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Thousands of years before the Joker gassed comic book victims into a grinning death, Phoenician colonists on the island of Sardinia (map) were forcing smiles on the faces of the dead.
Now scientists say they know just how the ancient seafaring traders created the gruesome smiles some 2,800 years ago—not with a toxic gas like Batman's nemesis but with a plant-based potion.
And someday that plant might be used to Botox-like effect, perhaps reducing rather than adding smile lines, the researchers speculate
A member of the deadly hemlock family, the herb is especially dangerous because of its fragrant smell and sweet-tasting roots.
"Generally poisonous plants are bitter or in some way repel people," Appendino said.
Hemlock water-dropwort "is only the second case I know of a toxic plant that is actually attractive to our senses. People might easily eat it in a potion," he added—or perhaps apply it in a lotion.
Appendino speculates that the plant may prove to have a cosmetic application.
"It relaxes the muscles," he said, "so it removes wrinkles."
sardonic Look up sardonic at Dictionary.com 1638, from Fr. sardonique (16c.), from L. sardonius (but as if from L. *sardonicus) in Sardonius risus, loan-translation of Gk. sardonios (gelos) "of bitter or scornful (laughter)," altered from Homeric sardanios (of uncertain origin) by influence of Sardonios "Sardinian," because the Greeks believed that eating a certain plant they called sardonion (lit. "plant from Sardinia," see Sardinia) caused facial convulsions resembling those of sardonic laughter, usually followed by death. For nuances of usage, see humor.
Hemlock Poisoning and the Death of Socrates: Did Plato Tell the Truth?
The chill had now reached the region about the groin, and uncovering his face, which had been covered, he said – and these were his last words – 'Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Pay it and do not neglect it.' 'That,' said Crito, 'shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.' To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved; the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.