Watch out for Vipers

Modern Books and Manuscripts 2016-02-23

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.



Manual medico-legal des poisons… is a curious French text that appears to be primarily about the legal aspects of poisoning.  It also includes instructions on how to treat snakebites, the bites of rabid animals, as well as victims of anthrax, poisoning, drowning, and asphyxiation.



Img0040This color illustration of a viper is accompanied by a very specific description of the snake’s characteristics.  The text states that a viper has a triangular head that is wide and flat with two oblong black spots which originate between the eyes and form the letter V.  Typically two feet long and about an inch wide their fangs are long and hollow which enable the snake to inject venom into their prey.  The venom is produced by glands located at the back of the snake’s upper jaw. When the snake’s mouth is closed, the fangs recede into a thin membrane and fold against the roof of the mouth.
The text also describes quite lyrically the symptoms if one is bitten by a viper which includes a “sharp pain and burning, which like a flash of fire, slips and spreads across the member and to the internal organs; congestion and tension occurring at a rapid pace…pulse becomes small, uneven; you experience anxiety, weakness, difficulty breathing, cold sweats; the eye becomes cloudy, reason is misplaced; often vomiting occurs, sometimes bilious…”  Luckily instructions on how to treat the bite follow these symptoms.
This only other illustration in the volume is this particularly sad dog suffering from rabies.  The text alerts the reader to the fact that the bite of an animal, in particular the saliva, can pass this acute disease to others.  As with the viper further instructions follow about what to do if you happen to be bitten by a rabid dog.


For more information about the legal aspects of these poisonings the Manuel médico-légal des poisons : précédé de considérations sur l’empoisonnement, des moyens de le constater, du résultat d’expériences faites sur l’acétate de morphine et les autres alcalis végétaux; suivi d’une méthode de traiter les morsures des animaux enragés et de la vipère /Rédigé … sous les yeux de Chaussier, par E. de Montmahou.Paris : Chez Compère Jeune, Libraire, 1824. QK100 .M79 1824 can be found in Countway’s collection in Longwood.


Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, and Joan Thomas, Rare Book Cataloger at Countway for contributing this post.