PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Common electric ray (Torpedo torpedo) a woodcut with old colouring. Conrad Gesner "Icones Animalium" publ. Christof Froschover, Zurich, 1560. The torpedo or electric ray had been well know by mediterranean fishermen since pre-classic times owing to the strange property of stunning them at a distance. This was seen as supporting evidence for the magical powers of nature. In Greek and Roman times electric rays were used too stun and numb patients in medical procedures - so that the physician of Emperor Claudius in 46AD prescribed treading on the fish in wet sand to relieve gout. The fish is capable of giving considerable currents up to 200V and 30Amps. After description in Pliny, the torpedo (from the latin torpere, to stiffen or paralyse) turns up repeatedly in pre-modern natural histories as a mysterious and magical animal. A true understanding of bio-electricity came much later.
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