VIII: Hemlock

The poison propaganda of Jacques-Louis David.

octidi, the 18th of Germinal, Year CCXXXI
The flower of the deadly hemlock. Photo via Pxfuel.

Good morning. Today is octidi, the 18th of Germinal, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la ciguë, a close relative of the carrot that is also an infamous poison.

Most plants are placed on the calendar based on when they bloom or fruit or are otherwise ready for harvest. Hemlock is on today because this is the time of year when it's most toxic. Dying of hemlock poisoning – which can happen to humans who ingest a few leaves or a bit of the root – comes by paralysis. Victims usually suffocate first as their lungs become unable to move, though it's hard to notice in the moment due to all the seizures. There is no antidote, not even with modern chemistry. The only hope of surviving is artificial respiration until the poison works its way out of your system.

America's whole vibe came from Jacques-Louis David, the most famous painter in France during both the American and French revolutions, and the most effective popularizer of the Neo-Classical aesthetic that is now inextricably associated with all things democratic republic.

David was a passionate guy, and he let his political passions shine through mostly in paintings of Greek and Roman history, focusing on moments of martyrdom and triumphs of the republic or democracy. His most famous painting prior to the French Revolution was The Death of Socrates, which he debuted at the Louvre to an audience that included Thomas Jefferson.