La Novele Cirurgerie.
At a little over 700 years old, the Novele Cirurgerie is no longer new; it is also not, in fact, about surgery, at least in the modern sense of the word. It is an 1,800 - line treatise dealing principally with pharmacology - medicines, cosmetic treatments and heating charms - which fell within the purview of the surgeon in the thirteenth century. Like contemporary works of theology, geometry, and so on, it is part of the vulgarizing tradition of Anglo-Norman technical writing. The recipes are arranged on the top-downwards principle for maladies ranging from headaches to swollen feet, followed by a section on wounds. Some of the remedies are quite appetizing, including a few with which readers may be familiar from their own childhood; others are quaint, such as hedgehog grease as a specific against scabies; a few are downright alarming, such as sheep-turd poultices for broken bones. As with similar material in Occitan (associated with the medical schools at Montpellier), the question arises as to whom the work was destined for, given that students would be expected to do their reading in Latin. In fact, the editors address this question at length in a fascinating section of their introduction, which attempts to define the province of the surgeon at this period, pointing out that many unlearned people practised on an equal footing with those trained at university, and that the dividing line between what we would see as learned and popular medical traditions was very indistinct in the Middle Ages. The text itself is competently and conservatively edited. The apparatus displays the editors' very, considerable erudition, both introduction and notes drawing parallels with a wide range of other contemporary and earlier medical treatises. The glossary is particularly noteworthy for its exhaustive treatment of technical vocabulary, and the editors have done sterling work in running to earth the most recondite of botanical names. The text will interest students of the Anglo-Norman language, as well as students of social history and of the history of science. Moreover, recipes for tooth powder and mouthwash which might have been used by the Chastelaine de Vergi offer a unique point of human contact which can do much to |bring the period alive' for students of mediaeval literature.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1992|
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