The Arsenic Eaters

Simon Brugner

2015 - 2018

Styria, Austria

The Arsenic Eaters investigates the widespread historical belief that the consumption of arsenic, generally known to be a deadly poison, is beneficial to one’s health. Accordingly, many “poison eaters” were found among the Austrian rural population in the pre-twentieth centuries. People eating arsenic were robust persons, and usually of the lower class of society, wood cutters, stablemen, farm workers, etc. Though being a popular custom among hard working people, arsenic eaters were very anxious to conceal the fact. It was also believed that once a person became an arsenic eater, he must never stop the habit—To do so would bring rapid decline in health, leading inevitably to death. The book consists of two parts. The first part sketches a possible reality in which the obscure habit of arsenic eating seems reasonable. The second part presents research results based on 19th-century medical reports, on-location findings and renaissance writings on mining and medicine. The book features contemporary photographs as well as archival material.

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