All hail the Bezoar

Apparently the last Friday in April is national hairball day in America.  No me neither.

I have an ebay alert for bezoars and I recently received one pointing me to the following auction

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Rare-very-old-large-antique-Bezoar-apothecary-...

And tucked in the middle of it is a piece cut and pasted from the internet

"You
may feel that you know all you need to know about hairballs, but the
National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Washington, DC, unpacked what
curators described as the "myths and realities" of the objects in a
temporary exhibit this week, created in honor of National Hairball
Awareness Day. (The holiday fell on Monday, but I've been slow to
assimilate it into my calendar.)."

So I did a quick Google and sure enough - the last Friday in April.  I note it's not a national holiday which is a shame.  It actually has a serious purpose - the recognition and elimination of hair balls in cats.   But it got me thinking about bezoars - never a bad thing.    A bezoar is actually an indigestible mass found trapped (usually) in the stomach.  They can be made of different materials - one comprising of hair for example is a trychobezoar. 

Up until the end of the sixteenth century (and probably beyond to be honest) it was believed that a bezoar could be used to neutralise any poison - a universal antidote.  In 1567 or 1575 this was put to the test in a scientific manner (although you'd probably have trouble getting it past the ethics committee nowadays).   A French Royal Surgeon Ambroise Paré took advantage of the fact that a cook at the court of Charles IX or Henry III if the latter date is correct had been caught stealing silver cutlery. 

The sentence was, naturally, to be executed.  By hanging.  Paré was able to strike a deal - instead of hanging the miscreant would be poisoned and then immediately treated with a bezoar.  If the treatment worked the servant would be freed.  All agreed to this, full, informed consent of course.  The test was duly carried out, and, as Paré had expected the cook died.  Science 1, superstition 0.  Mind you in the universe of Harry Potter Ron Weasley can be grateful for the fact that bezoars work!

A number of bezoars are located in museums and were a popular item in cabinets of curiosities.  In fact I have one myself.  As you do.

And in one of those synchronous moments much loved by Forteans as I was writing this I received notification from the Centre for Fortean Zoology about their own blog piece on bezoars, typical ages without a log on bezoars and then two come along at once! 

And a big old Happy Birthday to Charles Fort, born on this day in 1874 making him 138 today.

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