By Anjuli Kolb

“On Saturday, [Erin] Brockovich’s team was turned away by the school while trying to collect soil samples on the property. However, a doctor treating many of the students is confident that they are suffering not from poisoning, but from mass hysteria…[A]s research has shown, it is also the cheerleaders and not the math-club girls who are likely to spread hysteria.” –Ruth Graham in Slate, on the outbreak of Tourette’s-like symptoms in Genesee County, NY.

“You must have heard of Sálmacis’ pool, whose waves emasculate men who have bathed there; the Ethiopian lake, where anyone drinking the water either goes mad or passes out in a stupefied coma…the Scythian witches are also reported to put on feathers by sprinkling themselves with their poisons” –Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. David Raeburn.

“A small boy tried to throttle his mother ... Among the stricken, delirium rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten lead … Pont-Saint-Esprit speculated that the village idiot had hexed Baker Briand's flour … The disease was called ‘St. Anthony's Fire.’" –September 10, 1951 (yup) Time Magazine article on an outbreak of gangrenousergotism in France. 

Let Me Recite What History Teaches (LMRWHT) is a weekly column that flashes the lavalamp, gaslight, candlelight, campfire, torch, sometimes even the starlight of the past on something that is happening now. The form of the column strives to recover what might be best about the “wide-eyed presentation of mere facts.” Each week you will find here some citational constellation, offered with astonishment and without comment, that can serve as an end in itself, dinner party fodder, or an occasion for further thought or writing. The title is taken from the last line of Stein’s poem “If I Told Him (A Completed Portrait of Picasso)"

Image: Quentin Blake for Roald Dahl's The Witches