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Medieval Medical Recipes : On Surgery

Medieval Medical Recipes

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.14.31 (hereafter MS R.14.31) is a medical manuscript that was made in Canterbury, in England, in the 12th century at either Christ Church Cathedral Priory, or St Augustine's Abbey; whether it was made at the Cathedral Priory or the Abbey, the volume was a part of the St Augustine's library collection until the dispersal of the Abbey's manuscripts in the 16th century associated with the protestant reforms and the seizure of monastic assets in England. The contents of MS R.14.31 are entirely medical; the manuscript begins with a text on surgery before progressing through a series of medical receptaria organised around the treatment of specific conditions, and closes with treatises on the medicinal properties of wines and of various plants. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Among the medical texts in this manuscript, one of the most interesting is a medical text that incorporates passages from the <i>De materia medica</i> of Dioscorides (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(346);return false;'>165r-226v</a>). <i>De materia medica</i> was translated from the original Greek into Latin in Late Antiquity and was popular in north western Europe throughout the middle ages. <i>De materia medica</i> was translated into Latin more than once, and also into vernacular languages in the later medieval period. The popularity of the Latin versions of <i>De materia medica</i> as well as its length meant that <i>De materia medica</i> was often copied in redacted forms, copied with other similar material, and presented with explanatory prefaces and associated texts, which means that the text can appear rather differently in different manuscript sources, and it is not always easy to discern what is a copy of <i>De materia medica</i> with some interpolations, and what should be considered to be a new text based on <i>De materia medica</i>. The text in MS R.14.31 on ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(346);return false;'>165r-226v</a> incorporates substantial portions of <i>De materia medica</i>, but also interpolates other, unidentified medical passages. Of the many surviving recensions of the Latin version of <i>De materia medica</i>, the text on ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(346);return false;'>165r-226v</a> of MS R.14.31 seems to most closely resemble the version in <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 337</a>, which was edited by Hermann Stadler across several articles around the turn of the 20th century, but further work is needed to establish the sources of the text(s) in MS R.14.31. The segments of <i>De materia medica</i> that appear in MS R.14.31 do not appear in the same order that they appear in typical copies of the Latin <i>De materia medica</i>, and the text is frequently interpolated with other untraced medical content. As a starting point, readers may wish to compare the chapter 'De edera' at the opening of 'Book 1' in MS R.14.31, f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(347);return false;'>165v</a> (beginning 'Cissos id est edere multe sunt species') and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=',141'>Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 337, f. 69va (ch. PΞE)</a>, and Hermann's edition (p. 244 seq.), and then note the subsequent divergence of MS R.14.31 from the text in BSB Clm 337 in later chapters; this is just one of several points of similarity then difference between the two manuscripts. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Medical books were not typically among the most lavishly decorated products of an English monastic scriptorium, nevertheless MS R.14.31 has delicate touches of decoration throughout, including rubricated capitulae, 'arabesque' initials at the beginning of most major and minor divisions of the text in red, green, or blue, and alternately coloured initials for each lemma in the capitula lists, e.g., f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(330);return false;'>157r</a>. There is one significant decorative initial in the volume, a brautiful 'Q' on f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(18);return false;'>1r</a> that terminates in the lower margin with a beautiful frond-like flourish emerging from the mouth of a humanoid figure wearing a little 'Phrygian' cap; these caps were sometimes used as a visual shorthand for 'doctor' in medieval art, before the later medieval practice of having the figure pose with a urine flask to convey the same visual information. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Sarah Gilbert<br /> Project Cataloguer for the Curious Cures Project<br /> Cambridge University Library</p>

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