Words to the wise: Poison arrowsBMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7082.0j (Published 08 March 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:j
- Grant Hutchinson, consultant anaesthetist in Dundee
In 1542 the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana, ensconced aboard a tiny two masted ship, drifted down river for 4000 kilometres through the steaming South American jungle. On his return to Spain, he told (among other things) of the poisoned arrow with which the natives had killed one of his companions. The arrow poison, curare, became part of the practice of anaesthesia exactly 400 years later.
We'll return to Orellana at the end of this piece, but move for now to ancient Greece, where arrow poison was well known. The Greek word for a bow was toxon. Arrow poison was toxicon pharmacon: toxicon, an arrow, and pharmacon, poison. The Romans …