Bad Decisions in History: featuring Robert Liston

It’s not exactly news that surgery through history was very dangerous and unhygienic compared to today’s standards. In a time when germs and bacteria were poorly understood, and anesthesia was either nonexistent or in early development, needing surgery would have been a terrifying prospect. Due to the lack of anesthesia, surgeons tried to complete their surgeries as quickly as possible, and a good surgeon was considered to be one who was ‘fast with a knife.’ Indeed, in Florence Nightingale’s ‘Notes on Nursing’, she noted that the danger to the patient was in direct ratio to the time the operation lasted.

Robert Liston was a Scottish surgeon, noted for his lightning quick surgical abilities. In a time where the pain of a prolonged surgery could directly correlate to the patient’s chances for survival (assuming infection didn’t set in afterward), he was impressively said to be able to amputate a leg in under three minutes.

Perhaps he was a bit too quick; Dr. Liston is most remembered today for few infamous cases.

Bad decision: Rushing surgery to the point of carelessness

There are three cases where Liston’s surgical haste caused additional injury, or even death. The most reckless of these cases is a young boy who had a tumour in his neck, which might have been an abscess, or a more dangerous aneurism in the carotid artery. Deciding that the child was too young to have an aneurism, Liston quickly lanced what he thought was an abscess. He was wrong, and the patient died of arterial blood loss.

Liston also has the dubious honour of supposedly performing the only operation known to history with a 300% mortality rate. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Well, in his rush to amputate a patient’s leg in under two and a half minutes, he accidentally slashed through the fingers of his assistant, chopping them off too. With the energetic arc of his surgeon’s tools, he also cut the coattails of a surgical spectator. Allegedly, this man was so frightened that the knife had pierced his vitals that he died of a heart attack. The patient and the assistant both later died of infection.

Liston’s third most infamous case also involves the amputation of a leg. He sawed off the limb so quickly and carelessly that he accidentally castrated the patient as well. Assuming he didn’t succumb to infection, that patient must have been quite distraught, to say the least.

It’s worth noting that better surgical hygiene practices began to improve after 1847, partially due to the connection made between surgical hygiene and infection and mortality rates by a doctor at the Vienna General Hospital, named Dr Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis.

Though Liston’s surgical mistakes leave the impression of a reckless man with little care for his patients, he was actually recorded as being charitable to the poor and kind to the sick. Early surgery was a risky procedure, and during Liston’s lifetime, speed was considered the best way to reduce pain for the patient, a practice he certainly embraced. Though nitrous oxide was discovered in 1799, it was not pursued as an anesthetic at that time. Similarly, though an operation with ether was performed around 1842, it wasn’t commonly used for several more years. Since Liston passed away in 1847 – the same year of the improved hygiene for surgery at the Viennese hospital – he didn’t have a chance to access any of these new advances in medicine.

Outcome: three horrible surgical mistakes, reasons to be grateful for modern medicine


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Bad Decisions in History: featuring the Great Fire of London

Ravaging central parts of the city in September of 1666, the Great Fire of London was a disaster that left thousands of buildings reduced to rubble and ashes, and claimed the lives of victims unable to escape the deadly swathe of flames.

The fire started at a bakery on Pudding Lane in the middle of the night on September 2nd. How it started is unclear, though there was probably a bad decision at stake. The real bad decision for this post, however, comes from the next step by London’s mayor, Sir Thomas Bloodworth.

Bad decision:  Failing to initiate firefighting techniques in a timely fashion; this indecisiveness and lack of action allowed the fire to spread

Even with our modern plumbing and specialized fire departments, fires are still dangerous and frightening, and could be even more so in the past. During the time of the London fire, there was no fire brigade, although watching for fires was one of the duties of the watchmen who patrolled the streets. A fire would be alerted through the ringing of church bells, and citizens and the local militia would undertake to contain the fire. The main technique for controlling the conflagration was to create firebreaks. Sometimes, this involved levelling tall buildings completely to the ground, a sacrifice deemed necessary because it would stop the fire from spreading. Occasionally, buildings in the path of the fire could even be razed through a controlled gunpowder blast.

Fires weren’t uncommon during the time period. After all, everything was made of wood and people used candles and open fireplaces all the time. Most of the time, the fires could be dealt with relatively quickly. Every parish church was required to store firefighting equipment, including ladders, leather buckets, axes, and firehooks for pulling down the building. Sometimes these were also called pike poles. A fire would be fought quickly and determinedly, and could often be doused it before it spread too far.

As the fire started, the baker’s family was trapped upstairs, but the family managed to climb from an upstairs window into the house next door. Unfortunately, one of the maids did not escape and became the first victim of the blaze.

Following the usual firefighting procedure, the parish constables and citizens attending the blaze advised that the adjoining houses should be torn down to create a firebreak to stop the flames from spreading.  Up until this point, dousing the fire with water had little effect. The tenants of the houses that would need to be demolished refused to cooperate, so Lord Mayor Bloodworth (isn’t that a villain’s name if there ever was one?) was summoned, since he had the authority to override their protests and make a decision.

Even though the flames had crept to the adjoining houses and were hungrily reaching toward nearby paper warehouses and flammable wooden stores along the riverfront, plus the fact that London had been in a drought since November of the previous year, making everything extra dry and fire-friendly, Mayor Bloodworth scoffed at the idea of demolishing the houses as a firebreak. Supposedly he even made the crass remark of, “Pish! A woman could piss it out,” of the fire, and then departed. 

Since dedicated citizens had already been dousing the fire with water and making no progress, and the fire was severe enough that at least one life had already been lost, it goes without saying that no one, no matter what quantity of beverage they might have ingested, could quench the flames by urination. And don’t forget, one life had already been lost to the fire.

Bloodworth’s decision wasn’t looked kindly upon, as Samuel Pepys remarked in his diary. Later, he wrote that “People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in general; and more particularly in this business of the fire, laying it all upon him.” Bloodworth may have been financially on the hook for replacing the demolished houses unless he got the king’s consent first, but as the fire soon proved, his derisive recklessness ended up costing far more than replacing a few houses.

The fire had been raging for around a full day before it became so severe that firebreaks became the only course of action, but it was too late by then.  The fire had already spread to the heart of the city. Altogether, the fire destroyed over 13,000 houses, 87 churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral, many city buildings, and the homes of 70,000 people. The death toll is uncertain. While only six verified deaths were recorded, there’s some conjecture that not all of them were noted. This is partly because the poor and middle class people may not have been as well tracked, and also because the fire reached levels of heat high enough to cremate the bodies, making the discovery of remains difficult. There’s a melted piece of pottery on display at a museum in London that shows the temperature reached 1250 degrees. Eventually, the fire was put out, partly due to the good fortune of the changing winds, and also due to serious firebreak efforts via gunpowder through the Tower of London garrison.

The burnt areas are shown in red

The fire had serious political and economic consequences as well. Thousands of people became refugees without homes, and Charles II, the reigning king, encouraged them to leave London and resettle elsewhere. The fear the foreigners started the fire also spread, leading to street violence, mainly against people of French and Dutch descent, since England fought them in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

Outcome: Mass destruction, deaths of citizens, street violence, thousands of people homeless


Bad Decisions in History: featuring Maud de Braose

Maud de Braose was the wife of William de Braose, a powerful Marcher baron who was also one of King John’s favourites at court. Born in France, she married William around 1166 and lived with him in England. A strong-willed and intelligent woman, she seems to have enjoyed a close partnership with her husband. They allegedly had sixteen children, and he trusted her to the degree that he put her in charge of Hay Castle in Wales. Maud also proved her courage when she defended Painscastle against a Welsh attack, holding it for three weeks until English reinforcements arrived.

Her stubbornness and determination didn’t always serve her well, however. When she stood up to King John in 1208, it ultimately led to her gruesome downfall.

Bad decision: Calling King John a murderer

King John hasn’t exactly emerged from history with a shining reputation. Children know him as Robin Hood’s cowardly villain, his contemporaries often compared him to his more heroic brother, Richard the Lionheart, and he probably lost the crown jewels in a river. Plus, there’s the fact that he may have actually been involved in the suspicious and convenient disappearance of his nephew, Arthur of Brittany.

Under Angevin law, Arthur had precedence over John in regards to gaining the throne of England. He was the son of Geoffrey, John’s older brother. After Richard’s death, the throne should have next gone to Geoffrey, but since he’d died in a tournament accident at only twenty-seven years of age, his son Arthur became the next heir. Under Norman law, John took precedence, as the only surviving son of Henry II. He had the support of most of the English and Norman nobility, and took up his reign, in defiance of the contrasting laws, in 1199. His nephew Arthur, however, had the support of most of the Breton, Main, and Anjou nobles, as well as that of the French king.

Parts of modern day France were under English rule during the time

John had no desire to give up his throne, or to see his territory carved in half, if Arthur managed to take over the territories where he had the most support. This is understandable, especially for an ambitious son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Less sympathetic is his decision to murder a child, which is allegedly what John did. This has never been proven, and will probably remain one of those cloudy historical events, but Arthur was brought to Rouen Castle in 1203, and thereafter never seen again. Even at the time, it was generally believed that he was killed on John’s command.

By 1208, Arthur had been gone for five years, and William de Braose still enjoyed the patronage of King John. He owed a large sum of money to the king, however, and could not repay it. In response, John demanded that William and Maud send their son to him as a hostage, proof of their continuing loyalty. Hostages were not uncommon during the time period, and typically they would have been treated well.

Maud wasn’t so sure, however. Whispers of Arthur’s suspicious disappearance were well known. Fearing for his life, she refused to send her son into the care of a man who murdered his own nephew, and didn’t care who knew it.

John was enraged by her open accusations about what was likely his darkest deed. Leading troops, he went to the Welsh border and seized all of Maud and William’s lands. Maud and her eldest son (also called William, who was meant to be the hostage) fled to Ireland. John’s ire did not fade, though, and they were captured there in 1210. Maud and her son William were brought back to England, imprisoned in Corfe Castle, and left there to die by the slow torture of starvation.

The Marcher lords were so outraged by the horrific manner of their deaths that when John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, it included a clause that no man could be imprisoned, outlawed, banished, or destroyed except by the lawful judgement of his peers, which would prevent John having the power to subject his enemies to the punishment of his whim.

Outcome: Loss of legacy and lands, two years of living as a fugitive, eventually a slow and gruesome death.

I realize this tale of King John isn’t exactly uplifting, but I really recommend Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons. This incident is only a small part of the book, which is a really complex portrayal of John, his daughter Joanna, and the Welsh leader Llewelyn Fawr. I may have mentioned this book already in my blog, but I can’t resist a chance to recommend it again. It’s one of my favourites.

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Bad Decisions in History: featuring Olga of Kiev

Olga of Kiev is one of those historical figures whose fascinating legacy almost seems like the stuff of fiction, and while it’s possible that her tales of her exploits have been slightly exaggerated over the centuries, her life was still remarkable and, frankly, crazy. Olga’s ruthless decimation of a rival tribe left her a dark reputation as a vengeful and cunning warrior, but her later strong support of Christianity means that she’s also considered a saint.

Born to a family of Varyag (Viking) origin, Olga of Kiev co-reigned over Kievan Rus (part of modern day Russia, the link has a picture of the map) during the 900s. Her husband, Igor of Kiev, was killed around 945 by the Derevlian tribe, a neighbouring Slavic group who had been forced in the past to pay tribute to the Kievan Rus. When Igor rode out to collect tribute, the Derevlians revolted and instead killed him.

Bad decision: Angering Olga of Kiev

Since Igor and Olga’s son, Svyatoslav, was still a young child, Olga ruled Kievan Rus as regent until the time he would come of age. Though this gave her increased power within her realm, her husband’s death was a personal tragedy, and his murder by the Derevlians threatened the stability of the Kievan Rus rule. Olga plotted revenge.

This icicle isn’t as cold as Olga’s revenge

The perfect opportunity came when Prince Mal of the Derevlians approached Olga with an envoy of matchmakers, proposing an alliance of the two kingdoms through marriage. Feigning interest, Olga insisted upon honouring the envoys through a public ceremony, during which they would be carried in their boats into the city. She also quietly ordered for deep trenches to be dug within Kiev. When the Derevlian envoys were paraded into the city, carried in their boats, she had them thrown into the trench and buried alive.

Next, acting quickly enough that news of the envoys demise had not yet reached him, Olga sent a message to the Prince Mal, requesting a group of his best warriors to escort her back to Dereva. When the Derevlians arrived, they were directed to the bathhouse to clean up from the journey before being invited to meet her. Once they were inside, Olga had the bathhouse locked and burned to the ground.

Next, Olga herself went to Iskorosten, the capital of Dereva, on the pretext of holding a funeral for her late husband before she could consider moving forward with remarriage. Apparently the murder of Derevlian envoys was either still unknown, or explained away as a terrible accident, because she was welcomed with a grand feast that included lots of drinking. Once everyone was good and drunk, Olga ordered everyone killed. Presumably her own men had stayed sober, because around five thousand Derevlians were slaughtered while they slept it off. This scheme is a bit reminiscent of the fall of Troy, isn’t it?

Don’t trust that seemingly innocent face

By now, Olga had exacted a harsh toll of revenge, but she wasn’t finished yet. She declared war the following year, and laid siege on the city of Iskorosten. Eventually, the Derevlians tried to surrender, but Olga was not appeased by the tribute offered, since they were starving by now and had little to offer. As well, it seems tribute was not her ultimate goal, for she had other plans in mind. According to the tales, she asked for three sparrows and three pigeons from each household, which must have seemed like a random but ultimately harmless request.

It wasn’t though, because by now we know that Olga was outrageously cunning and ruthless. She had rags dipped in sulphur, lit on fire, and tied to the birds. Being released back to the skies, the birds flew home to their nests, dragging the burning rags (presumably on long enough strings that they could manage the journey back home) with them. The city burned like tinder under the rain of bird-brought fire, and Olga reckoned her revenge complete.

She continued to hold power even when her son came of age, holding Kiev while he was on military campaigns. She also turned her attentions to spreading Christianity after she converted sometime in the mid-900s. For her efforts, she was eventually canonized as Saint Olga.

Outcome: Revenge involving traps, murder, sieges, the obliteration of a city – and then religion.


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Bad Decisions in History: featuring Alboin, King of the Lombards

Through history, most royal marriages were made for political rather than romantic reasons. Sometimes this worked out well – both halves of the married pair got what they wanted, which was usually strategic alliances, wealth and power. Sometimes it was rather disastrous, especially if it involved a marriage by conquest as was the case for Alboin, King of the Lombards, and Rosamund, daughter of the leader of the Gepids.

Bad decision: Marrying the daughter of one’s conquered rival and treating her as such, like an enemy instead of a new ally, taunting her with the victory.

First of all, ‘who are the Lombards?’ you might be asking. Or, ‘I’ve never heard of the Gepids.’ Honestly, neither had I until started looking into this bad decision in history. Briefly, The Lombards, a Germanic people, ruled most of the Italian Peninsula from about 568 to 774. The Gepids, an East Germanic tribe, were rivals of the Lombards.

Alboin had been king of the Lombards since 560. As kings often did, he liked to conquer territory, and had successfully captured some of the territory that the Gepids previously held. In retaliation, Cunimund, the King of the Gepids, launched an attack to try and take back this land. In the ensuing battles, the Gepids were defeated. Cunimund himself was slain in 567, and his decapitated head taken back to Alboin, along with a high-ranking prisoner –  Cunimund’s daughter, Rosamund.

This woodcut of Alboin is from 1493, about 900 years after his death, so who knows if it’s accurate. I imagined him a little less wizened and a little more warrior-like. 

Alboin needed a male heir to succeed his reign, and since he was a widower, he decided to marry the daughter of his vanquished enemy. It was absolutely not a love match. Rosamund hated Alboin, who in turn was known to be cruel to her. Supposedly, Alboin liked to walk around with Cunimund’s skull hanging from his belt for all to see. Seems a bit of a bulky way to taunt someone, but was probably quite effective. During a banquet, Alboin reportedly forced Rosamund to drink from her dead father’s skull. Since skull cups were sometimes used as trophies or ritualistic items through history, it’s quite possible this story is true. If Alboin had the skull at a banquet, evidently worked into a cup form (which would involve removing the lower part of the skull), it seems safe to assume he probably drank from it himself at times.

Rosamund was not entirely without resources, however. As the daughter of the late Gepid king, she undoubtedly had some loyal supporters, even if many of them were prisoners. She took a lover, a man called Helmichis, who was Alboin’s arms bearer, and together they plotted Alboin’s death. As the story goes, they needed a third accomplice, and attempted to enlist the aid of Peredeo, a man known for this strength. Peredeo refused, so Rosamund seduced in him the disguise of a servant. After learning that he had committed adultery, even if unwitting, with Alboin’s wife, Peredeo agreed to help kill the king rather than risk his retribution.

It’s difficult to say if all of these colourful details are true, but if so, they certainly showcase Rosamund’s determination to avenge her father. The plan went forward; Alboin went to bed drunk after a feast, and Helmichis and Peredeo entered his chamber with murderous intent. Alboin sprang out of bed, but since Rosamund had also ensured that his sword was removed (or tied to the bedpost, in some versions of the story), he was forced to defend himself with nothing more than a footstool. It’s unclear if Helmichis or Peredeo struck the killing blow; both have been assigned as the sole murderer in various accounts.

Alboin’s death struck a blow to the new Germanic entity he’d been creating through his consolidating his conquered territory, for he had no fitting successor. I have a feeling this probably would have pleased Rosamund. This is the end of Alboin’s bad decision; he treated his wife so badly that she had him assassinated. The rest of Rosamund’s story is dramatic though, so we’ll cover that, too.

In the aftermath of the assassination, Rosamund and Helmichis married. He most likely planned to succeed Alboin on the Lombard throne, but received little support from the various duchies of the kingdom. Rosamund and Helmichis were forced to flee – but not before collecting most of Alboin’s stash of treasure. Rosamund supposedly took another lover, a man called Longinus, probably in an attempt to secure another powerful ally. Or perhaps she was tiring of Helmichis; considering the arc of their relationship, one has to wonder if there was ever really any affection between them or if they were just using each other for their own goals. Longinus wanted to marry Rosamund, but that pesky Helmichis was in the way, so she decided to poison him.

Here’s a suitably sinister depiction of Rosamund

As a seasoned murderer himself, Helmichis suspected Rosamund’s plan. He forced her to drink the poison first, and then consumed the rest himself afterward. I bet you didn’t see a Romeo and Juliet style double death coming! I certainly didn’t.

I’m starting to wonder if the real bad decision here is getting involved with Rosamund, queen of ruthlessness.

Outcome: Lots of murder, lots of ulterior-motive seductions, a setback to a growing empire.


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Death by Amusement


Whenever I’m doing some historical research, which is pretty much constantly, I’m always on the lookout for suitable topics for Bad Decisions in History. While not a decision, exactly, I’ve come across a strange recurrence of people dying from laughing too hard through history. There’s even a Wikipedia list of historical and fictional deaths caused by laughter. Death by amusement is a real thing, though I’m sure heart attacks and other health issues must be involved.

Our first victim, Chrysippus, followed the stoic school of philosophy, which taught that people should be free of passion and able to submit without complaint to unavoidable necessities, such as the natural order of the world. It sounds a bit grim, to be honest. Logic would be hampered by joy or grief, and therefore such emotions should be kept in check. Chrysippus even earned the title ‘Second Founder of Stoicism’ after he became the third head of the Stoic school. It’s safe to assume that he was a fairly serious man.

At the age of 73, Chrysippus passed away, allegedly after falling into fits of laughter from watching a donkey eat figs. He suggested that someone give the donkey a drink of wine to wash down the figs, so I feel there’s a strong chance Chrysippus had already imbibed some wine because that is not really a sober person’s suggestion.

Bust of Chrysippus

If you’re thinking a Stoic philosopher sounds like the last person to die from laughing too hard, that’s part of the strange charm of this story. However, it should be noted that another account of his death states that he was seized with dizziness after drinking wine at a feast, and died soon after. Either way, I guess we can conclude that he drank some wine and was old enough to likely have heart problems.

Another example of death by laughter in antiquity comes through the story of the death of Zeuxis, a Greek painter said to have been known for his realistic and refreshing paintings. None of them survive today, unfortunately, especially as he’s said to have died laughing at his own painting of Aphrodite, which had been commissioned by an old woman who also insisted on modeling for it. Dying from uncontrollable laughter is one thing, but dying from uncontrollable laughter at your own joke seems like quite another. Still, I wish I could see that painting.

In contrast to Chrysippus and his uncharacteristic laughter, somehow it seems vaguely less surprising that Pietro Aretino may have died of laughter. His Wikipedia page lists him as “an Italian author, playwright, poet, satirist, and blackmailer.” If one’s profession as a blackmailer is so well-known that the reputation lasts five hundred years (Aretino died in 1556), that is certainly some kind of accomplishment. Anyway, since he was a satirist, he must have had a good sense of humour. His satirical pamphlet “The Last Will and Testament of the Elephant Hanno” used the death of Pope Leo X’s pet elephant to poke fun at political and religious leaders. He is said to have died of suffocation while laughing very hard. I’ve been unable to find what he was laughing at, but if he followed a similar path as Chrysippus and Zeuxis, it probably wasn’t actually very funny.

Pietro Aretino

Over in Scotland, Sir Thomas Urquhart of Comarty met a similar fate. The writer was best known for his translation of Rabelais, and for works such as Logopandecteision, and it’s a good thing this is a blog post and not a speech so I don’t have to say that out loud. Perhaps ironically, since I can’t pronounce it, this book was his plan for a universal language by that name. According to some sources, he died in around 1660 from laughing too hard upon hearing of Charles II’s restoration to the throne. The previous monarch, Charles I, had been executed in 1649 at the height of the English Civil War, and the country became a republic, led by Oliver Cromwell. Since Urquhart marched with Charles II against Cromwell in the Battle of Worcester, I must admit I fail to see why it would be so amusing that Charles regained his father’s throne. Perhaps it was just the swaying of the political pendulum Urquhart found so hilarious.

Thomas Urquhart

I don’t want to advocate against laughing at silly jokes (my own affection for puns forbids me) but I think there is a moral here: do your cardio, everyone. And make sure to breathe if you get swept up into that giddy sort of laughter. Bad jokes can be dangerous if caught unprepared.


Bad Decisions in History: featuring Belladonna

We’ve covered one type of deadly makeup before in this series, but ceruse wasn’t the only dangerous cosmetic used in history. This one’s a little scarier, because it involves putting poison directly into one’s eyes.

Bad decision: Using belladonna as a beauty enhancement

By its name, belladonna doesn’t sound like a bad thing. It’s a pleasant-sounding word, translating from the Italian to mean ‘beautiful woman.’ It did add a certain kind of luscious beauty, but at a cost.

Made from an extract of nightshade berries, also called atropa belladonna, the resulting eyedrops dilate the pupils, providing a soft and seductive effect, just like in a romance scene of a novel where someone’s eyes ‘darken with desire.’  In Renaissance Italy, this dusky, lustrous appearance of a lady’s eyes was considered to be the height of beauty. Titian’s painting, “Woman with a Mirror” is thought to depict a lady who has used belladonna to enhance the beauty of her eyes.

Titian’s “Woman with a Mirror”

Atropa belladonna, also more modernly called atropine, just so we have lots of names for this, is quite a powerful compound. The ratio of atropine to water for the belladonna drops shows how strong it is, for only 1 part atropine is necessary per 130,000 parts water in order to dilate the pupils. One drop per eye would block receptors in the muscles of the eye that constrict pupil size. As one might suspect, this comes at an immediate cost to vision, resulting in blurriness and inability to focus on close objects. Though this would wear off over time, prolonged use of belladonna could cause permanent vision distortion or blindness. It also carried the side effect of increased heart rate because, let’s not forget, this tincture was made of poison.

Belladonna is derived from deadly nightshade, one of the most dangerous herbal poisons, since all parts of the plant are toxic. The oral overdose for belladonna is only 600 milligrams. Ingesting any part of the plant will have poisonous, possibly deadly, effects, and exposure to the leaves can also irritate the skin.

Photo credit: anne arnould via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

The name of atropa belladonna  derives from the name of one of the Greek fates, Atropos, whose name means inexorable or inevitable. Atropos is the fate who severs the thread of life, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you might remember that I’ve found Atropos rather frustrating at times. The connection between Atropos and deadly nightshade serves to highlight just how powerful the poison is, suggesting that some kind of fallout is unavoidable through exposure to the plant.

Still, not all members of the nightshade family are deadly. Potatoes and tomatoes are both part of this group, and though the leaves are poisonous, the roots (potatoes) and fruits (tomatoes) are not. In fact, belladonna is still used today. It’s an ingredient in some kinds of eyedrops, particularly the ones used to dilate the pupil during an eye exam. Chances are, you’ve been exposed to belladonna before, but fortunately in a very small amount and controlled circumstances. Repeated use is certainly not advisable.

Outcome: Blurred vision, difficulty focusing on objects, potential blindness – all of which would probably cause squintiness over time instead of wide-eyed beauty. Rather the opposite of the intended effect. Not to mention the issue of heart problems and skin irritations.