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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Medical miscellany

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This medical handbook was written in the late 14th- to early 15th-century, possibly somewhere in East Anglia, and contains texts mostly in Middle English, with some in Latin and French. It consists of four distinct codicologial units, written roughly at the same time by different scribes in slightly different scripts. Each unit is set apart from the others by some originally blank spaces or leaves, pointing to their separate production as booklets (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(34);return false;'>14v</a> at the end of Unit 1; <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(67);return false;'>33r-33v</a> at the end of Unit 2; <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(204);return false;'>106v-109v</a> at the end of Unit 3). These blank spaces were soon filled by other hands writing various recipes, charms or other medical notes. This, and the coherence of the manuscript's textual contents, suggests that the four parts were intended to be bound as one, or were brought together at an early stage. The manuscript shows further signs of sustained use: many of the pages are discoloured or stained, an added recipe has been cancelled (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(68);return false;'>33v</a>), the margins include various 'nota bene' and pointing hands (known as <i>maniculae</i>) highlighting interesting points in the texts, and the calendar at the beginning (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(12);return false;'>2v-12v</a>, now incomplete) has received various additions and annotations.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The main part of the manuscript comprises various medical recipes ranging from cures for toothaches, nosebleeds and stomach aches to a recipe for surgical anaesthetic known as 'dwale' (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(151);return false;'>79r-79v</a>). A significant portion is also dedicated to various treatises on urine and its uses for diagnostics, including a translation into Middle English of Walter of Agilon's <i>Commentary on Urine</i> (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(229);return false;'>119r-125v</a>). The medical content is framed by single leaves at the end and at the beginning whose contents illustrate the connection in the late medieval period between medical practice and astrology (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'>1r-1v</a>) and lunar cycles (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(243);return false;'>126r-126v</a>). The Calendar furthermore contains not only lists of saints' days, as is typical, but also related tables of astrological calculations. This particular combination of astrological and diagnostic material is frequently found in the folding almanacs that were being produced around the same time. Their presentation here illustrates the different formats in which this information could be presented in the medieval period, and illustrates the integration of recipes and cures into broader astrological-medical practice.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Tuija Ainonen<br /> Project Cataloguer<br /> Cambridge University Library</p>

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