1725: Cure dysentery with turds from a bone-eating dog

Noel Chomel (1633-1712) was an estate manager and parish priest from central France. In 1709, three years before his death, Chomel published his lifelong collection of handy hints, recipes and medical receipts. The Dictionnaire Oeconomique, as it was titled, became one of the most popular household almanacs of the 18th century. Over the next 70 years it was reprinted numerous times in several languages, including French, German and Dutch. The first English edition was translated and updated by Cambridge botany professor Richard Bradley and published in London in 1725. This edition contained advice on everything from cooking to card games, from making soap to managing livestock. Many of its medical remedies called for the use of dead animals and excrement. For example, for “those who piss a bed”:

“Take some rat or mouse turd, reduce it into powder and putting about an ounce of it in some broth, take it for three days together. It is an excellent remedy for this imperfection. There’s [also] nothing better for persons who piss in their sleep… than to eat the lungs of a roasted kid [or] to drink in some wine a powder made of the brain or testicles of a hair…”


Noel Chomel’s suggested cure for a severe toothache – stick a red-hot knitting needle in your ear

For an anal fistula, a “hollowy oozy ulcer in the posteriors”:

“Take a live toad, put it into an earthen pot that can bear the fire, cover it so that it cannot get out, surround it with a wheel fire and reduce it into powder… Lay this powder upon the fistula, after you have first washed it with warm wine or the urine of a male child.”

Lastly, for severe or bloody dysentery:

“Take the powder of a hare, dried and reduced into powder, or the powder of a human bone, and drink it in some red wine. Gather the turd of a dog that for the space of three days has gnawed nothing else but bones, dry it and reduce it into powder, and let the patient drink it twice a day with milk.”

Source: Noel Chomel & Richard Bradley, Dictionnaire Oeconomique, 1725 ed.

1675: Tuscan man’s bulletproof buttocks bet backfires


Margin art from a medical manuscript showing an archer shooting a merman in the buttocks, as you do.

Francesco Redi (1626-97) was a Tuscan-born physician, biologist and writer. Redi is best known for shattering several medieval medical myths. He debunked the theory of spontaneous reproduction by proving that maggots grow from fly eggs, rather than from the cells of rotting meat. He conducted several other ground-breaking experiments involving parasites, insects and animal toxins. In his 1675 manuscript Experimenta Naturalia, Redi also challenged the medieval belief that humans could use natural compounds to render themselves impervious to bullets, swords and other weapons. He cites a local example, the story of a successful clockmaker who took up residence in Florence and became a regular at the Duke of Tuscany’s court. One day the clockmaker boasted that men from his home village used charms, herbs and stones to harden the skin and render themselves bulletproof. After being laughed out of court, the clockmaker returned some time later with a native of his mountain home. He urged sceptics at court to test the theory by firing a pistol or musket at his guest:

“…To give them satisfaction, he [the clockmaker's guest] opened his breast and bade any of the courtiers to shoot at him and spare not. Charles Costa, one of the Duke’s officers, was just going to make the experiment when the Duke, out of pity to the poor fellow, bade Costa to shoot him only into the buttocks. And so he did, that the bullet went quite through and the fellow ran out, ashamed and bleeding. This did put the clockmaker out of countenance…”

Undaunted, the clockmaker returned in “a week or two” with a soldier he also claimed to be ‘bulletproofed’. The soldier exposed his thigh to reveal “five blue spots”, allegedly the mark of bullets that did not penetrate the skin. When one courtier wagered 25 crowns that the soldier could not withstand a shot to the rear end, the clockmaker accepted the bet:

“…Immediately they shot the fellow through the buttocks, as they had shot the other. While the company was laughing and the fellow feeling his backside, the [clockmaker] was… laid hold on and threatened to be severely punished… [He revealed that] the secret lay in the charging of the pistol, so as the greatest part of the powder should lay before the bullet and only a little behind it. By that means the report [noise] and fire would be great, but the bullet would come weak to the place and fall without hurting the person.”

His ruse having failed, the clockmaker lost the bet. Redi does not record any other punishment, though he was probably expelled from the ducal court.

Source: Francesco Redi, Experimenta Naturalia, 1675.