Old Wounds

As a surgeon interested in the history of wound care, I very much enjoyed Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “The Jew and the Jew Stone” (6/00), in which he discusses Johann Schroder’s seventeenth-century recipe for weapon salve. About ten years ago, I treated an elderly woman who had lacerated her arm while preparing a meal. As I dressed her wound, she informed me of how she had initiated her treatment at home by anointing the offending knife with oil, wrapping it in a clean linen napkin, and placing the knife in a drawer. She explained that she had learned to do this when she was a young girl living in rural Ireland.

The origins of weapon salve are obscure. Sir James George Frazier, in The Golden Bough, describes sympathetic magic as the root of the salve. The magic inhered in the ability of an object that had come in contact with a body to affect that body from afar. Therefore, treating a sword with weapon salve was the equivalent of treating the wound. My patient’s self-treatment was still common in England in the early twentieth century.

Alan Sori, M.D. Paterson, New Jersey

Medium Message

Thank you for the lovely illustrations and the explanation of the symbolism of the Chinese scroll described in “Fascination of Nature,” by Roderick Whitfield (7-8/00). But what material was used to make the scroll, and what medium was used to paint it?

Jeremiah B. Lighter New York, New York

RODERICK WHITFIELD REPLIES: The painting surface is specially woven silk treated with alum to hold both ink and colors, which are generally mineral pigments. The scroll is then mounted, along with additional sheets of paper (for a title and calligraphy to be added later by connoisseurs), and the whole is held together by a thin backing of mulberry bark.

Armadillo Masochism

It certainly sounds as though Robb White (“Endpaper,” 7-8/00) is a glutton for punishment when it comes to armadillos. At the very least, reason should have warned him that the “peculiar movement of the anus” might well have foreshadowed a movement of another kind. As if leaning down “for a closer look” wasn’t enough the first time, he relates that he was still at it some years later, trying to write a number on the back of another specimen and suffering a busted lip and two loosened teeth in this encounter.

Robert and Mary Rubalsky Queens, New York

Panama Coronation

I read “The Crown of Montecristi” by Tom Miller (6/00) just as my older summer hats were in need of replacement. The article left me torn between the thought that buying a true Panama hat from Ecuador made me an exploiter of poverty-stricken adults and children and the thought that I was keeping a craft and a tradition alive.

When I visited my favorite hat shop, I looked at a shantung and a cheap Panama hat but decided that my head would look and feel better when crowned by a true Montecristi.

Arthur Tenenholtz New York, New York

Natural History’s e-mail address is nhmag@amnh.org.

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