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The king who became immune to poison



By Saptorshi Polley

We all love reading murder mysteries, don’t we? What weapon killers love to use? Poison, venom, toxin? It is all well till you become the target of the murderer.

What will you do if it happens to you? Take antidotes? Whoops! All the antidotes are destroyed. Well then, what’s the solution? What if you are simply immune to the poison? It just doesn’t affect you. Is that even possible? Seemingly, it is. Here is the story of a man who, in order to save himself from poisoning, poisoned himself.

Let me take you on a trip to Pontus, 120 BC. Mithridates V, the king, had been poisoned at a banquet. His son, Mithridates VI was to be the next ruler of Pontus.

However, he was too young to rule. Hence, his mother took over the throne. Mithridates had a nagging suspicion that his mother was behind his father’s assassination. She had begun to favour his brother over him. Added to this belief, he felt that she ingested poison in his meals. So, Mithridates decided to flee to the wild.

The prince knew that upon his return, he would be faced with deadly poisons designed to put him to death. Hence, he strove to defend himself against it. In the countryside, he found abundant deadly and poisonous plants such as hellebore, monkshood, and rhododendrons; animals such as snakes, scorpions, and slugs and minerals like sulfur, arsenic and mercury. Instead of deeming these dangerous, he found that they were the solution to his problem.

And so, he began to consume these nature-gifted toxins in small amounts. His reasoning was pretty simple: take the toxins in controlled amounts and make your body resistant to them. Over time, he began to increase the dosage and went on to consume progressively more potent and dangerous poisons and venoms. Armed with this remarkable resistance, he also led a coup and won his kingdom back. During his rule, he set up various laboratories to continue his study on various toxins. He made a library of books on toxins and antidotes from around the world and created a special garden where he could grow any plant required for his studies.

Moreover, materials were imported from far and wide places, such as crystallised snake venom from India, arrow poisons from Mesopotamia, stingray spines and jellyfish from Libya, rhubarb from the Volga, scorpions from Egypt, and many more for him.

Why did he do all this? Simply because he aimed to concoct an antidote. An antidote that would have the power to cancel the effects of the most dangerous poisons. Something that could make any person fully immune to any poison.

Surprisingly, he succeeded in creating this universal antidote. It was termed Mithridatium and is believed to be fashioned from over 50 different ingredients. The antidote was in the form of an almond-sized chewable pellet. Various versions of the original recipe can yet be traced through history.

This antidote and the fact that Mithridates was already immune to many poisons helped him survive countless assassinations till his early 70s. It was in 63 BC that Pompey, the Great, defeated him at last and Mithridates attempted to commit suicide by drinking poison. However, his immunity impeded him from doing so.

Ironic, isn’t it? Eventually, he asked his bodyguard to kill him with a sword and so he ended his life. Nonetheless, he left behind a legacy, that of a Poison King!