was killed and the body opened four fine bezoars were brought to light, 13
About the beginning of the eighteenth century, Charles Jacques Poncet, a French physician, was called to the court of the Abyssinian monarch of that time. One of the favorite remedies of this Frenchman was a kind of artificial bezoar,
which he claims to have used with great success in cases of intermittent fever. This so-called bezoar he administered
to the sovereign and to two of his children, and he also revealed to the Abyssinian king the secret of its composition.
He tells us that this "Emperor of Ethiopia," as he terms him, showed great interest in medical science, and listened
eagerly to explanations of the character and operation of the various remedies.14
The Indians of Peru had their own theory as to the genesis of the bezoar-stone. In relation to this Joseph de Acosta writes: 15
The Indians relate from the traditions and teachings of their ancestors, that in the province of Xaura, and in other provinces of Peru there are various poisonous herbs and animals which empoison the waters and pastures
where they [the vicunas, etc.] drink and eat. Of these poisonous herbs, one is right well known by a natural instinct to the vicuna and to the other animals which engender the bezoar, and they eat of this herb and thus preserve
themselves from the poison of the waters and pastures. The Indians also say that the stone is formed in the stomachs
of these animals from this herb, whence comes the virtue it possesses as an antidote for poisons, as well as its other marvellous properties.
13 The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri or memoirs of Jehangir trans, by Alexander Rogers, London, 1909, p. 240; Orient. Trans. Fund, N. S., vol. xix.
14 "Voyage d'Ethiopie"; in Lettres edifiantes et curieuses, IV Recueil, Paris, 1713, p. 103.
15 "De Acosta, "Histoire Naturelle et Morale des Indes," tr. by Cauxois, Paris, 1600, f. 206 r. and v.
Of the mineral bezoar, whicli was also regarded as an antidote against poisons, Mohammed ben Mangur relates that various ornamental figures were formed from it, such as small images of the Shah or little female figures; these were perhaps regarded as talismans. Knife-handles were also made of this material,16 and here the use may have been
connected with the belief in the curative power of the bezoar, if brought into direct contact with the skin, as would be
the case when the knife-handle was grasped in the hand.
A mineral bezoar bearing a close likeness to the animal concretion was found in Sicily. This stone was usually round, sometimes oblong like an egg, and sometimes compressed; its usual size was about that of a pigeon's egg, the largest stone not surpassing the size of a hen's egg. It was commonly white, occasionally of a somewhat ashy hue, and the surface was generally smooth, though now and then it was rough with small protuberances. Its taste resembled that of the white bolus armenus. The composition of this stone was similar to that of the Oriental bezoar of animal origin, having the same layers, and in the centre a small mass of sand over which nature had imposed from eight to ten
layers, just as in the animal bezoar.17
A peculiar bezoar is reported from Indrapura, India.
This was said to have been found in the skull of a rhinoceros, and was of light weight and of a black hue, varying to
pale red when held against the light; it was hard enough to cut glass. The owner believed it to be a panacea for all ills.
For blood-spitting it was held in the mouth; for rheumatism, bruises, or burns, it was rubbed over the affected part;
and for the bites of venomous creatures it was simply laid
16 Von Hammer, "Auszuge aus dem persischen Werke, Buch der Edelstelne, von Mohammed ben Manssur," in Fundgmben des Orients, vol. vi, p. 134; Wien, 1818.
17 Boceone, "Recherchea et observations naturelles," Amsterdam, 1674, pp. 238, 239.
upon the wound; even those at the point of death were revived by it.13
An amulet set with a bezoar stone is said to have possessed such a power to prevent bleeding that when a Malacca
prince was killed in a battle with his rebellious subjects, no blood was flowing from any of his numerous wounds. On
stripping the body a golden armlet set with a bezoar came to view, and the moment this was removed blood began to flow freely from the wounds.14
Mercato writes of a marvellous Occidental bezoar, sent from Peru to Eome in 1534, as a gift to Pope Gregory XIII.
It weighed no less than fifty-six ounces, although it was defective, since a large portion of the exterior crust was
missing, the second layer was partly broken away, and even the third layer was damaged in some places. This
wonderful concretion had been dedicated to one of the Peruvian gods, as a rare and precious object, and it was taken away by the Spaniards when they spoiled the temple. Mercato says that this bezoar was "of a truly monstrous size,
unheard of in all previous centuries, and it is still the largest in the whole realm of nature.'' 15
The bezoars of the New World seem to have differed considerably from those of India. They had a rough surface,
were usually of a gray color, of various sizes and forms, and composed of a number of superimposed, coalescing
layers, much thicker than those of the Oriental, or Indian, bezoar. They were usually of considerable size, either
hollow within or containing seeds, needles and similar substances. They came from the "West Indies, especially from
Peru, and were brought thence by the Spaniards and Portu-
13 F. Nix, in Tijdschrift voor Ind. Taal, Land en Volk, vol. v, p. 151.
14 "Julji Reichelti, "De Amuletis," Argentorati, 1676, p. 75.
15 Mercati, "Metallotheca Vaticana," Romse, 1719, p. 175.
guese. The greater number were found in a kind of chamois; however, we are told that the bezoar was not found in all
these animals, "but only in the old ones." 20
A letter written in the sixteenth century by one who had travelled extensively in India and in Peru, illustrates the
ideas of that time regarding both Oriental and Occidental bezoars:
A gentleman living about twenty-eight years in these Countries, writes to his Friend, that he saw those Animals out of which comes the Bezoar, and saith, they are very like Goats, only they have no Horns; and are so swift, that they are forc'd to shoot them with guns. He tells us, that he and some Friends, on the 10th of June 1568, hunted some of these Creatures, and in five Days kill'd many of them ; and that in one of the oldest of them, they made diligent Search for
the stone, but found it not, neither in the Ventricle, nor in any other Part of the Animal. They ask'd the Indians that
attended upon them, where the Stones lay; they denied they knew anything of them, being very envious and unwilling
to disclose such a Secret. At length (he saith) a Boy about twelve years old perceiving us to be very inquisitive, and
to be very desirous of Satisfaction in that Particular, shew'd us a certain Eeceptacle and (as it were) a Purse, into
which they receive their eaten herbs, which afterwards when churned, they convey into the Ventricle.21
The same circumstances were observed by this informant in regard to the Peruvian bezoars, and from the
"pouch" of one of these animals were taken no less than nine stones, "which, by the help of nature, seemed to be
made of the Juice of those salutiferous Herbs, which were crammed up into this little Pouch. "22
While the Occidental bezoar from South America enjoyed a special repute in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when bezoars were so freely used as poison-
20 Valentini, "Museum museorum, oder Vollstandige Schau-BUhne," Frankfurt am Main, 1714, bk. iii, cap. 13, §§ 1,
2, p. 446.
21 Pancirollus, "The History of Many Memorable Things," London, 1715, p. 288.
22 Ibid., loc. cit.
214 THE MAGIC OF JEWELS AND CHARMS
antidotes, and for the cure of fevers and other diseases, it has been doubted whether the aborigines of South America
ever valued them in any way before the time of the Spanish Conquest. What seems, however, to be a proof that they
sometimes did so, is afforded by the discovery of a bezoar, probably taken from the body of a llama, in a tomb at
Cojitambo, in the Canari region of Ecuador. In spite of the contrary opinion expressed by Garcilasso de la Vega,
there is reason to believe that such animal concretions were used by these Indians in magic practices. The Quichua name is illa, and Holquin in his Quichua dictionary says that the natives believed that bezoars were luck-bringing stones.
Another name, quicu, is vouched for by Arriaga, who states that the Spaniards found some bezoars stained with the
blood of sacrificial victims, thus showing that they were thought to possess a certain religious or mystic significance.
Another author, Don Vasco de Contreros y Vievedo, writing in 1650, states that the most highly valued of these
concretions among the natives of South America were those taken from the American tapir, which they called
The comparative value of Oriental and Occidental bezoars was still an open question toward the end of the sixteenth century. In a letter written by Sir George Carew to Sir Eobert Cecil, on October 10, 1594, the former states that he
had submitted a bezoar from the West Indies to a London jeweler named Josepho, who had told him that had the substance come from the East Indies he would value it as high as £100, but that never having made trial of West
Indian bezoars, he would not venture on an estimate, although he did not doubt but that they were quite as good.
23 R. Verneau and P. Rivet, "Ethnologie ancienne de I'Equateur," Paris, 1912; vol. vi of Mission du service
geologique de I'arimee pour la mesure d'un arc de meridien equatorial en Amgrique du Sud, 1899-1906, pp. 235, 236; figure (nat. size) on p. 235.
Nevertheless he would not care to buy this one before having tested its virtues experimentally .24
That good Queen Bess shared the beliefs of her age as to the virtues of stones is well known, and she appears to
have regarded her bezoars as worthy of a place among the treasures of the Crown, for in the inventory of the jewels made at the accession of James I we read:
Also one greate Bezar stone, sett in goulde that was Queene Elizabeth's, with some Unicorne's Home, in a paper; and one other large Bezar stone, broken in peeces, delivered to our owne handes, by the Lord Brooke, the two and
twentith day of Januarie, one thousand sixe hundred and twenty and two.25
After the death of Rudolph II, in 1612, the Venetian envoy, Girolamo Soranzo, wrote to the Doge, "No other monarch has ever accumulated so many jewels." He also communicates the fact that some at least of these gems were to
follow him to the grave, for when interred, his head was covered with a cap adorned with many valuable precious
stones. However, Rudolph's fondness for the more splendid gems and jewels was accompanied by a very particular taste for the collection of Oriental bezoars, of which a large number are noted as in his possession at the time of his death.
These ranged in weight from 1 loth (% oz. Troy) to 25 1/2 loth (a little more than one pound Troy); most of them were provided with a rich gold setting, and one especially prized bezoar, weighing about 8 ounces, reposed in a silver box decorated with 32 diamonds and 26 rubies. Another of very singular shape, resembling "four toes," is also entered on the list. Besides these the imperial collection included several other curious animal concretions, probably
24 Historical Manuscripts Commission, MSS. of the Marquis of Salisbury, Pt. V, London, 1894, p. 3.
25 ArchsEologia, vol. xxi, p. 153, London, 1837. From Warrant of Indemnity given by King James I to the guardians
of the crown jewels.
regarded as having therapeutic virtues, such, for instance, as a "stone'' from the body of a doe; this had been found
by a certain Helmhardt Jorger and by him presented to the emperor; another of these treasured concretions came
from the stomach of a stag. A specimen of the famed "eagle-stone" is also listed; this had a double gold setting, and
on it were inscribed the words "Piedra Geodas," showing that the real character of this stone as a geode was then
Some of the gold-mounted bezoars of Rudolph II are still to be seen in the Hofmuseum, at Vienna. One is surrounded
by a gold band with a scroll pattern; another has a capping of gold and stands upon a golden base, and still another, capped and belted with gold, is attached by a chain to a golden bowl. This was probably to be used as a test of the freedom from poison of any beverage in the vessel. A bezoar of the eighteenth century is mounted upon a tree of
gold, against the trunk of which a wild boar is leaning. This may be only a decorative adjunct, or it might be an
indication of the particular animal source of this special bezoar.27
The bezoars of Borneo are taken either from monkeys or porcupines. For medicinal use, the gratings are dissolved in water and the solution is administered as required.
Skeats relates that he was once asked $200 by a native for a small stone, erroneously asserted to be a bezoar. This stone was carefully wrapped up in cotton and preserved in a tin box with some grains of rice, the owner firmly
believing that the stone fed on the rice. A red monkey (semnopithecus) furnishes many of these bezoars, but those
from the porcupine are supposed to be so much the more efficacious that the Sultan of Saik claims all bezoars of this kind found in
26 Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhochaten Kaiserhauses, vol. xx, Pt. II, pp. Ixv, xcvii, Wien, 1899.
27 Figured in Jeweler's Circular Weekly, Dec. 17, 1913, p. 53; Charles A. Brassier, "Gold Mounted Specimens of Bezoar."
his dominions as his personal property ; nevertheless, many are said to be surreptitiously taken out of the country by
Malayan or Chinese traders. A remarkably fine specimen in the possession of the Sultan is valued at $900; small
ones may be worth no more than $40, but the value increases very rapidly with the size of the concretion. Though it is confidently believed that the bezoars work wonderful cures in diseases of the bowels and of the respiratory organs,
the natives value them chiefly as aphrodisiacs, this action being secured either by wearing them or by taking them in
The Chinese work entitled P'ing-chou-k'o-t'an, by Chu Yu, written in the first quarter of the twelfth century, mentions the mo-so stone (the bezoar) and states that it was worn in finger rings. Should anyone have reason to suppose that
he had taken poison, all he had to do in order to escape any bad effects was to lick the bezoar-stone set in his ring.
The Chinese writer adds that it might thus be justly called ''a life preserver.'' 29
The Dayaks of Borneo have a method for producing bezoars which they call guligas. This is to shoot an animal with
an unpoisoned arrow. When the wound heals, there is often a hardening of the skin, which finally results in the
formation of a guliga. In some of these concretions the point of the arrow still remains. The guligas of natural
formation are frequently found between the flesh and the skin of apes and porcupines.30
In the eighteenth century Valmont de Bomare reports that the bezoars of the hedgehog commanded the highest
28 Skeat, " Malay Magic," London, 1900, pp. 274 sqq.
29 Chau Ju-Kua, "Chu-f an-chi" ("A Description of Barbarous Peoples"), trans, by Priedrich Hirtb and W. W.
Rockhill, St. Petersburg, 1911, p. 16, and p. 90, note 7.
30 Von Dewall, "Aanteekeningen omtrent de Noordoostkust van Borneo;'' Tijdachrift voor Ind. Taal. Land en Volk,
vol. iv, p. 436.
price. These were greasy and soapy, botli to the eye and to the touch, and of a greenish or yellowish color; a few were
reddish or blackish. They were so highly valued in Holland that a Jew in Amsterdam asked 6000 livres ($1200) for a
Specimen in his possession as large as a pigeon's egg; and such bezoars were even rented in Holland and Portugal, at the rate of one ducat ($2.50) a day, to those who were exposed to contagion, and believed that the bezoars, if worn as amulets, would protect them from the danger.31
In a letter to the Macon, Georgia, Journal and Messenger of August, 1854, Major J. D. Wilkes, of Dooley County,
relates that while hunting he shot down a iine buck. He states that on cutting up the animal he found a stone of a dark
greenish color, about where the windpipe joins the lights.
It was from an inch and a half to two inches long, and quite heavy for its size, although it appeared to be porous.
Major Wilkes says that he had heard of similar stones from old hunters, and had been told that they possessed the power of extracting poison, but that they were rarely found. The communication proceeds to relate a ease where this stone was successfully applied to a dog which had been bitten by a rattlesnake. • We have here one of the few notices extant regarding an American bezoar stone.32
An American bezoar taken from the stomach of a deer killed in the Chilhowee Mountains, in Tennessee, was
reported in 1866 by Prof. David Christy. In extracting this concretion the hunter had damaged the outer layer, but
when this was removed there remained a perfectly smooth, round body, about the size and shape of a hen's egg, and
of a light brown color. When Professor Christy obtained it.
31 Valmont de Bomare, "Dictionnaire raisonne universel," Paris, 1775, p. 556.
32 Edwards, "History and Poetry of Finger Rings," New York, 1855, pp. 110, 111.
this bezoar had already acquired the reputation of possessing great though somewhat undefined virtues; he presented
it to Professor Wood of the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati.33
Writing of bezoars in the year 1876, Dr. Learned states that Signor Korkos, of Morocco, showed him one for which
he had paid twelve dollars. It was as large as a small walnut, the surface being smooth and cream-colored; a section
revealed the presence of the concentric circular layers characterizing the formation of this concretion. For remedial
use it was rubbed on a stone until a sufficient quantity of its powder was obtained, which was then diluted in liquid and
administered as a potion. Strict dieting and absolute rest in the house for seven days were an essential part of the
treatment, the bezoar powder being more especially recommended in diseases of the heart, liver or other internal organs, but for sore eyes and for rheumatism its virtues were praised.
This illustrates a modem employment of the concretion in Mohammedan Morocco.34
Some medical authorities of the sixteenth century were disposed to regard the calculus produced by the human
subject as superior in medicinal efficacy to the far-famed bezoar.
One of their arguments was that as man was the highest type of organized being a human product must exceed in
value one from an animal source; then again, his food was of the best, superior in quality to that taken by the animals furnishing the bezoars. For every theory a proof can be found if one is on the lookout for it, and therefore we need
not be surprised if the virtues of calculi or gravel were also supported by evidence. In 1624 or 1625 the Dutch city of Leyden was visited by the plague, and to the great regret of the physicians there was no supply of bezoars on hand. Here-
33 "Scientific American," vol. xv, No. 19, p. 299; November 3, 1866.
34 "Dr. Learned, "Morocco and the Moors," 1876, p. 281.
upon they were driven to make use of human gravel, and found to their astonishment that this was an even more
excellent sudorific than the bezoar itself .35
Although there is no direct relation between bezoars and the hair-balls sometimes found in the stomach or intestines
of human beings, there is some slight analogy, as the animal bezoar concretions seem to have been formed about a nucleus consisting of some indigestible material that has been swallowed by an animal. From the report of hospital surgeons, it appears that these hair-balls, which result from a long-
35 S. de Vries, "Curieuse Aenmerkingen der byzonderste Oost en West-Indische Verwonderens-waerdige Dingen," Utrecht, 1682, Pt. II, pp. 912, 913.
continued habit of swallowing hair, are almost exclusively found in the bodies of women, generally of very young girls.
The large size which they sometimes attain is very surprising; in several instances they have so filled up the stomach that they are moulded by it into its exact shape. Although when a hair-ball has reached this size, and indeed long
before, the most alarming symptoms set in, frequently recurrent vomiting being the most characteristic, we cannot
but wonder how it is possible for any food to enter and pass through the stomach under such conditions, the only explanation being the great power of dilation this organ possesses.
Its disposition to patiently tolerate foreign bodies where it cannot expel them, renders it often a poor guide in a
diagnosis based upon the patient's personal experience. These hair-balls accumulate and lodge not only in the
stomach but also in the intestines, and in either case the eventual result is almost certain to be fatal unless the
obstacle is removed by operation. Very occasionally only does nature react sufficiently to expel the impediment
without surgical aid. Of course all treatment is vain unless the morbid habit of hair- swallowing can be overcome. This does not seem to be an accompaniment of a distinctly diseased mental condition, although that is sometimes
coincident, but must assuredly result from some derangement or abnormality of the nervous centres, inducing a
morbid and unnatural craving.36
The serpent-stone, called by Pliny ovum anguinum, or "serpent's egg, is said to have been worn by the Druid priests
as a badge of distinction. Pliny relates that he had seen one of them which was as large as a moderate-sized apple, its shell being a cartilaginous substance. It was sup-
35 See Ledra Hazlit, M.D., "Hair-balls of the Stomach and Intestines," Jour. A. M. A., vol. Ixii, No. 2, pp. 107-110,
with illustration; and G. A. Moore,
36 "Hair Cast of the Stomach with Respect of a Case," Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Jan. 1, 1914.
posed to be generated in midsummer out of the saliva and slime exuding from a knot of interwined serpents. When
the moisture had coagulated and formed into a sphere, this was tossed in the air by the hissing snakes, and, in order to