Abstracts for the Conference on Hygiene, Water, etc. 2015, UA



Chiara Benati, Dipartimento di Lingue e Culture Moderne

Università degli Studi di Genova: The field surgery manual which became a medical common place book: Hans von Gersdorff’s Feldtbuch der Wundarzney translated into Low German

The surgical handbook known as Feldtbuch der Wundarzney by the Strasburgian field surgeon Johannes (Hans) von Gersdorff is one of the first medical texts printed in the High German language area. During the Early Modern Age this text enjoyed great popularity as witnessed by the high number of editions which followed the first one (Strasburg, Schott, 1517): four in quarto (Strasburg 1524 and 1540) and two in folio (Strasburg 1542 and Frankfurt am Main 1551). In addition to these, the Feldtbuch was also translated both into Latin (Strasburg 1542 and Frankfurt 1551) and into Dutch (Amsterdam 1593, 1622 and 1651). Fragments of the surgical field manual can also be found in late manuscript collections of medical and surgical texts, such as Copenhagen GKS 1663 4°, Copenhagen Thott 253 and Luzern Pp 27 4°. Particularly interesting for the study of the text tradition and diffusion in Europe is Copenhagen 1663 4°, which contains, on leaves 1r-86v, a large portion of a Low German version of the surgical handbook.

A systematic comparison of the Low German text with its High German source – most likely the first, 1517 Strasburg edition – has shown that the Low German translator’s way of dealing with the text is far from being linear. If, on the one hand, a series of thematic chapters from the High German text are ordered randomly and only operative indications and recipes for the preparations of single medicaments are faithfully reproduced, whereas introductory considerations and discursive passages are usually left out or taken for granted, on the other, a series of prescriptions in the manuscript do not find any correspondence in the High German handbook. This is particularly evident towards the end of the fragment (from fol. 63v onwards), even though some heterologous material has been inserted within the translation of the text as well.

Some of these additions and insertion can be considered properly surgical, since they provide indications about the diagnosis and the cure of pathologies which can be treated with one of the three kinds of operations Guy de Chauliac lists in his Chirurgia magna: operations to loose what is contained, to join what is separated, to cut off what is too much. Others, on the other hand, can be rather described as purely medical or hygienic (sanitary) indications (e.g. against stinking feet). In this paper, I will take into consideration these, non surgical additions to the High German surgery manual, trying to understand why such non-specialized considerations should have been considered interesting by a scribe, who, as his rendering of the High German source clearly shows, was certainly an expert in the field.


Thomas G. Benedek, University of Pittsburgh:The Scientific Logic of Therapeutic Bathing in the 16th Century


The popularity of therapeutic warm bathing in the 16th century was reflected in relevant writings that were among the earliest medical literature to be published in vernacular languages, admittedly to educate more effectively the public as well as to expand the clientele of physicians. This talk is intended to explain the scientific reasoning that substantiated thermal bathing and why, if it is so wonderfully curative, it should be used as a last resort.

 It had been acknowledged for 1300 years that disease results from an imbalance of the four cardinal humors (dyscrasia) and the purpose of medicine is to reestablish a healthy balance (eucrasia). I want to point out that this patho-physiology and the entire procedure of thermal bathing are intuitive extrapolations from observations from basic physics.  1. Sufficient heat causes a solid object to liquify and a liquid to vaporize. 2. Nature seeks a thermal equilibrium when a hot and a cold object are adjacent to each other. It was not necessary to understand what heat is to recognize heat transfer. Does the effect of heat depend on its source? Whether the therapeutic value of hot spring water depends on its temperature or on the solutes it contains remained in dispute.       

Humors were accorded physical properties, although each humor did not behave uniquely in a fluid-dynamic sense. However, the thicker a humor was believed to become, the more slowly it flowed and the more likely it was to obstruct its target organ; heating thins the humor, causes it to flow more rapidly with the risk of pooling in inappropriate areas. These considerations pertain to thermal bathing with the assumption of easy heat transfer into and out of the body. While the existence of pores in the skin would have, erroneously, provided an explanation for the ingress and egress of heat, they had not yet been discovered. Nevertheless, since they were logically deemed necessary, their existence was postulated. The duration of bathing and proportion of the body to be bathed were among the stipulations of the “learned physician.” There was a remarkable similarity in the advice that was given for behavior before, during and immediately after bathing, all based on preservation of heat, with one exceptional addition: English writers stressed the additional effect of religion. 


Anthony Cardenas-Rotunno (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque): Water, Hygiene, and Well Being:  A Medieval Spanish Excursus to the Isopete Hystoriado

Using Power Point I will briefly discuss ways in which water plays a role in the Cid, the Apolonio, Libro de los engaños, Cifar, Conde Lucanor, Libro de buen amor, Corbacho, Celestina, Arboleda de los enfermos, and  Cárcel de amor.  I go into further depth with the three notions of the symposium as they appear in the 1482 editio princeps of Aesop’s fables.


Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona: Bathing and Cleanliness in Medieval German Courtly Romances

Common opinion today holds that people in the Middle Ages were simply dirty, hence the moniker of the ‘dark ages.’ But any careful reading of a variety of courtly narratives from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries reveals how much baths, personal cleanliness, water, and medical treatments mattered, at least for the noble class. My paper will examine a selection of relevant texts where the protagonists take a bath and relax, enjoying their leisure and physical health. I will discuss what kind of baths are mentioned, how often they appear, and what this all matters for medieval cultural history.

Allison P. Coudert, University of California at Davis: “The Mouse’s Petition”: Extending the Boundaries of Well-Being in the Long Eighteenth Century

Many scholars have remarked on the new sensibility toward animals that emerged in the West from 1500 to 1800 as the boundaries separating man and beast became increasingly porous and human sympathy expanded to include the animal kingdom. These changes must be seen in conjunction with the more sympathetic attitudes toward the deformed, the insane, the enslaved, and the imprisoned that developed over the same period. All these groups benefited from what Hans Bodeker called “The Anthropological Revolution,” which essentially transformed corrupt and fallen man into the tender-hearted, kindly, and benevolent  “man of feeling,” who, to quote William Cowper’s poem “The Task,” wished “all that are capable of pleasure pleased.” The ability to suffer united all these groups in the minds of those individuals newly sensitized to pain and cruelty; they therefore merited civil usage and some degree of respect. As I will argue, the growing middle class was largely responsible for this change in sensibility. Thus instead of being, in Foucault’s words “The Great Age of Confinement,” during which the bourgeoisie tried to lock away all those who failed to live up to their standards of proper behavior, the Age of Reason witnessed a demand for reform fueled by middle class concerns. This does not mean that middle class proponents of reform acted selflessly, although many did, or that their alleged humanitarianism could not be a vehicle for repression in its own right, which it could be, as we shall see, in the case of classism and racism. It simply means that in a number of areas middle class self-interest was conducive to furthering the self-interest of marginalized or oppressed groups. “The Mouse’s Petition” was indicative of this broadening of sympathy. Caged, trapped, or abused animals provided powerful images of various kinds of imprisonment, whether physical, psychological, or social; and this tiny, caged creature served as an elegant mouthpiece for the liberal movements to free those oppressed.


Sarah Gordon, Dept. of French, Utah State University: Mens Sana in Corpore Sanus: Wellness and Cleanliness in Two Fifteenth-Century Medical Manuals

The compilations of recipes and surgical instructions found in two roughly contemporary mid-fifteenth-century Huntington Library manuscripts HM 1336 and HM 19709 appear to offer prescriptions for both physical wellbeing and mental health. They are concerned with preventative care and wellness, and not only with treatment of disease or injury, as might be expected. All five senses are addressed, as wellness is described in terms of what the patient listens to, looks at, eats, touches, drinks, washes, etc. There is an explicit healthy body/healthy mind connection drawn in each prescriptive statement, such as: avoiding sore feet because they make one feel bad, or avoiding over eating, or looking at green things to feel calm, or washing to avoid certain forms of discomfort, avoiding too much salted meat without drinking, avoiding unpleasant noises, or avoiding the mere sight of blood, tripes, or stale or rotten foods, all of which are suggested as physical behavioral modifications aimed at increasing overall wellbeing. This paper focuses primarily on the approaches to wellness in these texts that involve food, drink, and hygiene. For example, for migraine headaches, symptoms are caused by noise, emotion, or diet and are related to the imbalance of humors and treated with a more balanced diet, electuaries, herbs, flowers, water, butter, and behavioral changes. Elsewhere, water, flowers, herbs, and even rust are used in the medicinal balancing of humors, for pain management, or even for their comforting or antiseptic qualities. The study compares examples of doctors’ orders for wellness, hygiene, and wellbeing, for instance those found in HM 19709: “drinking wine measurably, washing hands and feet often, eating sage, maintaining balanced waking and sleeping time, looking at the color green, drinking clean water, eating mustard and pepper, hearing song, the singing of children….” Exploring these medical treatises, in conjunction with examples from literary texts and manuscript miniature representations of medicinal, hygienic, and dietary prescriptions is essential in mapping medieval conceptions of the continuum of cleanliness, illness, and wellness.


Jean E. Jost (Bradley University, Peoria, IL 61625): The Ambiguous Effects of Water and Oil in Medieval Romance

In the Middle Ages, water and oil have been a force for good and ill, healing, and sometimes death, both literally and spiritually, especially in romances such as “The Awntyrs off Arthur at the Terne Wathelyne,” “Yvain and Gawain,” and “Tristan and Isolde.”

    “The Awntyrs off Arthur at the Terne Wathelyne” begins in a beautiful May morning which suddenly turns rainy and snowy as the next scene begins. This signifies a change of venue, from the natural world to the supernatural environment.

    Soon, from a wet, marshy field Guinevere’s ghostly  mother emerges from the other world through the watery marshland. Her purpose is to warn her daughter and the accompanying Gawain, an apparently thoughtful method of saving them from disaster. Her message of salvation for Guinevere is to avoid the sexual sins of excesses that put her into hell.  Her message of salvation for Gawain is to avoid the sin of greed and usurpation of others’ lands that would put him into hell. Unfortunately neither character is capable of following the advice of the screeching and suffering water-logged spirit. Although these baptismal waters from whence the ghost emerged were intended to save the two, the recipients were unable to profit from the experience during their lifetimes. The life-healing waters were insufficient to change these major figures in the Round Table, and hence the entire society.

    “Yvain and Gawain” finds Cologrevance leaving the Arthurian coterie and returning with a magical tale of a water fountain showering him at the edge of a castle, necessitating his return to his friends. Colgrevance reports his experience this way:                I fand [found] the bacyn [basin] als he talde,
And the wel with water kalde.
An amerawd [emerald] was the stane –
Richer saw I never nane –
On fowre rubyes on heght standand.
Thaire light lasted over al the land,
And when I saw that semely syght,
It made me bath joyful and lyght.
I toke the bacyn sone onane
And helt [poured] water opon the stane.
The weder wex than wonder-blak,
And the thoner [thunder] fast gan crak.
Thare come slike stormes of hayl and rayn,
Unnethes I might stand thare ogayn;
The store windes blew ful lowd,
So kene come never are of clowd. (359-74)

This deluge of water does not bring salvation or respite to Colgrevance, but only a confrontation with defeat since he fails to subdue the Knight who controls this fountain. After experiencing tremendous snow and hail, Colgevance notices a knight coming to him who asked why Colgrevance did this injury of bringing winter to the land. Since the bumbling Colgevance has no response, he is invited to return home where he shares his experience with the Court.

    Then, the intrigued Yvain sneaks out to replicate Cologrevance’s experience and take vengeance for his shame, and that of Arthur’s Court, at losing the battle. After killing the knight for his success over Colgrevance, Yvain marries the lovely Queen Lunette. Soon Arthur arrives and the tumultuous scene of water-saturation is repeated.

        The king kest water on the stane;
The storme rase ful sone onane
With wikked weders, kene and calde,
Als it was byforehand talde.
The king and his men ilkane
Wend [thought] tharwith to have bene slane,
So blew it store with slete and rayn;
And hastily than Syr Ywayne
Dight him graythly in his gere
With nobil shelde and strong spere.
When he was dight in seker wede,
Than he umstrade a nobil stede.  (1291-1302)

This time, the water storm introduces the company to the accommodating Yvain now in charge of the fountain, rather than an enemy seeking revenge for bringing on the winter, meets Arthur’s coterie. His victory over the water-deluge signifies an acceptance and salvation since this castle is now part of Arthur’s entourage.

        When Yvain leaves his love Lunette for one year of chivalric interaction, he fails to return, and goes insane. It is the application of oil, an unambiguous salutary substance, that heals him and returns his health to its former salubrious state. Its salvific qualities liberate his mind, allowing him to return to his normal psychological state, and his love.

    “Tristan and Isolde” utilizes water in several ways, which ironically both brings the lovers together and ultimately separates them. When King Mark determines to bring the young Isolde to his Kingdom, Tristan is enlisted to escort her across the waters to become Mark’s queen. This is the beginning of the couple’s union when they drink the magic potion Isolde’s mother intended for her daughter and King Mark.  
    Water is also the means for the lovers to communicate, through the runes Tristan crafted for Isolde since he places them in the waters she must pass. This satisfies her love, and continues the affair.
    But over the years, the couple is separated by water, and ultimately is the cause of their demise. When Tristan’s injuries threaten his life, and he calls for Isolde’s medical skills, she indeed responds and travels to help him. But the second Isolde and new wife is jealous, and reports that the arriving ship does not contain the healing Isolde. Tristan surrenders his desire for life, turns to the wall and dies. Like the story of Romeo and Juliette, Isolde determines to die with him when she learns the fate of her beloved. Had water not separated the lovers, and had stormy weather not held up her ship, this catastrophe would not have occurred.

    Water thus functions in various ways, as the means for salvation, and the means of death and desolation in medieval romance. As often as it brings health and consolation, it is also the means for death and desolation.


Erin S. Lynch, Western Michigan University: Circumdederunt Me; Libera Me: Spatial Barrier as Hygiene for the Medieval Lepers of Grand-Beaulieu

The traditional school of thought with regard to juridical acts imposed upon lepers during the High Middle Ages is based on the assumption that the passing of such acts was a reactionary measure erupting from either disgust or fear of the leper. I argue, however, that the laws and statutes which determined how a leper would engage in society and how s/he would engage with other lepers, came out of a medieval theory of hygiene. Leper communities, such as was found at the Léproserie du Grand-Beaulieu, were not created merely for the hygienic protection of the non-leper population, but for the well-being of the medieval lepers themselves. In order to protect the leper and society from one another, several secular and ecclesiastical juridical acts were passed, such as those seen in the twenty-third edict of the Third Lateran Council (1179), the Assizes of London (1276), and the standard De Leproso Amovendo, ordering that lepers be removed from their “healthy” communities. The leper was thus separated from his/ her community by means of an expulsion rite, such as is found in the Sarum manual. The act of separation, together with the numerous edicts which discuss a leper’s behavior and movement, serve to illustrate hygienic practices which function for both the leper and the society from which s/he was banished. The physical space placed between leper and non-leper functioned as a hygienic barrier for the uninfected. This space can be seen in restrictions as to what a leper was allowed to touch, where s/he was to stand with respect to the non-leper, how the leper was to conduct himself when at a well in the presence of non-lepers, as well as in the larger separation created through the expulsion ritual. In the case of those lepers who found their way to the Léproserie du Grand-Beaulieu, southeast of the city of Chartres, a comprehensive series of statutes determined how the leper would eat, dress, bathe, interact with lepers and non-lepers alike, and leave the leprosarium to retrieve water. In this paper, I will examine the leper edict of the Third Lateran Council together with the restrictions placed on the leper as summarized in the Sarum expulsion rite, and the Statuts de la Léproserie du Grand-Beaulieu de Chartres (Janvier 1264) in order to demonstrate that the goal of all of these restrictions and regulations was to create an isolated and hygienic environment in which the leper could live and function.  


Rosa A. Perez, Southern Utah University: “Troubled Waters:  Bathing and Illicit Relations in Flamenca and Equitan

Baths taken in public spaces or in the private domain are not mere occurrences in the French romance Flamenca (13th century), and in the lai of Equitan (12th century). In one of these tales of adulterous love the bath provides the lovers the opportunity to meet in spite of a jealous husband, while in the case of Equitan, the bath becomes the intended instrument of the husband’s murder.

In both instances the authors resort to a real or presumed ailment of one of the characters to incorporate the bath as an essential element of the narration. In Flamenca, the anonymous author sets the story in Bourbon-l’Arn-Chambault, a city reputed for its thermal springs, therapeutic waters in which Flamenca will be able to bath without raising any suspicion on the part of the husband. In the lai of Equitan, Marie de France uses the custom of letting blood, a medical practice commonly followed by a bath, as a ruse exploited by the lovers to trick the trusting husband into a bath of boiling water.

The accounts of bathing in these two particular texts, but also descriptions of baths in other medieval texts, will allow me to examine and explore the cultural and social aspects of this practice in courtly life.


Daniel F. Pigg (Department of English and Modern Foreign Languages, The University of Tennessee at Martin, TN 38238): Bald’s Leechbook and the Construction of Male Health in Anglo-Saxon England

Bald’s Leechbook, dating from the time of King Alfred in the 9th century is the earliest vernacular medical text available from Western Europe. Clearly, a translation and a compendium of medical remedies from the classical world, it also contains a good deal of information about remedies that develop in northern Europe, at times contrasting northern European and southern European cures. There are four treaties combined in the manuscript (British Library, Royal 12 D xvii). This paper will first describe the collection and make some general observations about the nature of health and wellness based on the suggested treatments.

The present study will, however, focus on the first two parts of the Leechbook. While there is much attention to remedies that are not gender-specific, there are a number of remedies from health issues that are specifically male. Clearly, medical remedies or treatments develop from necessity, and they give us an index into the particular challenges of maleness. From literary texts of the period, we know that maleness is often presented in very essentialist ways that are specifically related to the understanding of “biology as destiny.”

This essay asserts that Bald’s Leechbook provides insight into the social construction of masculinity in Anglo-Saxon England. By definition, if masculinity in reality is based on essentialist notions of gender, medical treatments may restore the health that would make such essentialism possible. In essence, if nature, war, labor, disease, and the aging process destroyed aspects of male identity, medicine might be used as a restorative. In that way, a study of various remedies for maladies such as problems with mistiness of the eyes, wounds in certain parts of the body, sexual impotence or even aggressive amorous behavior and other elements such as hair loss and restoration tell us a great deal about the desire to “fix” problems that are a part of that constructed image of masculinity. While none of the imaginative literature specifically mentions anyone seeking out a physician for male-specific health issues or other health issues for that matter, this unique medical compendium provides access to the mentalities and material practices that underlie medieval culture before the year 1000 in England.

From the perspective of modern pharmacology, some of the suggested remedies certainly seem practical; some are, of course, a blending of “medical science” and folklore with religious faith and ritual practices. A study of Bald’s Leechbook provides access to the early knowledge of health and wellness of Anglo-Saxon England, and in particular, it provides access to knowledge of male health. In literary texts, scholars often speak about the “performance of masculinity.” In Bald’s Leechbook, we find the desire of the medical community and male patients to arrest the particular challenges of being male.


Anne Scott, (English Dept. and Honors Program, NAU, Flagstaff): Water as Litmus Test and Lodestone: Emotional Experience in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

This presentation will examine the wide-ranging references to water in a large number of secular and religious works spanning the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods so as to pinpoint and interpret the manner in which water imagery contributes to the authors’ representation and evocation of human emotion. A number of authors deliberately define and enhance the very humanity of their protagonists through this linking of emotion to a person’s experiences with water. At the same time, and through these distinct water references, the authors also encourage the readers to register and identify with the emotional poignancy of the protagonists’ struggles so that they might better understand, on this emotional level, how individuals both succeed and fail to be good people in this world.

            We will come to understand how specific aqueous encounters in these works, which are emotionally charged both for their protagonists as well as for readers, seem to become the sine qua non of the human condition for so many of these protagonists and speakers, providing depth, shape, and meaning to human pain, courage, madness, spiritual ecstasy, and hope, in key situations that throw into relief the characters’ moral strengths or weaknesses.




Penny C. Simons (Sheffield University, UK): The Good Life?  Hygiene and Well-Being in Old French texts

Old French fabliaux are characterised by their enthusiasm for the pleasures of the good life:  drinking, eating, sex – invariably taken to excess. But in the topsy-turvey world of this genre, the darker sides of these excesses come to the fore.  If the pleasures of the table are to be enjoyed, then the biological consequences must follow; excessive consumption will inevitably be followed by an excess of defecation or urination.  Similarly, the body parts associated with the sexual function may feature in excessive or grotesque forms, giving rise to the very opposite of health or well-being.  This paper will look at the twin topics of excretion and genitalia, incarnated in the duality of le cul and le con, across a range of examples from the genre with a focus on the following questions:  what are the purposes and consequences of the excesses or malfunctions of these bodily processes and body parts?  And how do these relate to larger questions of hygiene and well-being when taken in conjunction with the topoi of medical practice and bathing/water which we also find in the fabliau corpus?  Answers to these questions reveal underlying questions about propriety and cleanliness which is played out in a tension between textual forms the and bodily functions. These reach their apogee in another famous example, the scurrilous Old French mock epic, La Chanson d’Audigier, and the paper concludes with an exploration of what happens when all textual and hygienic boundaries are finally transgressed.



Debra L. Stoudt, Virginia Tech: Elemental Healing in the Middle Ages

The relationship between the humors and the elements, established in classical medicine, continued into medieval times.  However, in the course of the Middle Ages new interpretations of the elements afforded them a significant role in healing, preventing disease, and maintaining health.  This study examines various descriptions – cosmological, alchemical, medical – of the properties of two elements, water and earth, between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries and the health and hygienic practices associated with the elements as a result.  Although “taking the waters” became a common practice in the seventeenth century, the value of mineral and thermal springs for drinking and bathing was recognized centuries earlier – as was the value of mud (terra sigillata, medicinal earth) found near certain bodies of water or in specific geographic regions.
Among the earliest texts discussed are the Physica and the Cause et cure associated with Hildegard of Bingen, where the distinction is made between celestial and terrestrial elements (air and fire compared with water and earth).  The former work describes differences among the waters of German rivers, and the latter comments on the efficacy of various types of water in treating diverse maladies and conditions.  Texts from the sixteenth century include the Große Wundarznei of Paracelsus, which explores the nature of the waters of Bad Pfäfers (Switzerland), and descriptions of the terra Silesiaca, discovered by Montanus (Johann Schulz/Johannes Scultetus Trimontanus).


Scott L. Taylor (PCC): “Si Odore Solo Locus Pestilentiosus Fiat: Private Property, Public Health and Environmental Hygiene – Advantages of the English Common Law of Nuisance over the Corpus Juris Civilis”

According to the Pandects 43:8:2, discussing interdicts enjoining actions in public places or ways, Nerva maintained that such relief was not available where the action was directed at preventing conditions unhealthy solely on account of foul odors.  Although it was axiomatic in Galenic medicine that whatever stinks is pestiferous,  only in the middle of the fourteenth century did university medical practitioners such as Agramont and Gentile suggest, largely in response to the Black Death despite the idea holding some isolated currency from 1300 onward, that as a consequence of their pestilential potential such putrid odors should be mitigated by a regime of environmental hygiene.  While such statutory regimes in fact began to proliferate both on the continent and in England, by then, English law had long established the assize of nuisance, allowing private plaintiffs to pursue damages for actions or conditions ad nocumentum liberi tenement sui, or where damages were common to a community, local authorities to pursue abatementWhile some scholars have suggested that the greater responsiveness of the English common law to environmental noxiousness is attributable to a greater concern for private realty, this paper suggests that to the contrary, Roman law was as or more concerned with the absolute quality of private property, and that the difference lay in the more flexible and pragmatic procedures of the English common law, allowing for a more facile reconciliation of law and socio-economic context, and a greater allowance for not only health per se but aesthetic considerations under a pragmatic construction of “enjoyment”.  

David Tomacek (John Evangelista Purkyne University, Czech Republic): Air as the Subject of Hygienic Rules in Medieval Medical Literature

Hygiene has traditionally been perceived as a set of principles which, if obeyed, serve to preserve health. The main and generally comprehensive motif of this concept is cleanliness, linked mainly in the modern era with the attempt of ridding an individual and its closest living space of dirt and similar unenticing sources of illness. Hygiene, however, does not merely concern physical cleanliness; we are also talking about mental hygiene, hygiene of physical activity, hygiene of sleep, and so on. Such a widely conceived concept of hygiene is the heritage of the medical thinking of ancient Greece which, in the Middle Ages, was translated into the form of a literary genre addressing the principles for the maintenance of a healthy regimen (regimina sanitatis). As can be learnt from studying these texts, the crucial subject of debates revolving around the hygiene of both an individual and a community was air or, respectively, environment. Medical sources testify that bad or polluted air was viewed as the primary cause of illnesses as well as other physical disorders while water, for example, received much less attention in this context. The aim of this paper is to analyze a selected sample of medical treatises from the 13th to the 16th centuries and show how they present the subject of air with respect to the hygiene of the individual and the community. At the same time, this paper will also consider the wider aspects of hygiene, as defined by the medieval teachings on res non naturales.    

Belle Tuten, Juniata College, Huntington, PA, History: The Necessitas Naturae and Monastic Hygiene

This study attempts to query some early medieval sources to expose monastic attitudes about the body and its products. I will argue that the control of bodily waste, such as urine and feces, was intimately bound up with monastic ideals, and was expressed throughout the monastic day as well as in Frankish monastic commentaries of the 7th to 9th centuries. The texts reveal some ambivalent attitudes about bodily waste: on the one hand, monks seem to have been required to time their visits to the latrine as a part of discipline; but on the other hand, the monastic writers of the Frankish era did not expect the kind of heroic attitudes modeled by earlier ascetics. This paper takes monastic, archaeological and medical sources into account in order to explore how monks dealt with the most basic bodily functions.


Warren Tormey, English Department, Middle Tennessee State University: Treating the Condition of “Evil” in the Anglo-Saxon Herbals  

The condition of “evil” was seen as a legitimate medical affliction throughout the corpus of Anglo-Saxon Herbal guides.  The Lacnunga, the Anglo-Saxon Herbal healing guide judged to be most associated with native healing traditions, begins by offering various cures for headache.  One remedy, calling for “little stones in the stomachs of a swallow’s fledglings,” is described as  “good for headache, and for eye-pain, and for the enemy’s temptations, and for night-goers, and the spring ailment, and nightmares, and herbal restraint, and enchantments, and evil charm-workings” (Lacnunga, ch. 1).  The Old English Herbarium, the guide most closely associated with Continental Healing practices, reflects the Mediterranean origins of the Herbarium of Pseudo-Apuleius.   Even so, afflictions of “evil” appear in a series of treatments for “the approach of evil,” the “evil eye,” “evil spells,” the presence of “night-goers,” and a series of other vaguely defined conditions where evil is presented as a medical malady.   For example, the plant pes leonis, or Lion’s Foot, is used to treat an afflicted person in the “condition of being under an evil spell.”  In order to “untie them” from the affliction, the healer is instructed to “take five of the plants we call lion’s foot without their roots, simmer them in water while the moon is waning, and wash the person with it.  Lead the person out of the house in the early evening and fumigate him with the birthwort plant.  When going outside, the person must not look back; in this way you can undo the condition” (Herbarium, ch. 8). Relief from the affliction of “evil” is found in various herbal treatments and remedies, and treatments most frequently require the use of some herb or plant in prescribed preparation in accordance with some ritual aspect.  In looking at treatments for “evil” as described the Lacnunga, the Herbarium, and Bald’s Leechbook (the third Saxon healing guide), and informed by the work of scholars who focus on the intersections between Church-sanctioned and native Saxon practices, I hope to consider the roles that magic, ritual, and practical medicine play in treating this vaguely defined affliction.   My project is influenced by the work of Anglo-Saxon scholar Karen Jolly, who articulated the notion that Saxon remedies reflect “middle practices,” or the “in-between practices…” that show “how Christianity and Anglo-Saxon culture were fused” (Jolly, 3-4).  Arguing that select treatments for the condition of evil are rooted in recognizable afflictions, I hope to establish that these treatments for this condition were based in the powers of ritual and in the legitimate healing qualities of select herbal remedies.  Work Cited: Jolly, Karen Louise.  Elf Charms in Context:  Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: U of North Carolina P, 1996.


Dr Christina Welch, University of Winchester : Understanding Spiritual Well-being in Late-Medieval England through Sculptures of the Emaciated Dead

In England there are 38 extant sculptures of the late medieval religious elite and wealthy land owners and merchants; these images commemorated the individual in a state of extreme emaciation. Most also represent the individual in a liminal state; laid in a burial shroud yet seemingly gasping their last breath. This paper explores why these individuals would wish to be immortalized as if they were dying of the bloody flux (dysentery) or phthisis (tuberculosis) with a focus on the relationship between spiritual well-being, and the physical body. Drawing on Roman Catholic understandings of the after-life, it will touch on the complexities of leprosy, and the role of the holy leper, and by exploring the significance of pilgrimage, it will note the importance of humorism during this period of history in working toward physical and spiritual well-being. It will, by contextualizing these emaciated sculptures, emphasize that the sick body could, in certain circumstances, transcend earthly understandings of illness and disease, and become emblematic of spiritual well-being.

Cynthia White, Department of Classics, The University of Arizona
Potiones ad sanandum: Text as Remedy in a Medieval Bestiary

The medieval bestiary describes the nature and habits of animals, birds, fish, serpents and worms. Many of these creatures produce various remedies and medicines for physical infirmities.  One example is the bee, which, according to the bestiary, courses through the fragrant countryside, where gardens exude the scent of flowers and a brook might vanish into the grasses. There, this industrious worker builds camp, makes wax from flowers and collects dew to pour into the recesses of the camps and then press into honey. Its honey is sought by all and with indiscriminate grace it provides a sweetness for kings and commoners alike; it contributes not only to pleasure, but also to health: it soothes the throat and heals wounds, and it imparts its medicine to sores. So, too, the charadrius, whose intestine dung cures weak-sightedness, and who can predict the outcome of any illness: if the charadrius detects a mortal illness, it turns its face from the sick man and goes away; but if the illness is not deadly, the charadrius leans it head over his face and carries off all his infirmities high into the upper air of the sun where the infirmities are burned and dispersed and the sick man healed. Yet the true valence of these remedies inheres not in their capacity to heal corporeal infirmities but to heal the “sinful spirit of spiritual corruption.” Thus, the most valued remedy that the bee imparts is the peace we attain by following its example of virtue and by imitating its industry. And though the charadrius is unclean according to the Law, in its behavior it takes on the persona of the Savior, who took up the cross as a remedy for our sins: “He came from his high heavens to the sick nation of the Jews and turned his face from them because of their unbelief. He turned himself instead to us gentiles and taking up our infirmities, that is, carrying our sins, he was lifted up on the cross.”

This paper will study several examples of the medicinal and salubrious remedies catalogued in the bestiary. As in the lessons of the bee and the charadrius above, throughout its alphabet of creatures, the bestiary provides examples of God’s hand in every detail of his creation, which is the natural world. Any creature in that natural world can serve as the starting point for potiones ad sanandum—textual interpretations of medicinal remedies as the cure for our spiritual infirmities.


Thomas Willard (The University of Arizona): The Water in the Rose Garden: Miraculous Properties of Water in Early Modern Chemistry

Before Lavoissier performed the first modern analysis of water, in 1784, the substance was regarded as a basic element of the material world, much as Mars was considered an element of the planetary system. Chemical lexicons included many synonyms for water, while medical texts discussed medicinal waters of all sorts and for almost any ailment. Amid the linguistic and scientific confusion many ideas were floated about the benefits of various waters, and occasionally the dangers. This paper will consider several texts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including an alchemical dialogue of 1550 and a medical text on spa waters from 1652. It will trace the slow transition from folk wisdom and mythic associations to scientific experiment, with attention to the experiments of Robert Boyle. In reviewing the hopes of chemists, physicians, and their clients, it will suggest that the early modern sense of health was conditioned by lore dating back to antiquity while it was stimulated by the hope of new learning.