The Poison Trials: Antidotes and Experiment in Early Modern Europe


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




This project examines the significant role played by poison antidotes in the development of ideas about evaluating and testing drugs in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. At a time in which new "wonder drugs" were flooding Europe from both local and foreign sources, patients and healers sought methods to choose among them. Poison antidotes were seen as uniquely testable, as one could establish deliberate trials in which a healthy subject was poisoned and then cured. These trials were done on both animals and, for a brief period, condemned criminals. The antidotes themselves were also subject to careful analysis. At the heart of these tests lay questions and concerns about authenticity, efficacy, and professional authority. They provide a new chapter to the history of experiment.