An extraordinarily toxic bacterium harbored by the “infernal” Styx River might have been the fabled poison rumored to have killed Alexander the Great (356 to 323 B.C.) more than 2,000 years ago, according to a scientific-meets-mythic detective study.
The research, which will be presented next week at the XII International Congress of Toxicology annual meetings in Barcelona, Spain, reviews ancient literary evidence on the Styx poison in light of modern geology and toxicology.
According to the study, calicheamicin, a secondary metabolite of Micromonospora echinospora, is what gave the river its toxic reputation.
The Styx was the portal to the underworld, according to myth. Here the gods swore sacred oaths.
“If they lied, Zeus forced them to drink the water, which struck them down. The 8th-century B.C. Greek poet Hesiod wrote that the gods were unable to move, breathe or speak for one year,” co-author Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University’s Departments of Classics and History of Science, told Discovery News.
Another account by the Greek geographer Pausanias (110 to 180) reported that the river could ruin crystal, pottery and bronze. “(The) only thing able to resist corrosion is the hoof of a mule or horse,” he wrote.
“Indeed, no ancient writer ever casts doubt on the existence of a deadly poison from the Styx River,” Mayor, author of the Mithradates biography, “The Poison King,” said.
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