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Contra Incantationes (Author: [unknown])

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Contra Incantationes

The following scribal note is from MS 3 C 19, a copy of an Irish translation of the Lilium Medicinae, the Decem Ingenia, and Prognostica of Bernard of Gordon (for whom see Ériu 11, 174 ff). The translation was made by Cormac Mac Duinn Shleibhe, one of a noted Ulster family of physicians, about the middle of the fifteenth century. The scribe, Risdeard Ó Conchubhair (Richard O'Connor), came of a well-known family of physicians in Ossory. For other notes by him in this manuscript see Cat. of Irish MSS. in the Royal Irish Academy, pp. 1167 ff., and Father Paul Walsh's Gleanings from Irish MSS., 2nd ed., 123 ff. The scribal notes in these medical manuscripts are often of very great interest for their valuable commentary on contemporary events and for the information they give us about the kind of people the writers were; the environment in which they lived, their family connexions, and their own personal views on matters of public and historical interest. The earlier scribes of medical manuscripts were physicians—outstanding examples of this are the O'Connors of 3 C 19; and another interesting question arises out of the matter and style of some of the notes: Is it possible that some of these physicians were also in holy orders? The extract quoted below reads as though it might be the utterance not of a layman, but of an ecclesiastic. Certainly it is that of a man with a strong moral sense and a high degree of piety. The period in which Richard O'Connor lived was a difficult one for Irish priests, and it is interesting to consider whether he and other medical men of the Middle Ages in Ireland were not priests, as were many of their professional colleagues in England and on the continent. Bernard of Gordon himself was a very devout man, e.g. in the Preface to the Lilium Medicinae, quoting Galen: No one can come nearer to God better than by study in the truth and for the truth. To the honour therefore of the heavenly Lamb who is the splendour and glory of the Father this book, entitled Lilium Medicinae. For in the lily there are many blooms and in each bloom seven white petals as it were


seven golden grains. This book likewise contains seven parts, of which the first will be golden, glowing and shining. For it will treat of many universal diseases, beginning with fevers . . .’’

Cf. the passage in Preface to Rosa Anglica where John of Gaddesden discusses his reasons for calling his book the Rose (ITS 25, pp. xxi, xxii). John himself was a priest, perhaps a canon. He held a stall in St. Paul's Cathedral. From O'Connor's observations on the subject of his note printed here it is obvious that the trend of his mind was didactic. It shocked him that Bernard did not expressly condemn practices that involved attempts to interfere with the ways of Providence. His style also shows traces of scholastic influences.

The note is inserted into chapter 14 (on the causes and cure of sterility), with a marginal warning that it is the scribe who is speaking (an sgribhneoir adeir so).

Winifred Wulff.