Lead Aware Times

Lead Aware Times Volume 1 No. 1 ( ISSN 1440-4966)

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Lead in Literature

The Man in Ice I

An interesting point here is the result of a trace metal analysis of hair samples from the [Neolithic] Iceman. The concentration of lead in them is very substantially less than that of a modern population. Though this result is hardly surprising, the researchers confirm, albeit at present only on hair samples and not verified by tissue samples, that today we live in a heavily polluted environment.

The Man in Ice II

From that time onward, the remaining one hundred and twenty nine sailors were neither seen nor heard of again more than five years after the expedition's launch, three graves were discovered ... The bodies, resting in their coffins frozen into blocks of ice, were so well preserved that they looked like men sleeping ... Dissection and subsequent histological examination revealed a high level of lead, due undoubtedly to the fact that the expedition's tins of food had been inexpertly soldered. Thus the riddle of the Franklin expedition was solved. The crew died of progressive lead poisoning .

Both Man in Ice stories are extracts from "The Man in Ice - The preserved body of a Neolithic man reveals the secrets of the Stone Age", by Konrad Spindler, Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994].


The Cliges saga was originally written in Old French, sometime in the second half of the 12th Century AD, by the court poet Chretien DeTroyes. The lead related part of the Cliges saga is a sort of Romeo & Juliet - feigned death story - with twists. Cliges, the Romeo of this tale, appears to be the nephew of both King Arthur (of 'round table' fame) and Alis the emperor of Constantinople and surrounds. Fenice, the Juliet, is the 'wife' in an unconsummated marriage to Alis. The need for the feigned death bit comes because she fears that no-one would believe that she was a virgin if she merely ran off with Cliges! Some unscrupulous members of the medical profession, three to be exact, attempt to use a 'lead based' cure for her feigned death and meet what appears to be a fitting end for such an attempt, read on  . .

When they had beaten her with the thongs until they had slashed her flesh, and when the blood is dropping down, as it trickles from among the wounds, even then their efforts are of no avail to extract from her a sigh or word, nor to make her stir or move.

Then they say that they must procure fire and lead, which they will melt and lay upon her hands, rather than fail in their efforts to make her speak. After securing a light and some lead they kindle a fire and melt the lead. Thus the miserable villains torment and afflict the lady, by taking the lead all boiling hot from the fire and pouring it into the palms of her hands.

Not satisfied with pouring the lead clean through her palms, the cowardly rascals say that, if she does not speak at once they will straightway stretch her on the grate until she is completely grilled. Yet, she holds her peace, and does not refuse to have her body beaten and maltreated by them.

Now they were on the point of placing her upon the fire to be roasted and grilled when more than a thousand ladies, who were stationed before the palace, come to the door and through a little crack catch sight of the torture and anguish which they were inflicting upon the lady, as with coal and flame they accomplished her martyrdom. They bring clubs and hammers to smash and break down the door. Great was the noise and uproar as they battered and broke in the door. If now they can lay hands on the doctors, the latter will not have long to wait before they receive their full deserts.

With a single rush the ladies enter the palace, and in the press is Thessala, who has no other aim than to reach her mistress. Beside the fire she finds her stripped, severely wounded and injured. She puts her back in the bier again, and over her she spreads a cloth, while the ladies go to give their reward to the three doctors, without wishing to wait for the emperor or his seneschal. Out of the windows they threw them down into the court-yard, breaking the necks, ribs, arms, and legs of all: no better piece of work was ever done by any ladies.

Although this story contains a maid/nurse figure and the loyal retainer/friend, Shakespeare was clearly not impressed by the ending, for despite her lead treatment Fenice survives and Cliges is so longwinded about his 'woe-is-me-I-should-be-dead-too' speech that she has time to revive from the potion and stop him loyally following in grief.

The extract (Part III Vv. 5989-6050) is based on the translation published as Chretien Detroyes: Arthurian Romances (W.W. Comfort; Everyman's Library, London, 1914). This text is in the public domain in the U.S.

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