/// PARASITIC AMPHIBIANS ///

For the 17th century story, I am working with a contemporary form of etching in plastic. Printing techniques were already developed in that century and etching was used more frequently than wood-engraving because illustrations were cheaper and faster to produce with this technique. In terms of mark-making, I will work with detailed lines and shading in order to produce detailed illustrations in the style of that time, using a contemporary technique of etching in a printing studio. I illustrate the story using sequential narrative, producing seven illustrations in total. I produced light boxes for the x-rays, to see the scratches in the plastic. The plastic I use are original x-ray’s collected from a pharmacy. I didn’t remove the original x-ray, so that the scratched illustration is merging with the black and white bones of the x-ray.

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// medical theory
It is an ancient belief that snakes, frogs, lizards and other animals can live as parasites inside the human stomach. Even the ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian wrote about “snakes” that caused stomach problems. Hippocrates wrote in ‘De morbis vulgaribus” about it and Aetius listed the possible symptoms one can have if a snake, frogs, lizards or something similar is growing in the stomach: fever, vomiting, stomach pain, tremor, stiffness, and confusion. If a medical case was not clear, it was easier to explain the symptoms with the theory of parasitic amphibians. Pliny, for example, mentions amphibians living in the stomach as parasites that feed off the food one has eaten. But from early times there were also some physicians who were against this belief. By using very simple tricks, such as showing the caught frog, which wasn’t actually inside the patient, physicians led people to believe that they had been cured.

Through times, there have always been people who believed that amphibians could live and grow in the human stomach. Some stories even describe people who vomited dogs and cats with no fur. Many of the collections of curious and abnormal medical cases from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries contain stories of snakes, frogs, toads and newts living in the human stomach.
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// illustrated story
Frau Catharina Gesslerin, widely known as ‘the toad vomiting woman of Altenburg’, began vomiting toads and lizards in 1642. It is believed that frog or toad spawn slid down into her stomach as a result of drinking contaminated water from a marsh. Allegedly, they grew and grew and were hurting her stomach. She felt them moving every day after each meal, thriving on the food, jumping about in her intestines. For two whole years, Fr. Geisslering vomited frogs but the local physician was unable to help her. He invited many well-known professors and consultants from all over Germany to come and examine her. They experimented with various emetics and purgatives for several months but still nothing happened; until she finally vomited something that looked like the leg of an amphibian. The physicians hotly debated whether it belonged to a frog or a toad.

After the doctors left her, she started vomiting more amphibians, producing thirteen toads and a lot of spawn in a couple of weeks. Some of the physicians returned to re-examine her and decided to send one of the toads she had vomited to the famous Professor Thomas Bartholin for analysis. As he dissected the toad, he found black winged insects in the stomach. He concluded that since this animal could not have eaten such food in Frau Geisslerin’s stomach, the only reasonable explanation was that she had lied, and had pretended to vomit the toad. Bartholin did not, however, reveal this conclusion. He later published an article in which he confirmed his belief that toads and lizards can live as parasites in the human stomach. He even emphasised the case of the Altenburg woman as one of the most striking ever. Frau Geisslerin continued vomiting amphibians for fourteen more years and survived all treatments. She died because of an inflammation of her liver, and no amphibians were found in her body.

//// pictures by Luis Espinheira