- Between Text and Patient: The Medical Enterprise in Medieval & Early Modern Europe
The essays collected in this volume originated as papers delivered at a 2007 symposium honoring the scholarly career of Michael R. McVaugh. The contributors address a generous array of topics related to “the intellectual, social, material, and economic conditions in which medieval and early modern medicine operated” (pp. 3–4) through an equally generous range of methodologies. As the editors explain, this “variety of approaches reflects in many respects the range of McVaugh’s own interests” (p. 4). Although the editors also humbly describe this diversely oriented volume as “a sort of medical history smorgasbord, or even [End Page 470] a florilegium” (p. 20), it nevertheless achieves a degree of coherence that many Festschriften lack. The excellent introduction establishes clear through-lines and connections among the carefully edited and organized contributions, and most of the essays explicitly engage at least one aspect of McVaugh’s work while also resonating productively with one another.
Each of the twenty-one essays merits close consideration, but for the present review it will have to suffice to merely survey the rich and diverse offerings composing the volume’s three sections. The first section gathers contributions on “Communities of Knowledge” that contextualize certain of the relationships “between text and patient” invoked in the title of the volume. The section begins with a searching study by Francis Newton that reassesses Constantine the African’s relationship with his Arabic sources, which the translator typically declines to identify. Newton argues convincingly that this omission was not because of “any distaste . . . for Arabic culture” (p. 31), as is commonly believed, but rather because the translations themselves were already understood to be “imports from Arabic culture” (p. 43). This was desirable in a southern Italian culture that, as Newton reveals with the help of well-chosen images, “experienced a powerful wave of interest in things Arabic” (p. 31). In this section we also find similarly rewarding studies on the paratextual elements in manuscripts of Gariopontus’s Passionarius that reveal clues to Salernitan pedagogy (Florence Eliza Glaze), the novel incorporation and propagation of Arnau de Vilanova’s theory of medicinal degrees in Stefanus Arlandi’s commentary on the Antidotarium Nicolai (Pedro Gil-Sotres), medieval debates concerning the role of medicine and surgery in cosmetic restoration and enhancement (Luke Demaitre), mendicant table talk about practical medical subjects (Joseph Ziegler), and the integration of the tropes, vocabulary, and concepts of learned medicine into devotional literature by later-medieval Spanish women (Joan Cadden).
The second section, “Patients, Practitioners, and Diseases,” begins with the only non-English-language contribution, Klaus-Dietrich Fischer’s detailed study in German of medical recipes for remedies including acharistum. Linda Ehrsam Voigts shines welcome light on an overlooked genre in her examination of fifteenth-century Middle English banns that were read aloud to drum up business for an itinerant physician. Voigts provides an edition and a Modern English translation of the banns, and also characterizes them culturally (in relation to theatrical banns and antiphysician satire, among other contexts), generically, linguistically, and within their unique manuscript setting. Monica H. Green examines the Latin translation of al-Zahrāwī’s (Albucasis) Surgery, a work that she demonstrates found readerships—including “an elite lay audience” (p. 367)––partly because of its unique gynecological and obstetrical content and illustrations. Green also identifies the surviving manuscripts containing the Latin and vernacular versions of the text in an appendix that supplants Sudhoff’s nearly century-old list. As with most of the contributions—and as is characteristic of McVaugh’s work—Green’s social-historical analysis rests on a solid foundation of rigorous philological and codicological inquiry. [End Page 471]
This section also includes essays on the “tacit knowledge” (p. 205) needed to make practical sense of medical texts (Anne Van Arsdall), the practice and metaphorics of monastic periodic phlebotomy for the purposes of “recreation” (a word whose polysemy is deftly examined...