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Medieval Poisonous Books Discovered in A Library

Medieval Poisonous Books Discovered in A Library

In the novel “The Name of the Rose”, there appeared an important thing which was a poisonous book. A mad Benedictine monk intentionally poisoned the book. From that moment on, it brought nothing but suffering to the Italian monastery in the 14th century. Any reader that happened to lick their fingers when turning the pages couldn’t escape the death. But can any poisonous books exist in reality?

The answer is yes, they do exist. A group of scholars happen to discover three books with poisons in the library in the University of Southern Denmark. The books dating back to the 16th or 17th century contain the arsenic in their cover. The analysis of the poison in the books was carried out thanks to a series of X-ray fluorescence analyses which we know as the micro-XRF.

Discovering the arsenic poisonous books

The reason why the scholars decided to bring the books to the lab was that they could not read what was on the book-cover. They believed that the 16th and 17th century often recycled the older parchments to make the covers. Accordingly, they tried to figure out what it talked about.

The discovery of the poisonous books
A group of scholars happened to discover the real existence of poisonous books

But the Latin texts in three books were very hard to read. Because some layers of green paint were applied intentionally to obscure the letters above. And off they went to the lab.

The method they used was to filter through the green layers using the micro-XRF to make it to the ink below. They hoped this method could help to an readable extent. But the final result turned out to be that the green layers were the arsenic. The chemical might contain the elements among the most toxic substances in the world. It results in various poisoning symptoms, cancer, and even death.

The effect of exposing to the arsenic
The effect of the arsenic exposure in the woman and child

There are two common types of the arsenic: organic and non-organic. The non-organic arsenic is more harmful. And the poison of arsenic will never diminish with time. The most common way to expose to the arsenic is to drink the water containing the arsenic.

The harm level of the arsenic depends on the duration and the type of exposure to it. Patients exposed to the arsenic might suffer from vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea containing blood. Continuous exposure to the arsenic leads to heart disease, numbness, and cancer.

The Industry of “Emerald green”

In the past, artists used the arsenic to make their work more stunning. They called this chemical element the “emerald green” because of its captivating colors similar to the beautiful gemstones.

The arsenic-containing pigment did not cost much time and effort to produce. Moreover, they could also be used for multitude purposes. These two reasons boosted the popularity of the “emerald green”. Once applied, the color would take a long time to fade away.

There once was the industry of the emerald green. There, the producers would produce the lavishing green color and the artists would use it to make their work masterpieces. Many pieces of artworks in the museum these days must be containing the arsenic.

Arsenic use in the textile industry. This chemical element was used in the books which made them the poisonous books
The danger of the arsenic usage in the textile industry

Finally get rid of the poison

During its glorious days, the arsenic green pigment became a trend and people used it in their books or even clothes for aesthetic purpose. And of course, the beautiful appearance with the green emerald came at the expense of health in the long run.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that people realized how dangerous the green pigment was. Then they decided to get rid of the arsenic products. This dangerous chemical element was only used on the farmland as the pesticide. People seemed to be the most creative and flexible creatures in the cosmos. As they quickly found out the new substances to replace the arsenic in the textile industry for example. Around the mid of the 20th century, the arsenic on farmland was no more.

Poisonous books discovered in a Danish university library
Arsenic books discovered in the university library

With the case of three poisonous books in the library, it is sure that the creators didn’t use it for the aesthetic purposes. The most credible belief was that they used it to ward off the insect and vermin. In some occasions, the alternation in the arsenic compounds led to the existence of “arsine” – a highly toxic gas with the garlic smell. In the grim stories of green Victorian wallpapers, it took the lives of the children in their bedroom for inhaling the garlic smell.

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