This is the first volume to take a broad historical sweep of the close relation between medicines and poisons in the Western tradition, and their interconnectedness. They are like two ends of a spectrum, for the same natural material can be medicine or poison, depending on the dose, and poisons can be transformed into medicines, while medicines can turn out to be poisons. The book looks at important moments in the history of the relationship between poisons and medicines in European history, from Roman times, with the Greek physician Galen, through the Renaissance and the maverick physician Paracelsus, to the present, when poisons are actively being turned into beneficial medicines.

Chapter 5 of this book is freely available as a downloadable Open Access PDF at https://www.taylorfrancis.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) 4.0 license. 

chapter |8 pages


Deadly medicine

chapter 2|18 pages

“First Behead Your Viper”

Acquiring knowledge in Galen’s poison stories

chapter 3|19 pages

Mining for poison in a devout heart

Dissective practices and poisoning in late medieval Europe

chapter 4|19 pages

Pestis Manufacta

Plague, poisons and fear in mid-fourteenth-century Europe

chapter 5|22 pages

Alchemy, potency, imagination

Paracelsus’s theories of poison

chapter 7|15 pages

Poisoning as politics

The Italian Renaissance courts

chapter 10|18 pages


“One of the Most Valuable Drugs We Have” (1937)

chapter 11|19 pages

Collateral benefits

Ergot, botulism, Salmonella and their therapeutic applications since 1800

chapter 12|30 pages

It does all depend on the dose. Understanding beneficial and adverse drug effects since 1864

Clinical and experimental attitudes to the Law of Mass Action and concentration–effect curves