Caring for the body: Lilium medicinae by Bernard of Gordon

 Lilium medicinae, Bernard de Gordon. Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Ms 10a 149, fol. 55v. Image from Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis on OPenn.

Lilium medicinae, Bernard de Gordon. Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Ms 10a 149, fol. 55v. Image from Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis on OPenn.

Not all medieval manuscripts are all about the pretty pictures and salvation (or not). This one is about the body.

This manuscript of Bernard de Gordon’s Lilium medicinae (Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians, 10a 249) is one of a number of manuscript editions of a comprehensive and practical manual for medical practitioners. The work is divided into seven sections that address the body from head to foot. Each section includes definition, causes, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and clarification.

Lilium medicinae survives in a number of copies, including its original Latin and a number of translations including English, a testament to its popularity, especially in England. The College’s copy was made in 1348 and completed at the feast of Corpus Christi (June 20) — almost exactly when the Black Death landed in Melcombe in the county of Dorset.

Lilium Medicinae, Bernard de Gordon, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians, ms. 10a 249, fol. 15v, showing the beginning of the passage on pestilential fevers. Photo courtesy of the Library.
Lilium Medicinae, Bernard de Gordon, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians, ms. 10a 249, fol. 15v, showing the beginning of the passage on pestilential fevers. Photo courtesy of the Library.

Chrissie Perella, Archivist at the College of Physicians, translated a 1551 Latin version of Lilium medicinae on the causes of pestilence in her “Medieval Monday” series of blog entries: “Pestilential fevers are those that arrive in the time when crops are destroyed and all is barren because of corrupted air and water. . .The signs of which are common, and some belong to fever.  Signs of a future pestilence appear as stars called comets, with a round tail and a meteor, and the way in which it [the weather] is hot and then cold, and then hot and then cold again, many times in one day….” Read more here: Pestilential Fevers, or, The Black Death

 CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow Erin Connelly, who reviewed and expanded the cataloging data for Lilium medicinae for the BiblioPhilly project, has a personal interest in the work: her dissertation at the University of Nottingham focused on a manuscript of a fifteenth-century Middle English translation, The Lylye of Medicynes (Oxford Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 1505). In addition to working on an edition of the manuscript, she has mined it for a project called Ancientbiotics that seeks to find new remedies in old sources that can be used when antibiotics have failed.

In two guest posts at the University of Nottingham, Connelly noted the income inequality that might determine whether the patient lived or died (‘ȝif it be a pore man . . .’: Healthcare for the Rich and Poor in the Lylye of Medicynes),  an issue that  still resonates today; and the medieval belief in the curative properties of breast milk (‘þe best mylke is womman milke’: Does Breast Milk Heal?) For Ancientbiotics, she is examining a database of ingredients and ailments from the Lylye of Medicynes for recurring patterns that might aid in the development of new remedies for antibiotic-resistant infections. [Listen to an NPR interview with Connelly on Ancientbiotics]

Where the College of Physicians’ manuscript spent the first century of its life is not known, but it was sold to a John Kokkes of Oxford (d. 1475), possibly a doctor and teacher, who in turn sold it for a reduced price in exchange for medical services.

Another unsolved mystery: what happened to the scribe? Perella wonders whether he survived the Black Death. And so do we…

 

View the manuscript online at http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0027/html/cpp_10a_249.html