here is no shortage of amusing, surprising and often graphic anecdotes in the Fabrica. This tale of the Clever Spaniard, as translated by Dan Garrison in The Fabric of the Human Body, recounts a story of illicit love affairs, valuable jewels and human digestion. It’s also a prime example of Vesalius’ intense attention to detail. Additional insights on this story can be found in its forthcoming published version in The Fabric of the Human Body.
Translated by Daniel H. Garrison
Many stones of fruits, even very large ones, are often eaten and harmlessly expelled; Galen tells about a gold ring that someone was holding in his mouth and carelessly swallowed, but readily excreted. The clever Spaniard who last year stole from a certain Bacchis of Cluny forty pearls of the sort that noble matrons here wear on their neck, together with a gold cross beautifully ornamented with five gems and the string on which they were threaded, showed that he was not unaware of the size of this orifice. When she refused to spend the night with him until he had paid out fifty gold pieces in advance and he had finally agreed, she obtained from her patrician lover in Venice his wife’s supremely elegant necklace (often a significant part of a dowry there) so she would be better adorned, more beautified, and more pleasing. To keep it from being stolen, she kept it still hanging on her neck while in bed. The Spaniard, lusting after this necklace as it had supplanted the little courtesan in his affections, plied her with all the lust he could muster so that she would sleep more pleasantly afterward; finally he undid the necklace and swallowed the pearls one at a time, then the cross, and finally (so that nothing would impede his theft) the string. It is therefore clear that although the lower orifice of the stomach is narrower than the upper, it is still large and sometimes also passes rather large objects.
Translator Daniel Garrison notes: The 1555 edition omits this closing sentence. Chicagoans recall the recent case of a thief apprehended after swallowing a three-carat diamond in a jewelry store. He was detained several days until the loot made its way through the digestive system. Doctors forbade the use of laxative agents, but allowed the application of White Castle hamburgers, locally known as “sliders” (Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2003, 2).
[Bk. V, Ch. 3, p. 390–391 [490–491] (1543 ed.), p. 991–992 (New Fabrica)]