Monday, May 13, 2013

Medieval mind and illness

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, who also writes historical novels as James Forrester, is an excellent read for authors and readers alike.

I was struck by many things as I read it, but one of them was an eye opening sequence on medicine. The possibilities of injury and illness were common. You could be struck by a blade, an arrow, a staff or even a cannon ball, not to mention falling off a horse or being bitten by a wolf or bear. When such injuries in themselves would not have proved fatal, the medicine of the day was such that it and a total lack of hygiene quickly saw a patient on his way to a better life.

How disease spread was quite unknown. Body function was mostly guesswork. No one knew about circulation of the blood, so instead of feeling the pulse for signs of life, a bowl of water would be placed upon the victim's chest to see if he or she were still breathing.

Given the lack of education and knowing the rule of the church was so strong, it is not much of a surprise to learn that  medieval man considered  the most common cause of illness to be Divine Justice. Disease was regarded as a tempering fire sent to test an individual's faith in God's mercy. Even if a cure was effected, it came courtesy of God's grace, never the skill of the doctor.

The planets and stars were thought to have an influence on health of individuals and communities and it was believed they controlled the function of organs such as the brain and liver. Medieval people had medical knowledge, and some of it was sophisticated, but it worked on very different lines to our own. Instead of hygiene and antibiotics, medieval man depended on a mix of astrology, herbology, religion, philosophy, mixed with a lot of hearsay and vast

quantities of desperation.

I thoroughly recommend Dr Mortimer's book for your enjoyment. You'll learn a lot, I assure you.

Posted by Jen Black,
author of Far After Gold and Victorian Beauty.


Maggi Andersen said...

Very interesting article, Jen. I've tweeted and shared it.

Jen Black said...

Thanks, Maggi. Best outlay of cash I've spent in a long time.