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Prescription of deer manure and slippers

Simon ForemanCopyright on the image
Collection Wellcome

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Simon Foreman courteses public attention with his mix of medicine, magic and astrology

What would you do if you think your kids have become "rats and mice"? Or if you had the "French disease"? Or were there witch problems?

In the 16th century England you may have visited two celebrities' physicians, Simon Foreman and Richard Napier.

After 10 years of research, Cambridge historians digitalize some of their patient records, showing how they have prescribed magic, as well as medicines.

Documents show that patients are said to wear dead pigeons like slippers.

There are 80,000 separate notes on the case, from the 1590s to the 1630s, in what is described as one of the largest existing such historical medical collections.

"Rapping in secret parts"

But they are known for the difficulty of reading, and a team of researchers at Cambridge University spends years writing their content, with 500 being digitized, available in accessible English, and made available online.

They give an idea of ​​Shakespeare's physical and psychological anxieties – whether they are "loaded with rapier in their secret parts" or suffering from being "moppets" or "melancholy".

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A patient with a venereal disease in 1601 was described as "morbis galicum" or "French disease".

Prof. Lauren Kassel, head of the study, describes diseases and treatments as "a worm in the idle and mysterious world of medicine, magic and occultism of the 17th century."

Witchcraft seemed to be a serious concern – blamed by patients for a whole range of illnesses and with notes that refer to a number of witches who were executed.

Angelic Council

Prof. Kassel says that both doctors and patients move seamlessly between the physical world, astrology, magic, and religion, all of which are mixed together to come out with drugs.

The fact that witches or evil spirits have caused illness would be "completely credible at the time," she says, with available counter-curses.

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Notes on the case show astrological calculations as part of offering a remedy

In one case, the evil spirits had been caught by a patient, so he continued to offend people by shouting, "Kisse myne ass."

Even on 17th-century medical standards, some of their approaches are perceived as eccentric.

Professor Cassel says Richard Neepyre often gets extra help from angels.

But that was not always good news. One patient was given a rather grim look from the angel's advisor: "He will soon die."

– It was crazy

Simon Foreman, an astrologer and a healer, provokes a different type of suspicion, with the vigorous courting of famous patients, drawing distrust of "real" doctors.

Whether any of the cured "works," says Prof. Kassel, is a complex question.

Copyright on the image
Getty Images

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Engraving a "charlatan" surgeon from the 16th century

In the context of time, these are people's efforts to overcome the problems, she says. If they followed the recommendation to use leeches from Beckensfield rather than Dorchester, did they make them feel better?

"People always want to do something about illness," she says. Even if "healing" seems unbelievable, it is difficult to assess the benefits of getting help and talking about problems.

Psychological health problems are often raised – whether people who carry depressive symptoms are marked by "melancholy" or other repetitive references to "lunatics".

Often there was a rough treatment, people were tied and restrained, and a man who claimed to have been falsely accused of madness worried that he would be "transferred as a lunatic."

Puppies for nursing mothers

Venereal diseases also appeared to be widespread, and in many cases, what was called "French sickness".

A patient suffering from "pox, boils and itching" is a prescribed combination of roses, violets, boiled crabs and deer fertilizer.

Prof. Kassel says many of the cases seem unlikely.

"But even strange things can be rooted in reality," she says.

In one case, a woman is described as a nursing infant.

The tip of the iceberg & # 39;

Prof. Kassel says this would be seen as a widespread hint of sorcery – but it was also that if women had problems with breastfeeding, there was a popular belief in the use of puppies to encourage the flow of milk.

This still can not explain the healing of the "slippers", which literally involved the opening of pigeons to attach to the feet of the patient.

The light of 17th century society from case studies is both uplifting and alarming, Professor Kassel says.

"In a way this is a terrible sight – but to another, it is a nice pastoral society," she says.

It also shows a completely different worldview, living close to the natural environment and deep in religion and mystic beliefs.

There was no difference between "spiritual and natural," says Prof. Kassel, and people moved between the two spheres.

Transcriptions have so far been "the tip of the iceberg," she added. There are "thousands of pages of a mysterious scarab filled with astral symbols" and the rewriting of the entire collection will take another 20 years.

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