The medical university at Montpellier, in southern France, was one of the most remarkable institutions of the later Middle Ages. Enriched by patronage from the exiled papacy at nearby Avignon, in touch with Christian, Jewish, and Islamic scholars from its Mediterranean neighbors, and notably independent from the limiting influence of a liberal arts faculty, Montpellier stands alongside Bologna [End Page 533] as one of the great centers of medieval medical learning. Its thirteenth-century statutes demanded of students that they practice medicine for a time outside the university, and by the following century graduates could witness human dissection. Arnau de Vilanova, Bernard Gordon, Guy de Chauliac, and Jean de Tournemire were all part of this brilliant academic tradition.
Among these luminaries the best known to subsequent authorities was Guy de Chauliac. Born at the end of the thirteenth century in south-central France, Guy was educated first at Toulouse and then at Montpellier, where he was trained as an academic physician. He probably also studied medicine at Bologna. A survivor of the Great Plague of the middle of the fourteenth century, he denounced popular persecution of the Jews, who were thought by many to have caused plague by poisoning the wells: he marshalled arguments from the science of his day to dismiss the poisoned-well theory as nonsense. He died in the service of the great patron of medical education Pope Urban V in 1368.
Although he was trained as a physician, Guy’s great work was a treatise on learned surgery—the Inventarium—finished in 1363. The Inventarium was extremely popular, especially in abridgments of the original Latin and in numerous translations into vernacular languages: it was rendered into English no fewer than four times, and is also found in French, Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and Provençal. The Latin was first printed in 1490, and was printed again many times after that. Guy’s text was “reworked” by subsequent authorities through the end of the nineteenth century (most notably by humanists, to remove objectionable “arabism”)—until, as one editor noted, it was so far from the original as to be unrecognizable as Guy’s own work.
Access to Guy’s original Latin has been difficult at best. Indeed, the work is better known in Margaret Ogden’s edition of one Middle English translation (MS Paris, BN angl. 25), prepared for the Early English Text Society in 1971. Björn Wallner has edited parts of another Middle English Guy manuscript, which is coming out in fascicles, some of which are accompanied by Latin exemplars; unfortunately, his work is difficult to use because its pieces are so scattered, and the Latin exemplar is incomplete. Scholars wanting to study this crucial text have experienced frustration as a result, and many simply cite Ogden’s Middle English translation by default.
Fortunately, Michael R. McVaugh, one of the most experienced editors of medieval Latin texts working today, has edited Guy’s text in its original language, from a manuscript (MS Vatican City, Vat. Palat. Lat. 1317) completed at Montpellier in 1373, only a decade after its author’s death. The edition is in two volumes. Volume 1 contains a preface explaining the complex history of the edition of the text in Middle English and then in Latin, an introduction, and the Latin text itself, and notes to variant readings from other manuscripts. Volume 2 will contain a commentary on the Latin text, a discussion of Latin terminology, and a close study of Guy’s sources. Taken together, these two volumes will provide one of the most valuable and skillfully prepared editions of a Latin medical text ever published.
Guy de Chauliac, as McVaugh points out in his introduction, represents the [End Page 534] culmination of a centuries-long attempt to place the craft of surgery on firm academic ground. The title Inventarium is no accident—Guy wanted to supply academic surgeons with an inventory (McVaugh calls it a “chrestomathy”) of citations to the best learned sources so that...