Alternative Reference numberJC/1302
TitleA Medical Miscellany [a miscellaneous collection of tracts on medicine and surgery and astrology]
DescriptionThis is a folio volume of paper, in a modern binding, containing 148 leaves, of which the first 72 form a separate section with an index. The next 8 pages deal with the relation of the stars to health, while the last portion of the book, among other matters, discusses the physical effects of various foods, herbs, and drugs.

Hippocrates, the Ptolemies, John de Tholeto, John Picard, physician of Philip of France; Richard de Anglia, and other writers are quoted.

As a whole the book shows the curious medley of astrology, superstition, traditional rules, error, and experience which constituted the medical art of the Middle Ages.

The book begins with a dissertation on the advantages and disadvantages of phlebotomy and laxatives during the different quarters of the moon. We are told on the authority of Haly, commentator of "Phtholomy", that in the first and third quarters of the moon the "humours" of the body are effluent, and may be compared to a rising river, and accordingly laxatives and bloodletting were useful, whereas in the second and fourth quarters the humours were refluent, and these remedies were inexpedient. Surgeons must also be careful not to use the knife, when the moon was in the particular sign which denoted the ailing member, since the patient would be imperilled by too great a "flux", which would prevent the wound from healing. A warning example is given of a patient who was bled at such an inauspicious period, and showing no sign but a swollen arm, incontinently died - a result which, from the modern point of view, is not so surprising as that anyone survived the ancient surgery. Next follows a list of the planets with their qualities, Saturn being described as malevolent, cold, unfruitful, and destructive of life, while Venus was warm, humid, and favourable. The days of the lunar month are then given, from which it appears that the 6th was a good day for hunting or going to war, and that children born then were strong and full of vitality ; but it was not a good day for marrying or invalids, no one ought to tell others of dreams dreamed on that day, and thefts and treasons were sure to be found out. On the contrary the 14th day was good for all purposes, apparently including the last two activities. The effect of various simples is described in various diseases, and a large number of prescriptions, composed of astonishing and unpleasant ingredients, is given. No disease seems to have been regarded as beyond remedy, even "iliac passion", familiar today under the name of appendicitis, having its appropriate prescription.

Other sections deal with astrolabes, clisters, aqua vitae, oils, experimental medicine, the value of snake's blood as a curative, the correct diet for preserving health, and the whole science of blood-letting. This last practice, which remained in favour with the medical fraternity till within living memory, seems to have been regarded as invaluable in almost every case, either alone or in combination with dosing. The details of its application, as recorded in the MS., help to explain the abnormally high death rate of the Middle Ages, and the difficulty then experienced in growing old. Here and there, however, are common sense maxims, as, for instance, when abstinence is recommended for digestive troubles, and exercise and work for torpid livers and spleens. Apparently the mediaeval doctor considered cosmetics within the range of his art, for a chapter is headed : "Tractatus de ornatu faciei-de ornatu mulierum", and here the author strikes a modern note in his insistence on the value of bathing and clean water, which, as a rule, were not regarded with high esteem by our forefathers ..."faciem mulieris hoc modo ornabis in primo abluat eam optime cum sapone Gallico et aqua tepida". Instructions follow for rendering the hair thick, black and glossy. Towards the end of the book there are several folios containing lists of medicaments, and, throughout, the pages have been annotated industriously by a contemporary hand, many additional prescriptions being added. Apart from the special medical interest of this curious volume, it would appear to be well worthy of close study from the point of view of philology. It is to be hoped that some student with special qualifications in this subject will undertake its examination.

See detailed information in the book 'Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries' by Neil Ripley Ker (OUP, 1992, vol. 4 pp. 266-269).
Date[late 15th - early 16th cent]
Extent1 item
    Powered by CalmView© 2008-2024