The Socratic Method of Murder!

UWASocrates_gobeirne_croppedIn 399 BC the philosopher Socrates was found guilty in Athens, Greece of corrupting the youth and refusing to recognize the gods of the state.

His crimes centered on his method of teaching—later known as The Socratic Method—in which one is taught to question everything, and that exclusive belief in anything beyond a doubt can prevent one from truly knowing anything. This method of teaching allows for open discussion of the possibilities that eventually can reveal the truth about a subject.

Socrates was sentenced to death for his original thinking and the method of by Jacques-Louis David his death has become a famous means to murder.

In ancient Greece, hemlock was a common method used to poison condemned prisoners and, by forcing Socrates to drink his own cup of poison, he became his personal executioner.

Later, Shakespeare as well as other literary greats popularized this method of death for murder scenes—likely as much for the general availability of hemlock as its historical connection to the famous philosopher.

Hemlock was and is found throughout most parts of England and Europe. It’s prevalent in neglected meadows, along hedge banks and near the borders of hemlock(c)AndrewGaggsteams. Hemlock is a member of the parsley family along with fennel, parsnip and carrot.

It ancient times, the plant was prepared into a drug and administered in minute amounts as an analgesic. But the plant (poison hemlock or conium maculatum) is so poisonous that just a few drops could be fatal to small animals.

Every part of the hemlock plant contains the lethal alkaloid coniine,Hemlock2 especially the fresh leaves and the fruit. Coniine is a volatile, colorless, oily liquid. It’s strongly alkaline, bitter to the taste and with a disagreeable odor (said to resemble a “mouse-like” odor).

As an analgesic drug, the preparer would use fresh flowering plant parts, including the roots, and macerate them in alcohol before diluting to therapeutic dosages. Hemlock is used today in homeopathic remedies as a sedative and antispasmodic, and it has been used as an antidote to strychnine poisoning, tetanus and other similar poisons in the past.

Prepared hemlock, however, has a very narrow therapeutic window and more concentrated preparations can quickly turn from a beneficial drug to a deadly weapon. It is said that a lethal dose of prepared hemlock is a mere 100mg, or about 8 fresh leaves of the plant.

Overdoses of the drug produce total paralysis of the body with an initial loss of speech and respiratory distress. Early signs of overdose include excessive salivation (drooling), dilation of the pupils, and small muscle twitches all over the body before paralysis sets in.

MH900438746Eventually, all respiratory function ceases and the person dies from asphyxia. An interesting effect is that the mind remains unaffected and is active until the time of death, so the person is aware of the body shutting down and experiences the effects of medicinal suffocation to the very end. Hemlock murder is definitely not a peaceful death.

In modern times, hemlock poisoning has been used in murder plots both in literature and on film. And periodic news reports describe murders using hemlock as the lethal poison.

Interestingly, poison hemlock was brought to the United States from Europe as an ornamental plant in the late 1800s and now grows throughout North America. It is most commonly found in the lower elevations and coastal regions of California.

Socrates once said that the only thing he really knew was that he knew nothing at all. In our modern age of instant, electronic knowledge gathering, we can become experts in almost anything in a short amount of time—even learning the proper way to prepare poison hemlock and for describing that perfect, dramatic murder scene using an ancient poison in a modern setting.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in About James J. Murray, About Medications/Pharmacy, About Murder, About Writing, Acute Poisons, Blog Trends, Blogging, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Bloodless Death Scenes, Botanical Murder Weapons, Developing Story Plots, Developing Storyline Ideas, Drug Poisoning, Drugs For Murder Plots, Drugs Used For Murder, How To Write A BloodLess Murder Scene, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Instruments of Death, Interesting Murder Weapons, Killing With Poisonous Plants, Murder With Poisonous Plants, Plants Used For Murder, Plotting Murder Scenes, Poison Hemlock as a Method to Kill, Poison Hemlock as a Murder Weapon, Poisons Used For Murder, Socrates and Hemlock, Socrates and Murder, The Science of Murder, Tools of Fiction Writing, Tools of Murder, Ways To Kill, Ways to Murder, Writing Death Scenes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Socratic Method of Murder!

  1. Oh, wow! What an terrible way to die. That method would indeed be appropriate for a particularly nasty villain to use in a novel. Socrates has been one of my heroes; adopted his teaching method with my college students and later. Didn’t know helmlock was that brutal. Socrates’ fate also makes clear how dangerous is the fear of ignorant people, as much now as then. Imagine what further contributions he would have made, had he lived a full life.

  2. Jim:
    What an interesting point you make about the potential contributions of Socrates if he had lived longer. Ancient, as well as modern, history gives us many stories of great people who have been taken from us before their full potential has been reached. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – Much appreciated!

  3. A says:

    Good to know about the agony!
    If I can find it, who knows- I may test the analgesic doses after further reading.
    Its not because you wrote this. Its 100% my own risk if I did mix it up

    I feared not breathing when I almost drowned. Pain from panic. Maybe 1:1B dies with a smile, droning idk. I have arthritis in every joint. Smoking a joint- for this does nothing. Hash a little but that was lucky and super illegal.

    Interesting read. Not negative. Number one I learned its history and non lethal uses

  4. Draglorr says:

    Thanks for the info on Hemlock!

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