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Essay/Term paper: Medival medicine

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World History

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It is said that 'An apple a day keeps the dentist away.' This has become a common saying
among Society today. We do not stop to think of how it reflects our outlook of Medicine
in our lives. We have come to understand the value of simple practices in order to keep
ourselves healthy. This is not, however, the case of Medieval England. Most 'medical
practices' of the time were based upon superstition, ancient texts, myth, or the direction
of the church. Medical practices of Medieval England often based upon nothing more
than superstition proved unbeneficial if not harmful to the people of England.
Part of the obvious problem was the fact that the common person had little care or
sense for improving their own health. The life and livelihood of an average person was
less than desirable even from the time of birth.
In the villages chronic inbreeding must have produced many children who star-
ted life with a built in weakness, either mental or physical. Many would die in
childhood, but others who grew into manhood, might drag out a useless exist-
ance, dependent on charity for their sustenance. In general, infant mortality
was extremely heavy....Once the child was free to crawl about among the
unsanitary rushes, with a child's natural instinct to put everything into its
mouth, it is a wonder that any survived. Fromt then on disease and acci-
dent would provide ample scope for a medical service, which was virtually
non-existent. (Tomkeieff 119).
Furthermore, the collective knowledge (what little there was) was held and practiced by

Monks in Monasteries.
In summary of medical practice to the end of 1400, it may be said medicine
was practiced mostly by the clerics in monasteries and the laity whose locus
of operation was the apothecary shop. The physician thought surgery was
beneath his dignity (to have blood on his hands and clothes) and left this to
uneducated 'barbers' The practitioner carried the title 'Master,' whereas
teachers carried the title 'Doctor' The physician was little advanced over
the knowledge of Galen's time. They still believed in the Doctrine of four
humours, making diagnoses by inspection of the blood and urine. Most of the
therapeutic measures included blood letting, steam baths, amulets, spells,
hexes, prayers, the king's touch, and polypharmacy known as theriaca. (Snyder 1).
The problem is furthered by the fact that these 'practices' proved of little benefit. Most of
these had no scientific basis and were instead rooted in superstition and/or the church.
"The concern of Christian theology, on the other hand, was to cure the soul rather than
the body; disease usually was considered supernatural in origin and cured by religious
means. As a result, scientific investigation was inhibited during this time. Brothers of
monasteries copied and preserved those scientific manuscripts and documents which
were thought to be consistent with prevailing religious thought...." Ency
To sum it up, "For England, as far as the twelfth century was concerned, medicine
was traditional, composed of a mixture of herbal lore and popular magic, while surgery
was brutal-and must often have been fatal." (Tokeieff 120). This now brings us to another
point, the fact of the severe and unsophisticated nature of surgery. "Two twelfth-century
manuscripts, one early, show medical treatment, and in both cauterizing looms large. The
earlier one shows the physician cauterizing a shorn head, while an attendant in a room
below is heating a relay of instruments in a furnace. The second manuscript shows
cauterizing for trouble in the head and in the stomach-a painful remedy!" (Tokeieff 120).

More is written of this, "Two of the manuscripts show the doctor in his drug store,
instructing his apprentice in the compounding of medicines. It was here that the medieval
superstition reigned supreme. The ingredients heated in the furnace and pounded in the
mortar could contain anything from crushed rocks to the entrails of animals and dead
insects. " (Tokeieff 122).
Lepers, cripples, and the blind were not uncommon in Medieval England.
"Cripples were everywhere. When the only known way to deal with a leg wound, or other
leg ailment, was to amputate, it stands to reason that anyone strong enough to survive the
primitive and unanaesthetised severance of the limb would be joining a numerous band."
(Tokeieff 123).Yet, they, along with other sick people had (often times) nowhere to turn.
Most could not afford medical attention, and Hospitals were nothing like that of now.
"Provision for lepers, who were the outcasts of society, was the motive for the foundation
of many of the earliest hospitals, which were intended not for the cure of the sick but as
refuge for the incurable and the dying." (Tokeieff 122-123).
"...In regard to the malign or beneficent influence...one is driven to the conclusion
that the surest way to survive was to keep away from the doctor." It should be clear that
the health conditions for people in England of this time would be so unbearable that it
not be desirable by anybody. It is hard to imagine that anyone could see any benefit to the
practices of the time. Yet thus is the case of any era: something commonly accepted of
one age is looked down upon by the next. Perhaps a century or two down the historical
road mankind will be simply disgusted by the way we live.

Works Cited

Tomkeieff, O.G. Life in Norman England.
New York: Capricorn Books, 1967.

Snyder, M.D., Clifford C. "Summary of Medieval Medicine."
ne.html]. August 01, 1996

"History of Medicine." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.
CD-ROM. IBM, 1995.


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