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Rosa Anglica (Author: John of Gaddesden)

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The tract here printed is a translation from Latin into Irish of a considerable portion of the Rosa Anglica of John of Gaddesden, or Johannes Anglicus, a physician and medical writer of great repute during the Middle Ages. The value of the treatise from an Irish point of view is chiefly lexicographical. It is representative of a vast body of manuscript material hitherto practically uninvestigated, which contains great resources in scientific and medical terminology and expression.

The Rosa Anglica is believed to have been written in 1314, and is interesting in itself as a standard of mediaeval medical practice, a summary of all the garnered experience of mediaeval physicians. These physicians were remarkable for their painstaking industry in compiling and arranging the medical tradition that had reached their time. It was largely a period of exaggerated respect for authority in science and medicine, which accounts for the lack of research and experiment in these compilations.


It would perhaps not be out of place here to devote a few lines to a general discussion of the sources of mediaeval medicine. The history of medicine during the Middle Ages is sharply divided into two parts by an event of great importance for the development of the human intellect. That event is the arrival in the West of the Arabian learning, the version of Greek science that had dwelt in the Moslem world, to find its way again to the Occident at a date which varied in different countries, but which may roughly be placed between 1150 and 1250. The first we may call the Dark Age, the second the Middle or Scholastic, or better for our particular purpose, the Arabian Age.

The medicine of the Dark Age consisted merely of the 'débris' of the classical system grafted on to native herb-lore and magic. The Arabian writers, on the other hand, inherited much more perfect classical material than had fallen to the lot of the barbarian West. They had considerably developed their heritage, and when it was passed on to Europe it had acquired a characteristic Arabian tinge. This new material was added on to that already in circulation in the West. The old material of folk origin, or consisting of debased classical material, steadily receded before this new Arabian science. To the end of the Middle Ages, however, and far into the Renaissance the three factors, ancient folk elements, degraded classical material, and Arabian contribution, can all be discerned. They are discernible in the work which we have before us.


John of Gaddesden.

About the life of John of Gaddesden little is known definitely. He is believed to have been born at Gaddesden on the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire about 1280. He studied at Merton College, Oxford, and after obtaining various degrees in arts and theology, finally took up the study of medicine. He had, therefore, a good general education. Oxford was then prominent as a centre of learning, but, except at Merton College, was not doing much to promote the study of medicine. The famous French School of Montpellier was regarded at the time as the most modern and best equipped for students of medicine. John does not, however, appear to have gone there, but was, as far as is known, the first eminent English physician to complete his medical training in England. Two of his predecessors, Gilbertus Anglicus and Bernard of Gordon, were closely connected with Montpellier, the latter as a professor. From them he inherited the Montpellier tradition. Gordon's Lilium Medicinae, one of the best known medical text-books of the Middle Ages, was used extensively by John in compiling the Rosa Anglica. Furthermore the Irish translator, not satisfied with the use already made of it, took pieces wholesale out of the Lilium Medicinae, and inserted them in his translation of the Rosa Anglica.

In Oxford there was little opportunity for medical experience, nor was it considered necessary to have any to qualify for a degree. But John apparently did practise even while in Oxford, for he refers repeatedly to his work there, and describes cures which he himself tried with success. Cf. infra, in the Rosa Anglica, 29a etc. which, he says in the Preface, was written when he was lecturing for the seventh year. He obtained several degrees. He was Master of Arts, Doctor of Medicine


and Bachelor in Theology, though he does not appear to have been ordained priest. He held many ecclesiastical benefices. The one to which he was eventually appointed was the prebend of Wildland which had the eighth stall on the left side of the choir in St. Paul's, London. He was appointed Court Physician to Edward II and died in 1361.

Beyond these few facts nothing is known directly of John's life. For further information we must go to the Rosa Anglica, which fortunately is much more than a mere medical tract. The best account of John and the most complete and interesting criticism of his work is to be found in Freind's History of Physick. There was a difference of opinion as to John's merit as a physician. Leland thought him a profound philosopher, a skilful physician, and the brightest man of his age. On the other hand, Guy de Chauliac says of him: ‘Ultimo insurrexit una fatua Rosa Anglicana, quae mihi missa fuit & visa; credidi in ea invenire odorem suavitatis, & inveni fabulas Hispani Gilberti & Theodorici.’

Just ridicule has been cast on John's etymology, for he, like other mediaeval scholars, knew little or nothing of Greek. His sorry attempts at explaining the derivation of words which had Greek roots are sufficient proof of the truth of this; as, for example, 'epilepsia' from 'epi' 'above' and 'ledo', as it is a lesion of the upper parts. But it is neither for its science nor its etymology that one turns to the Rosa Anglica. Rather we delight in it as a human document, an intimate record of the daily life of the men of the Middle Ages, of the remedies they applied, of the contents of their larder and their kitchen, of their vanities and superstitions, of the cosmetics they used


to preserve or create beauty, of the charms to which they resorted when other remedies failed to restore health or to make life more pleasant. It is all naïvely and charmingly told by one of whom a biographer has said ‘he often leaves us in doubt whether he be a better Physician or Poet’. From the medical point of view the Rosa Anglica is a hotch-potch of medical teaching, genuine or fabulous results of the application of remedies, oriental leechcraft and superstition, native English cures and charms, prayers and religious practices, interwoven with the native beliefs of the people at different periods and in different parts of the country. As such it would be of little value to the modern physician. Gilbert the Englishman and Bernard of Gordon were and are much more highly regarded as scientific authorities than John. Yet they were never so popular as he, for their works are lacking in the human appeal of the Rosa Anglica. John has been regarded by physicians of all the centuries since he wrote as somewhat of a charlatan. It is this very fact that makes his work interesting. John was intimately acquainted with the weaknesses of human nature, yet he was fully alive to the dignity of his office. If he was at times quizzical, may this not have been the proper attitude in an age when medical men, even as now, sometimes found it hard to conceal their own ignorance? He was no philanthropist, anxious to help his fellow-men, but believed in getting a good fee, and more than once refers to secret cures of his own, only to be divulged for a sufficiently tempting consideration. On the other hand, that he had consideration for his poor patients is shown by the alternative cures he suggests for those who cannot afford rare and expensive remedies. It is a well-known fact that at this time surgery had not yet risen to the rank of a profession but was practised by barbers, the three branches of whose trade were hairdressing, surgery and dentistry. These


barbers were looked down on by the orthodox physicians. See page 35b; and note the horror with which surgical operations were not unjustly regarded (p. 242, n.4).

Interesting light is thrown on this point in R.I.A. MS 23. N. 16. On fol. 133v begins a tract on the qualifications and duties of a chirurgeon. The following passage occurs on fol. 137r:

And although we leave these things (bloodletting, scarification, cautery, sanguisugs) to barbers and women in (our) pride and unworthiness, (yet) they are the work of the chirurgeon because Galen and Rhazes performed these operations with their own hands, as is clear in their own books; and I myself am a professional bloodletter, for I let veins that the most eminent barbers cannot let.{Et ge legmidne so uili dona barbuiribh & dona mnaibh le huadhbur & midingmaltacht as dobuir in tsirurci iad oir do rinne Galen & Raisis na hoibrecha so lena lamaibh fein, mar is follus ina leabhruibh fein & is cuisleó gnathach misi fein, oir légim cuislinna nach fétuid na barbuiri ro-oirrderca do legin.}’’

  • MSS in RIA, ZCP 17, 3, p.272
  • In reading the text too, one cannot but notice how greatly John concerns himself with his male clientele. Indeed in the whole work he devotes only one section to women's ailments (Section 17, Book 2, De Sterilitate sexus humani & continet tractatum de passionibus mulierum), and concludes with a sigh of relief: ista multa sufficiunt pro tot passionibus mulierum.’’

    The translation of the last part of this section will be found on p. 31a in the passage dealing with cold imposthumes of the womb.

    In his own day and circle John was very prominent, and his character appears to have made a deep impression on his contemporaries. He is mentioned by name in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales:

      1. With us ther was a Doctour of Phisyk


        Wel he knew he th'olde Esculapius,
        And Deiscorides, and eek Rufus,


        Old Ypocras, Haly, and Galien;
        Serapion, Razis, and Avicen;
        Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn;
        Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.
    It may be that Chaucer knew him, for Gaddesden died in 1361, and Chaucer is believed to have been born in 1340. Gaddesden was Physician to Edward II, who died in 1327, and Chaucer was in attendance as page at the Court of Edward III, so that if they did not actually meet, the memory was probably still fresh of the first Englishman to hold the office of Court Physician.

    Editions of Rosa Anglica.

    The popularity of the Rosa Anglica is demonstrated by the number of editions and manuscript copies of the work. The following are the known printed editions, all of which are to be found in the British Museum now British Library:

    1. (1)Pavia, 1492,
    2. Venice, 1502,
    3. Pavia, 1517, reprint from same plates as (1),
    4. Augsburg, 1595.
    I have used the last named edition throughout. The following manuscripts of the Rosa Anglica exist:
    1. Edinburgh University, 168 (Laing 180), ff. 1-305, XIV Cent.
    2. Oxford, Merton College 262, ff. 1-237, XIV Cent.
    3. Oxford, Corpus Christi College 69, ff. 1-191, XIV Cent. late.
    4. Exeter Cathedral, 35. O.6, XIV Cent. probably spurious.
    5. British Museum now British Library, Sloane, 1612, ff. 125r-340v, XIV to XV Cent.
    6. British Museumnow British Library, Sloane, 134, ff. 48r-169r, XV Cent. abbrev.
    7. British Museumnow British Library, Sloane, 280, ff. 9r-262r, XV Cent.
    8. British Museumnow British Library, Sloane, 1067, ff. 1-280v, XV Cent.

    9. p.xx

    10. British Museumnow British Library, Sloane, (Additional) 33996, ff. 148-210v, XIV Cent. imperfect.
    11. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 261, ff. 1-232r, XV Cent.
    12. Bodleian, E Musaeo 146 (3619), ff. 19-348, XV Cent.
    13. Bodleian, Bodl. 608 (2059), XV Cent. early (probably spurious).
    In addition to these Cholmeley mentions
    1. Extracts from [ Rosa Anglica], by Sir T. Browne, 17th Century.
    2. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Fonds Lat. 16643, copied in 1356.
    The Rosa Anglica has not been translated into English.

    Contents of Rosa Anglica.

    The Rosa Anglica is in five books in the first three editions. The second (1502) edition is divided as follows:

    1. I. Liber primus Rose medicine de febribus, fol. 3, col. I.
    2. II. Liber secundus Rose medicine de universalitate morborum continens capitula xxiij, fol. 24, col. 2.
    3. III. Liber tertius Rose medicine continens tractatus quinque utilissimus & maxime cirurgicis, fol. 106, col. 3.
    4. IV. Incipit liber quartus de morbis particularibus continens capitula v. Ends on fol. 131, col. 2.
    5. V. Incipit quintus liber de preparatione & administratione medicinarum continens capitula viij, fol. 134, col. I.

    The fourth (1595) edition is divided thus:

    1. I. which contains 668 pages, ends with the words Finis morborum internorum.
    2. II. De febribus, pp. 668-864.
    3. III. De chirurgicis, pp. 865-1166.
    4. IV. Antidotarium, pp. 1167-1193.

    The first three editions open with a list of contents (tabula), fol. i, beginning as follows: De Febribus.

    1. De febre quid sit:

    2. p.xxi

    3. De calore febrili:
    4. De tertiana & eius nomine:
    5. De tertiana quid sit:
    6. De accidentibus febris:
    7. De dieta febricitantium in speciali & in generali:
    8. De febre flegmatica quottidiana:
    9. De febre empiala & liparia:
    10. De febre emitritea:
    11. De febre quartana & eius speciebus:
    12. De quartana continua:
    13. De febre sanguinea videlicet de sinocha:
    14. De febre effimera & morbis immaterialibus:
    15. De febre ex crapula:
    16. De ethica febrili: & sunt in istis capitulis dubia appropriata ibi posita:
    17. De ethica senectutis:
    The De Ethica ends, fol. 24r, col. I, right below: Et sic est finis primi libri rose medicine. Deo Gratias.’’

    On fol. 3 begins the text, which opens with a preface, half a column in length. See infra. The preface ends with a sort of apologia, which is not in the Irish, and in which Gaddesden gives his reason for choosing the title of his work. It reads as follows: But before these matters are treated in the first chapter, I wish to give a name to the book, namely the Rosa Medicincae, and I have so called it on account of five appendages which belong to the rose, as it were five fingers holding it, concerning which it is written:’’

    Three are bearded and two are not. That is to say, three of the parts surrounding the rose are hairy and two are smooth, and the same is the case with the five parts of my book. The first three are bearded with a long beard, for they treat of many things and about general diseases, and for a discussion of what constitutes a general or common disease look in the introduction to the second book. The two following books treat of particu1ar diseases, together with some matters omitted in the preceding books, and they are as without a beard (shorter). And as the rose overtops all flowers, so this book overtops all


    treatises on the practice of medicine, and it is written for both poor and rich surgeons and physicians, so that there shall be no need for them to be always running to consult other books, for here they will find plenty about all curable diseases, both from the special and the general point of view.’’

    It was the fashion among mediaeval medical men to call their works by the name of a flower, such as Bernard of Gordon's Lily (Lilium Medicinae), Gilbert's Rose (Rosa Anglicana), and the Rose (Rosa Anglica) of our author.

    After this comes a list of contents of Book I in the early editions. It also is omitted from the fourth edition. It closes the preface and reads as follows: Fol. 3r, col. I. ... de morbis curabilibus in speciali videbitur & in generali. Sunt ergo capitula multa primi libri. Primus est de febre colerica tertiana, simplici & duplici, vera & nota & causone & accidentibus. Primum accidens est sitis. 2m de vigilie. 3m dolor capitis. 4m frenesis.


    5m sincopis. 6m fluxus ventris. 7m constipatio ventris. 8m de icteritia. 9m de adustione & siccitate lingue. 10m de ulceratione lingue. 11m de vomitu. 12m de canino appetitu & eius defectu. 13m de sudore ad sistendum & provocandum. 14m de fluxu sanguinis narium. 15m de profunditate somni & litargia non vera. 16m de dieta febricitantium in generali & speciali.’’

    Capitulum 2m principale est de quotidiana diurna & nocturna & de emitriteis & de empiala & liparia. 3m Principale est de quartana & de eius speciebus. 4m Est de febre sanguinea. 5m De febre effimera & morbis immaterialibus. 6m Principale est de ethica febrili & senectutis: & sunt in istis capitulis dubia appropriata ibi posita etc.’’

    The following are the contents of Book II: Capitulum I de apostematibus. 2m de idropisi. 3m de dolore iuncturarum. 4m de variolis. 5m de scabie. 6m de sudore. 7m de lepra. 8m de reumate. 9m de ptisi. 10m de fluxu ventris, ponendo eius causas. 11m de epilepsia & apoplexia. 12m de paralesi. 13m de tremore cordis & cardiaca & syncope. 14m de dolore capitis. 15m de calefactione epatis. 16m de oppilatione epatis. 17m de sterilitate sexus humani & continet tractatum de passionibus mulierum. 18m de ictericia, morphea & lentigine. 19m de vomitu, indigestione, ventositate & inflatione stomachi. 20m de colica & iliaca. 21m de lapide. 22m de spasmo. 23m de venenis que interficiunt interius, ponendo signa & causas.’’

    The following table shows the arrangement of the text in relation to the Books of the Rosa Anglica:

    Chapters of textName of chapterBooks of Rosa Anglica
    (2)Sanguine FeverI.

    Irish translations of the Rosa Anglica

    The Rosa Anglica was popular in Ireland. Several manuscript translations in Irish are known. These are as follows:

    1. Royal Irish Academy (R.I.A.): 23 P 10 and 23 P 20 (present text). See infra.
    2. Trinity College, Dublin. (T.C.D.) H 3 2, E 3 3, E 3 30, contain portions, a description of which will be found infra pp. xxx, xxxii, xxxiii.
    3. British Museum (Brit. Mus.) now British Library: Harley 546 contains some of Gaddesden's work in an Irish translation.

    A reference in a manuscript in King's Inns Library, MS K 15, fol. 80r, a naigaidh fiabrais cotidiana do réir Gadisten’’

    is in Rós', would seem to indicate how familiar Irish medical writers were with the work, and how completely they had made it their own in the Irish Language.

    The present text is contained in:

    1. (1) 23 P 20, Royal Irish Academy, herein referred to as P.
    2. (2) 23 P 10, Royal Irish Academy, herein referred to as P1.
    3. (3) H 3 2, Trinity College, Dublin, herein referred to as H.
    4. (4) Yellow Book of Lecan, TCD, H 2 16, herein referred to as YBL.
    5. (5) E 3 3, TCD, herein referred to as E (fragment).
    6. and E 3, 30, TCD, herein referred to as E1 (fragment).
    7. (6) MS 20, National Library of Scotland Edinburgh (formerly Advocates Library) - herein referred to as A.

    P (23 P 20 = RIA MS 457)

    The following is taken from the account of this MS in R.I.A. Catalogue classing 23 P 20.


    Material - vellum. Number of leaves 22. Average no. of lines to page 48. (...) a fine medical fragment ... the whole of it with the exception of the 1st Folio is in the hand of the transcriber of parts of the Stowe D IV 2. The Stowe MS has been ascribed to the year 1300, but the evidence is quite inadequate and it much more likely belongs to the 15th Century (...)’’

    I am able to show that the present volume contains the same treatise on fevers which appears in 23 P 10, 3rd part, likewise in a fine hand on vellum. Both copies are fragmentary with leaves sometimes misplaced, but sufficient corresponding portions remain to show that they are the same treatise. The first page of this MS (23 P 20) is so much blackened and soiled as to be only partly readable, and the first page of 23 P 10 is also much injured, but the curious passage in the latter beginning: & guidhim na daine ag a mbia an leabhar so na cognaid siad—da bhfiaclaibh madramhla mithuigseanacha e acht a ggnathnugadh gu humal oir gach ni aderther annso’’

    etc., can be partially made out at the top of the 2nd col.

    On line 5, a fiacl- madramla are clear. On line 6, co humal oir gach ni ader-, and so on for some dozen lines.

    The reverse side of the leaf is much more legible. It ends: et adeir Galienus nach fuil .x.fer itir tersiana & causon do reir in adbhuir on dentur iat.’’

    This will be found at the bottom of the 1st col. of p. 3 of 23 P 10 (3rd. pt.).

    Regarding page 1 referred to by the cataloguer, the following can be faintly distinguished:

    A fine initial I on the left corner top introduces a Latin quotation of which only a few letters can be made out. The whole of column (a) is taken up with a list of contents, but what can be read does not correspond to the actual contents of P. (Cf. footnote, p. xxvii.)


    Some twelve lines from the bottom is the heading: Galienus dicit primo de ingenio Sanitatis, which are the opening words of the preface to the first three editions of the Rosa Anglica. These however are nearly illegible.

    The two MSS can be seen to correspond.

    The Rosa Anglica opens with the preface above referred to which is found in P and P1 though almost illegible in the former. See infra. A fact that added to the difficulty of editing is that the Irish translator, as was natural, used the received Latin text, such as the first three printed editions reproduce it; but of the three first editions there is no copy in this country, and I had to make use of the fourth (Augsburg, 1595), edited by Dr. Philip Schopf. This was not entirely satisfactory, as Schopf omitted the preface, and altered the construction and occasionally the language of the book.

    None of the MSS, not even the most complete, P, P1, H, is a translation in toto from any one of the Latin editions. The translator apparently picked out certain sections, and passed over others.

    In both MSS following on the preface begins the section on tertian fever which occupies pages 1 and 2 in P, corresponding to pages 1 to 3b in P1. This section, i.e. pages 1 and 2 of P, is in a different hand from the rest of the MS Page 3 begins in the middle of a discussion on the crisis in fevers, which is not in the Rosa Anglica1. On pp. 17b and 18a; 23b and 24a, are portions of a treatise on the Universals2. These I have omitted. On page 6 the translation of the Rosa Anglica continues with the section on Sanguine Fever, etc. There are two columns on each page, which for convenience in giving references, I have called a and b.

    Contents of P.:

    (page)(subject matter)
    1aAlmost illegible list of diseases3.
    1bPreface — cf. P1.
    1bTersiana — cf. P1.
    2a, bTersiana
    3-6Don faothugad — begins imperfect — cf. P1 H A. Not in R. A.
    6-9Febris sanguis etc. —cf. p. 67 P1 H A.
    9-11Easlanti gan beith adburdha — efemera etc. —cf. P1 H A.
    11-17Etica — cf. P1 (pp. 15-18), H, A.
    17bDe morbis universalibus — cf. H, Ar. 333. Not in R. A.
    18-23Cardiaca — cf. H.
    23bDe morbis universalibus (continued).
    24-31Apostema — cf. H, E, E1.
    31bLitargia — cf. E, E1, YBL, H.
    32b-33bHernia — cf. E, E1, YBL, H.
    33b-36bParalysis — cf. E, E1, H.
    36b-41Idroipis — cf. E, E1, H, (½ page), YBL (½ page).
    41-42bVarioli — cf. E1.
    42b-44bArtetica—cf. E1.

    The MS is written on vellum in a fine clear hand. The corners are badly worn in places. In some cases the margin is cut off, taking away one or two letters. Portions in brackets [ ] are taken from H. throughout, except on pp. 1 and 2 which are from P1; also p. 14a.

    Detailed description of pages.

    Page 1: almost illegible.

    Page 2: more legible than page 1.

    From p. 3 on to p. 18 the bottom corners are decreasingly illegible.


    Page 9 and 10: strip along outside to line 30 illegible; one or two letters cut off.

    Page 6: outside top corner blotted to line 4.

    Page 17: strip along outside damaged; illegible to line 28.

    Page 18: strip along outside damaged; illegible to line 21.

    Page 20: one or two words on last time line indistinct.

    Page 22: whole of last line missing.

    Page 27: part of last line (or lines) covered over with parchment in restoration.

    Page 28: last line on each column covered over.

    Page 33: a strip along the right side from line 20 down cut off.

    Page 34: strip on one side restored; one or two letters missing. Remainder of MS is in perfect condition.

    On page 3, a slip out of what appears to be a second-hand catalogue is pasted on the left side top margin, running downwards. It reads 1268, a tract on medicine, Folio, finely written on vellum, upwards of 400 years since.’’

    On the fly leaf is a loose slip on which is written in a bold recent hand Medical MS written ca. 1460. Of the origin of this slip I could find nothing. I have not been able to find anything either of the history of P or how it came into the possession of the Royal Irish Academy. O'Curry makes no mention of it in his Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History. A note on P states that it was presented to the Academy by a Mr. Crofton.

    There are no marginal notes. In one or two cases a missing word or sentence is written in the margin at the top of the page, cf. pp. 26, 32, 35. The text breaks off in the middle of a sentence on page 44; a comparison with E1 shows that the section on Artetica should continue for several folios (cf. infra). It is corrupt in many places and very much contracted. The scribe has made many mistakes in copying, thus adding enormously to the difficulty of reading the contractions which are a peculiarity of medical manuscripts. These coontractions form a kind of medical code at all times hard for the uninitiated


    to decipher. In some instances whole sentences are represented by the initial letters only. This code is used throughout the medical manuscripts of the period. In this text the prescriptions and particulars are often hopelessly corrupt, the scribe using the figure 3. indiscriminately for both drachm and ounce ( and ), so that one trembles to think of the fate of the unfortunate patients! I have corrected the quantities from the Rosa Anglica, when they were obviously wrong. In several instances the Latin name of the drug is given as well; as the Irish—the scribe not appearing to realize that they are one and the same. For example Spodium & Iboire loisce (25b). I have not thought it necessary to italicise the extension of common contractions, as for example: fiabhras, leighes, naduir, etc. which occuiæ frequently. Many of these are never found expanded in the text. I have not attempted to change the spelling, which is good, and I have added punctuation marks and capital letters where necessary.

    P1 (23 P 10 = RIA MS 456)

    P1, known as the Book of the O'Lee's, consists of three different vellum manuscripts bound up together, all on medical matters. Of these, No. 3 contains seventy pages written in a fine clear hand, with many illuminated initial letters, highly decorative, and occasionally showing beasts in interlaced designs and surrounded by scrolls and spirals. Some of the pages are much mutilated on the margin. Pages 15, 17, 67 and 70 are loose sheets wrongly inserted, all of which correspond to pages in P. From this it would appear that P would follow rightly on P1. The section on faothugad also occurs in H.

    1. Introduction: p. 1. Cf. P.
    2. Tersiana febris, (de Tertiana): pp. 1-8. Cf. P.
    3. Na haicidi (de febrium symptomatibus): (8) tart (sitis), easbaid codalta

      (instantia vigiliarum), (9) teinnes an cind (dolor capitis), frenisis (phrenesis), (10) ambaindi craidhi (syncope), flux (fluxus ventris), (11) fasdaidh (constipatio), (13) an galar buidi (icterus), (14) algada & bainnead na teangad (nigredo & ulcerae linguae), sceathrach (vomitus), 15-16, 17-18 (erroneously inserted) hectica, (19) easbaid na brighe tochlaichi (caninus appetitus), allus (sudor), (20) flux fola na srona (flux sanguinis narium), (26) rotruime an codalta (profunditas somni); d'ailemain bidh & dighe (cur. feb. cholericae: de dieta, etc.)
    4. Cotidiana feibris (de febre quotidiana): p. 31. Cf. H.
    5. De fiabras epiala & lipairia (febres phlegmaticae - epialos & liparia) p. 45.
    6. Hemitritceus (de hemitritaeio): p. 47. Cf. H.
    7. Quartana & rl. (de quartana): p. 54. Cf. H.
    8. Sinoca (de synocho) (erroneously inserted): p. 67. Cf. P, H, A.
    9. Quartana continua (de quartana continua) p. 69.
    10. Don faothagad: p. 70. Cf. P, H, A.

    1. H is a large vellum MS in a small, clear, but not attractive hand, containing the following items:
    2. p. 2: De Febribus Sanguinis etc.: cf. P, P1, A.
    3. p. 4b: Easlainti gan beith adburda: cf. P, A.
    4. p. 6: Etica: cf. P, P1, A.
    5. p. 12b: Cardiaca: cf. P.
    6. p. 16: ... De morbis universalibus: cf. P, Ar. 333.
    7. p. 16b: De apostema: cf. P, E, E1.
    8. p. 17: Cotidiana: cf. P1.
    9. p. 21b: Emitricius: cf. P1.
    10. p. 24b: Quartana: cf. P1.
    11. p. 30: Don faothugad: cf. P1, P, A. 2a.
    12. p. 33: Apostema cont.: cf. P, E, E1.
    13. p. 42: Litargia: cf. P, YBL, E, E1.
    14. p. 43: Hernia: cf. P, YBL, E, E1.
    15. p. 44: Paralis: cf. E, E1.
    16. p. 47: Idroipis: (half page); gap to p. 49 where a new treatise begins.


    The portion, pp. 17-32, is wrongly inserted, and should precede p. 2, i.e. Cotidiana should precede Sanguine Fever, and p. 16 should continue on p. 33. In this way, faothugad comes just before Sanguine Fever as in P and A. The section is not complete. H and P are very similar, one might be a copy of the other, or they might be derived ultimately from the same copy. Where there is a bad scribal error it occurs in both MSS.

    1. YBL. contains ten folios of a translation of the Rosa Anglica, though only a few items correspond to P. The following are the contents.
    2. p. 341: [Don tsraegaigh]
    3. p. 341b: Don polypos (de polipo), Cap. VI:
    4. p. 342: De creachtaib & lotaib na srona. Cap. VII:
    5. p. 342b: D'eslaintib an beil ichtair & uachtair (Cartus tractus terci libri erit de pass. oris)
    6. p. 342b: D'ulcera (de cisuria) Cap. I
    7. p. 343: Do teinnis na fiacal (do dolore dentium). Cap. II
    8. p. 346b: Do bogad na fiacal (de coamocione dentium). Cap. III:
    9. p. 347: [Don feadan (de fistula). Cap. V]
    10. p. 347b: D'antrax (de antracte). Cap. VI
    11. p. 348: Do rangcula (de rangula). Cap. VII.:
    12. p. 348: (de malo mortu). Cap. VIII
    13. p. 348b: Do gluasacht baillceangail (de dislocatio juncturarum) Cap. IX
    14. p. 349: Do mudhornn na laime (de dislocatio manus)
    15. p. 349: D'uball na leise (de dislocatio handci)
    16. p. 349b: Don glun (de dislocatio genu)
    17. p. 349b: Do mudhornn na coise (de dislocatio pedis)
    18. p. 349b: Do concusio (de contusione)
    19. p. 350: (de hernia). cf. P, H, E, E1.
    20. p. 352b: (de incisione lapidis). cf. Brit. Mus. Add. 5, 582:
    21. p. 353b: Do lucht na Hidroipis maille gearrad:
    22. p. 354: Bruth an chind (Cap. de Corocione)
    23. p. 354b: (de fagos: —de corocione):

    24. p.xxxii

    25. p.355: Quartus liber erit brevis de primo omissis morbis qui sunt particulares:
    26. p.355: Litairgia. Cf. P, E, E1, H.
    27. p.356b: (de mania):
    28. p.358: (de scotomia):
    29. p.358b: (vertigo):
    30. p.359b: (de pandario):
    31. p. 36ob: (de iter agentibus)4: The Latin headings are from YBL.

    1. Kilbride collection 16 in the National Library of Scotland (Advocates' Library), Edinburgh, consists of six loose sheets of vellum and is very difficult to decipher. It contains the following items:
    2. p. 1: An dara haicid .i. nach ttic a tosach na haixsisi: ... Don aeor: ... cf. P1.
    3. p. 1b: Tart:
    4. p. 2a: Aicsis quart. quinct. etc.— beginning is mor an aimsir bis edir aicsis na fiabras ½ col. finishing fagmuid sin fa glicas an ti doni an leigis: cf. P. pp. 5, 6; P1, H.
    5. p. 2b: Feibris sanginis etc. Cf. P, P1, H.
    6. p. 3b: Don da eslainte gan beith adburda (Efemera complete). Cf. P, H.
    7. p. 4a & b: Etica adon as edh as etica ann, —finishing:—is arrsaidh ann. Cf. P, P1, H.
    8. p. 4b: De diebetica passione.
    9. p. 5a: De mingitu sanguinis —
    10. p. 5b: Mamilla est membrum glandulosum —
    11. p. 6: illegible. No headings.


    E and E1 contain portions of the translation. of the Rosa Anglica. They both include the two portions missing in P: (a) between pp. 28 and 29, and (b) between pp. 40 and 41.


    The pages of E up to p. 25 contain a grammatical treatise. The medical part from the Rosa Anglica, five and a half sections in all, begins on this page with the section on iniposthumes: Apostemata et tumor idem sunt secundum anticos, ut disid Galienus .i. is amlaid adeir Galienus’’

    and contains the portion on litargia, hernia (p. 31), paralysis (p. 32b), dropsy (p. 34). After p. 34, six folios on other medical matters and in two different hands are wrongly inserted. On p. 47 the tract on dropsy is resumed, and is followed on p. 52a by that on smallpox, Variolae sunt parva apostemata ...’’

    which continues for a column and a half to the end of the page, as far as Et uair and teaguid da baindida mora amach etc.. Here unfortunately the MS ends. This fragment is written on beautiful white vellum in a fine, small, clear hand.


    The translation of the portion of the Rosa Anglica in E1 is from p. 125 to p. 156, beginning with the section on Artetica, and contains the parts dealing with Apostemata (137b), Litargia (148), Hernia (150), Paralysis (151), Dropsy (153). After p. 156 there is a gap. This MS is written on vellum in a considerably later hand and bears traces of haste. The sections on Apostemata, Litargia, Hernia, Paralysis and Dropsy are identical with those in E. These two MSS are in excellent condition.


    The language of the text is Early Modern. Apart from technical terms, it would be intelligible to any good 'Irish speaker' of the present day. From internal evidence, it appears that the date 1460 on the slip inserted in the MS is roughly correct, though the MS may well be later. It is apparently a Northern MS, judging from such indications as the use of 'a' for 'o' (as on page 6a of MS), the omission of final


    'gh', and the use of such words as 'gle' in Is gle mhall gluaisis’’

    , which appears in the section on Crisis in Fevers. This section is not in the Rosa Anglica, and is therefore omitted from the text. There are no examples of infixed pronouns, neuter gender, or variations in the verb form, which would mark it as belonging to the Middle-Irish period. In all medical manuscripts there is a preference for 'i' and 'u' forms, as against 'e' and 'a', in verbal endings etc. It is an accurate translation and shows how the Irish language might be put to technical uses. Though on the whole literal, it reproduces the charm and quaintness of the original. It reads pleasantly, is clear and to the point and bears out Standish O'Gradys contention that the mediaeval Irish were, when they gave their minds to it, excellent translators, and could solve the problem of how to render closely from a strange tongue without distorting the idiom of their own’’

    5. I am unable to discover the name of the translator, and there is nothing in the MS to indicate who the scribe may have been. Nicholas O'Hickey is said to have translated the Rosa Anglica into Irish in the year 1400.6 Dr. Norman Moore mentions him as having translated a version of the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, and ascribes the translation of the Lilium Medicince of Bernard of Gordon in the British Museum now British Library7 to another member of the O'Hickey family.8 The latter MS is dated 1482.9

    Latin Terminology

    Each section is introduced by a Latin heading, generally followed by an explanation in Irish. These headings in Irish


    medical and herbal manuscripts, in common with all other similar terminology of the period, had been made to conform to Irish phonetic laws. As such cf. litairgia, eitica, foirmica, etc. In many instances also they suffer aspiration and eclipsis as in 'pronosticorumh', 'quodh', and even submit to Irish declension as in do reir Galenuis’’

    . In many cases, however, the forms are very corrupt, showing that the scribe had not the Latin original before him, and they point to much transcription. A medical tract in the British Museum now British Library, Harl. 546, contains examples of Latin words declined like Irish, thus: Tairnic ann sin libhur Gualteruis do dosisib na leigheas’’

    (f. 111, col. 2), where the Latin words Gualterus and dosis are subjected to Irish declension.10 Some of the headings in the present text are quite incomprehensible. An example occurs in the following passage: Variolae sunt prima apostemata’’

    , where a comparison with MS E 3 3 in TCD shows that parva is intended.

    Rare Words

    The text is chiefly valuable for the considerable number of hitherto unrecorded Irish medical terms and expressions. Amongst these the following may be mentioned: Lat. brachalis, translated by slapur— a truss, bandage. O'Reilly gives the word slapar as meaning a skirt, trail, train; slaparach, having long skirts, related to slapaire— a sloven (?).

    Lat. chirurgia, translated by Irish sinid laime. Gr. cheir + ergon 11 Also in YBL laim oibrugad. Again urbruithe represents the Latin stupha — a stupe, fomentation, dry bath.12 Gaoithi - Lat. suppositoria— suppository. I take


    this to be the plural of gae, a dart, as being more intelligible than gaoth, wind.13 Or ? vapours, which I think unlikely.

    Sailcnis — Lat. morpheatum — dandruff, scurf. Salach cnes? cf. Manx. 'fer scrys', which may be an adaption of the Irish. Similar to this salchur an umha — presumably verdigris; dirt of copper (bronze). Buaidertha — translating Lat. turbidus, turbid — used chiefly of urine but also of other water14. Cf. the early Eng. use of 'troublednesse' in the same connection. With reference to the colour of urine, the expression valde colorata, or tincta, is always rendered by ard, high-coloured (?). On p. 26b, the opposite occurs, & e isel ina dath. On p. 11a occurs folcadh, Lat. lixivium — lye.

    Names of Diseases

    It is striking how appropriate and picturesque most of these Irish terms are. Deilgnech, translating Lat. varicellae coniformis, chickenpox? Dineen gives 'swinepox' for this. Dealg, a thorn, deilgnech, prickly. At comall, Lat. hydrops, dropsy. Contribb. gives comallach, dropsical, comaille, dropsy. Other authorities give the meaning 'swelling' to the word. 'Sciatica' is represented by loinidhgha — loin + idga, i.e. lon, hip, and iodha, cramp, pangs. The word daorgalar, though usually meaning piles, seems here. rather to translate the Lat. tenesmus, while fige, figidh, takes the place of the former. This was the universal term, Lat. ficcus, ME. fygge, etc. Tumtuidhe, tumatuighe, translates the Lat. hernia, cf. tumadh, dipping; tumthaire, a dipper; while epilepsia is of course, in galur tuitmindach, and erysipelas in tine Dia, ignis sacer, St. Anthony's fire. Ingur translates the Lat. sanies, pus, festering matter. The word is still in use in the spoken language of Aran, and occurs in Manx,


    (ingyr), and Scotch Gaelic (iongar); ('gur', 'gyr' — heat?) Alga, algada, is used occasionally to translate ulcera. O'Grady gives the meaning 'aphthous sores' for this.

    Medical Expressions

    The Latin phlebotomia, etc. is throughout rendered by cuisle do leigin, while tairraing etc. represents Lat. traho, draw, i.e. draw off superfluities, in common with the general medical usage of the time. Latin eunuchus is translated by in lucht asa mbentur, though in the Annals spochadh is the usual word for castrate. Again egestionem evacuare is in Irish simply dul amach. Speaking of boils and other matters that yield to the touch, the expression ag gabail ri translates the Latin cedere tactui. Another use of gabail is in balad do gabail, expressing the transitive use of 'smell'.

    Many philosophic expressions are current throughout the text, and are at times rather difficult to translate, as in some cases the exact meaning of the Latin term is not definitely ftxed. Angustia mentis is rendered by cumga aigenta, oppression of mind, repression? Moduracht is the usual term for tristitia, probably best rendered by depression, though the Irish word in more recent times generally implies bad temper, surliness, etc.

    Mention must yet be made of the enormous number of plant names found in the text, often with their Latin equivalents. Amongst these several, I think, are new, or at least rarely met with. in the form given. Litront translates the Latin diptamus, dittany. Stokes gives the words ditronda and elitronta, but it seems to be the same. 'Savory' occurs as sabraei or saurae — a form also found in MS 3. B. 15 R.I.A. The word ros is repeatedly fem. in the text with a gen. sg. roisi and a dat. rois, though on one or two occasions the masc. form is used (gsg. rois etc.). On p. 15a gaill ein nicely roasted, are recommended as a


    food. I thought at first these foreign birds might be turkeys, as every tongue seems to ascribe them to a distant land, the English to Turkey, the French and Russians to India, and the Irish to France, but they seem to stand for the Latin phasiani; so perhaps pheasants were not of every day occurence in Ireland in those days. Besides which, the turkey was not introduced into the Western world till the 16th Century.

    There are, moreover, many examples of Irish words composed of stem and prefix, as in Latin, and probably either in imitation of the latter, or direct translation. Amongst these are athtairngtech, attractivus; comfuluing, compatior; frithbuailtech, repercussivus; fodubh, subniger, etc.

    Remedies in the Rosa Anglica

    The extraordinary number and variety of the remedies employed in the text seem surprising to us, since they include much exotic and unattainable things as lions and peacocks. Still, they constitute the pharmacopoeia of the time, and are to be found in any work of mediaeval medicine. It is very probable that mediaeval Irish druggists used substitutes for these rare and costly drugs. Some of the remedies seem strange and outlandish to the modern mind, but if we compare them with many cures still in popular use in country places in Ireland, we cannot but be struck by their similarity.

    The following examples were collected in County Tyrone:

    For warts. ‘If you meet a black snail accidently, rub it on the wart and stick the snail on the first thorn you meet’. Cf. P. p. 29a, where the use of powdered snail ash, mixed with the fat of a gander, is recommended for warts or scrofulous glands. On p. 15a, they are also recommended boiled in milk with cabbage, as food for fattening hens.

    For toothache. ‘If you lick a black snail when suffering from toothache, you


    will be certainly cured’, an old woman once told me. Another cure: ‘Go to a graveyard, find a skull, and if you pull a tooth from the jaw with your teeth, you will never have toothache again!’ (This, of course, is pure sympathetic magic).

    For 'sore arm' . ‘Boil a dead dog and bathe the arm in the soup’. Cf. P. p. 36b, where the water in which a fox has been boiled is recommended as a cure for paralysis. This cure is also mentioned in Harl. 546, f. 22. See O'Grady, p. 185, op. cit. On p. 16a, another bath is prescribed, where young cats (whelps?) are the victims. Ambroise Paré still used this remedy15.

    For blood poisoning. ‘Touch the part with nine irons’. The number 9 evidently was held in high repute in Ireland, as in most other countries. Cf. Harl. 546, f. 49b. ‘For nine days, chew dilisk or the inner bark of a willow’, (for fetid breath). In Tyrone a popular cure for sty (Anglo-Saxon stigan, to rise) on the eye is: ‘Get nine thorns from a gooseberry bush and point at the boil in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, for nine days in succession, throwing the used thorns away each day’. There are many examples of the nines in Anglo-Saxon magic16.

    For heart-fever. ‘Get a cupful of oatmeal, cover with a muslin handkerchief, and move it round the body.’ The amount the oatmeal shrinks in the process was believed to have been eaten by the heart to build it up again. The woman who described this cure said that prayers and incantations were mumbled while the operation was going on.

    For sprains. ‘Get cowdung and boil it with milk. Make a plaster of this mixture, and apply.’

    For stings. ‘Mix horsedung with blue clay, and apply to part stung.’ — Many of the cures recommended in the text are decidedly unpleasant.


    Cholmeley, op. cit., p. 70, states: ‘It will be remembered that even in the last century Waterton was a firm believer in the merits of a cowdung poultice’. The 'cow clap' is still a popular remedy for swellings in cattle and horses in country places.

    For jaundice. The remedies for jaundice are particularly nauseous:

    1. ‘Mix goose droppings in small quantities with food, unknown to child, and give it to him to eat.’ Cf. pp. 27a and 31a etc.
    2. This curious remedy is obviously another example of magic cures: ‘Get the child to make its water in a tin. Set the tin on the fire to boil, and get the child to watch it boiling away.’

    Herbs, etc. still in common use in Tyrone: — Houseleek for eyes and ears; soot for colic; plantain leaf for wounds; nettle tea for nerls and measles; groundsel mixed with porridge for 'bealing' (fester); spruce fir, burdock root and bogbean, boiled and made into a tonic for the blood; ripple grass (rib-leaved plantain) for bleeding.

    The passage on p. 10b regarding the use of ragweed (mugwort) artemesia as a remedy for tiredness is interesting in the fact that the same cure occurs in Saxon Leechdoms17: This wort, which is called artemisia, and by another name mugwort, is produced in stony places ... Then, if any propose a journey, let him take him in hand this wort artemisia, and let him have it with him, then he will not feel much toil on his journey ... For sore of feet, take the same wort and pound it with lard, lay it to the feet; it removes the soreness of the feet.’’

    Anglo-Saxon Leechdoms i. 103.

    again in the Leech Book of Bald: For much travelling overland, lest a man tire: — let him take mugwort in his hand or put it in his shoe lest he should weary. And when he will pluck it before sunrise, let him say first these words Tollam te Artemisia ne lassus sim in via, sign it when thou pullest it up)’’

    (A.-S. L. ii. 155).


    Influence of ancient beliefs.

    Many of the cures in the text represent a very ancient stratum in folk belief, and savour of sympathetic magic. Such are the three cures for lethargy: the heart of a robin hung round the patient's neck to keep him awake; the heart of a robin and that of an owl hung above the head to restore memory; the heart of a swallow eaten with honey, to make the patient relate happenings in the past and to cause him to foretell the future.

    I do not know why these birds are chosen, but the reason for the selection of the heart, the part that goes on moving during sleep is fairly evident. In a section of the Rosa Anglica which is not in my text, the head of a cuckoo tied round the neck is recommended as a cure for epilepsy, because the cuckoo is subject to epilepsy and attracts the disease to itself.

    It is fortunate that the well-known passage of the Rosa Anglica in the section dealing with smallpox, should occur in this MS. The reference in it is to the cure of the son of Edward II., King of England (1307-1327). It fixes the period quite definitely as the fourteenth century, and confirms the opinion that John of Gaddesden was Court Physician. Out of the mystery that enfolds the life of John of Gaddesden, as it does that of so many great men of his time, this fact in the Rosa Anglica emerges, and stands out clearly as a record in the history of medicine which will be interesting for all time. It was by means of this passage that, at the suggestion of Dr. Charles Singer, I was able in the beginning to establish the identity of the Irish text. With regard to the cure itself and the theory as to the value of red light in smallpox, it is interesting to note that it is one of the few of Gaddesden's cures that has survived and has received serious consideration in modern times18, with this difference that,


    whereas Gaddesden believed that the 'red light' treatment lessened the severity and shortened the course of the disease, it is now only considered valuable as a preventative of pitting. The first mention of this cure occurs in the Compendium Medicinae, presumably known to John. ‘Vetulae provinciales dant purpuram combustam in potu; habet enim occultam naturam curandi variolas. Similiter pannus tinctus de grano.’ Also with regard to the use of urine in the cure of dropsy, it must be remembered that urea has been comparatively recently introduced as diuretic.

    The Influence of the Schools.

    Another quaint feature of mediaeval medical texts is the formal discussion of adverse theories, couched in the technical language of the schools; in fact, we might say, a regular disputation in natural philosophy on the virtues or properties of things. Suffice it to say that John of Gaddesden (for instance p. 28b ff. of our text), having to argue with Avicenna, will proceed to quote the objection to his own theory in his opponent's own words; then show forth that there are diverse meanings possible of the words quoted by his opponent from such and such authority, and that such a meaning with which Johns own view would not clash, may be shown to be the right one.

    Indeed one feels slightly tempted to repeat the famous epigram on Doctors, that their business consists in putting drugs, about which they know nothing, into their fellowmen's bodies, about which they know less; the mediaeeval practitioners being in the exercise of that art, inferior to their modern confrères in that they did not care a whit for an objective knowledge of either, but only for the arguments by which it could be shown, if needs were, that the latter very properly and fittingly had died upon ingestion of the former, according


    to the previous and unanimous agreement of all the weightiest authorities as to the unavoidableness of the occurence.

    Of course the worst anguish that could torture such heroic consciences must be of necessity, the difficulty of getting their authorities to agree at times when, to the profane eye, they would seem utterly to differ; and their most exciting pastime the excogitating of means whereby sundry conflicting statements could be reconciled with each other.

    We may add that probably a good many physicians and certainly most writers on medical subjects had taken a degree in Arts as John of Gaddesden certainly did,19 and must have been proud of applying to professional topics the most recondite tricks of Minor Logic. A good example of the result of this transfer of processes will be found in paragraph 6 and following of the chapter on Cardiaca, the most elaborate philosophical passage in the Irish Text, where John is at pains to reconcile, in various ways, contradictory statements of Avicenna and Galen.

    A brief sketch of the argument may be of use to the reader unacquainted with the language of the schools. Paragraph 6 gives the Status quaestionis: Is the spirit the root (or fundamental principle) of the heart, or the heart the root of the spirit? Paragraph 7 sketches two reasons why the heart should be called the root of the spirit. Paragraph 8, against that conclusion, quotes the authority of Avicenna and of Galen, with the argument adduced for his position by Galen. Paragraph 9 proceeds to solve the difficulty by a distinction: there are two meanings of the term spirit; they should be kept in mind. Galen speaks of a vapour subtler than the natural heat. In [para ] 10, the author distinguishes between vegetative and sensitive life. There seems to be a gap in the reasoning after the first senteúce. The paragraph concludes with an admission that in a certain sense one can say truly that the spirit is the root of the heart.


    But in paragraph 11 the writer comes to distinguish the term heart: (1) improperly, where it may be taken as the mass of flesh fit to be informed by a soul; or (2) properly, as the same mass of flesh after it has been in fact informed by a soul. Hence it must be said that (1) taken improperly, the heart precedes chronologically the other parts of the body, that is when we consider the whole organism as in the process of being generated. And (2) taken properly after the complete formation of the whole, it precedes the other parts of the body, not chronologically, but in the design and order of nature. Though it must be said that all the above refers to being as such; if we think of well-being, we must say that the heart precedes other parts of the body chronologicaily.

    At this point the Irish translator stopped short, and left untranslated the next ten lines of the Latin original.

    The remainder of paragraph 11 is devoted to the authors exposition of two arguments on the subject.

    Paragraphs 12 and 13 discuss in turn the two arguments exposed, and try to reconcile their implications with the statements reproduced above from medical authorities. In paragraph 13 the writer further objects to his own solution and solves the objection, which being done, he turns to the external causes of Cardiaca, resuming the thread of his exposá of the medical practice which the discussion sketched above had interrupted.

    Hereditary Physicians


    Reference to the practice of medicine and surgery has appeared from a very early period in Irish tradition and literature. Diancecht was the Asclepius of Irish Legend. He was the Physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann who made the silver hand for Nuadha the king. In the Middle Ages medicine was widely practised throughout Ireland, and was hereditary in certain families attached to the nobles and chiefs.


    These hereditary physicians remind one of the Asclepiadae of Greece, whose nature and function however are not so clear as those of the leeches of Ireland. The theories about the Asclepiadae are interesting in view of their similarity with those about earlier physicians in this country. The oldest idea about them was that they were the priests and physicians of the Temple of Asclepius. Later it was thought that they were a guild founded by Asclepius, but the most authoritive modern opinion is that the Asclepiads were a clan of hereditary physicians who claimed to be descended from Asclepius, [and that they developed] into something like a guild by the admission or rather adoption of favoured outsiders.’’

    W. H. S. Jones, Hippocrates, vol. 1, General Introduction, p. xliv

    In Ireland it is found in the Chronicles that the same families of hereditary physicians held land uninterruptedly for centuries from the 13th century onward, and even in the 19th Century their descendents were found in the old districts, fallen from their high estate, and filling their land as tenants or peasant proprietors.

    In Ulster the family of MacDuinntshleibhe (Dunlevy) was the mst notable. They were hereditary physicians to the O'Donnells. One of them, Cormac Mac Duinntshleibhe, was distinguished as a scholar as well as a physician. The Irish translations of several Latin medical works made by him are in the British Museum now British Library. One of them (Arundel 333) contains the following note: Cormac Mac Duinntshleibhe, bachelor of physic, it is, that has put it into Irish and written it for Denis O' hEachoidhern in this document. And let each one whom it shall profit pray for those two. {Ocus Cormac Mac Duinnléibe basiller a fisigeacht do cuir a ngaigdeilg ocus do scrib do Deinis Ó Eachoidhern annsa cairtsi hé.}’’

    Arundel 333, British Libary.

    Sir Norman Moore mentions that Cormac also wrote in the same


    bibliotheca a treatise on gems and on plants. Another text translated by Cormac is Gualterus on the doses of decoctions (BL Harl. 546); cf. supra.

    The following is the author's note on fol. 11a: Here ends Gualterus his book of the doses of medicines. Cormac mac Duinntsleibhe has put this summary into Irish for Dermot mac Donall O'Lyne; and to him and his sons, may so profitable a commentary render good service. On the 4th day of the Kalends of April this lecture was finished at Cloyne in the year 1459.’’

    BL Harley 546, fo. 11a.

    Cormac mac Duinntshleibhe also translated Bernard of Gordon's Lilium Medicinae20, Guy de Chauliac's Chirurgia21 and Thomas Aquinas On the secrets of nature22.

    A member of the same family is dispensary doctor in Mountcharles, Donegal at the present time. Niel O'Glacan (Nellanus Glacanus) was a native of Donegal, and probably received his medical education from one of the Dunlevys. He held the chair of physic (medicine) in the Universities of Toulouse (1629) and in Bologna (1646) in both of which were important schools of medicine (Tractatus de Peste, Toulouse, 1629). He was also for a time physician to the King of France23.

    Other well-known Ulster medical families were the O'Cassidys, physicians to the Maguires of Fermanagh; and the O'Shiels, physicians to the MacMahons of Oriel and to the MacCoghlans of Westmeath.

    The famous book of the O'Sheils was a compilation of that family. cf. infra MSS in R.I.A. A long account of the


    career of Owen O'Sheil who lived at the beginning of the 17th Century is to be found in Meehan's Franciscan Monasteries. See supra. This Owen O'Sheil studied in Paris (1604), Louvain, Padua, Rome, and, having obtained his Doctor's Degree, returned to Ireland about 1620. His career was varied, and followed the viscissitudes of the stormy days of the Confederates. After having enjoyed great eminence as a doctor, he joined the armies of O'Neill, and was found among the slain after the battle of Scariff Hollis near Letterkenny in the year 1650. In the West the O'Lees, or Ui Liaigh, were physicians to the O'Flahertys24. In the South the most famous were the Ui Callanain, physicians to the McCarthys of Carbery; the O'Hickeys25, physicians to the O'Briens of Thomond; the O'Mearas26, physicians to the Butlers of Ormond.

    Irish physicians were not unknown in England. Thus in a medical compilation made by John of Grenborough, for thirty years infirmarius at St. Marys, Coventry (first half of the fifteenth century) the following note occurs: Frater Iohannes de Grenborough per xxx annos et plus nuper infirmarius emebat istum librum vocatum Gilbertinum ad vtilitatem infirmorum in ecclesia Couentre existentium, et ea que in nouis quaternis sunt scripta compilauit a practicis phisicorum Anglie, Hibernie, Iudeorum, Saracenorum, Lumbardorum et Salernita(no)rum.’’

    BL Royal MS 12 G, IV, f. 187.

    And an actual case of an Irish leech resident in England may be inferred from the Trinity College, Cambridge, MS 91827 written by two scribes, Denis Cheriton, writing in 1468, and an Irishman, Donnchadh mac Matha. The book has a leaf in Irish (so far as the few words given in the Catalogue enable one to judge, perhaps a fragment of a classical translation)


    and three Irish Saints (SS. Bridget, Patrick and Brendan) in red in the Calendar, and at the end of a Latin tract on the planets occurs the note: ‘Donncat so’, the name being given in a fuller form in a colophon to a paragraph on urines: ‘Quod Doncadh mac Matha apud Sotoun valaunce’. This place is Sutton-Valence in Kent, six miles from Maidstone28.


    In Scotland a similar state of affairs existed. When James I came to England he brought with him a physician who was probably one of a family of hereditary Highland Physicians, Dr. David Betthum, obviously the same name as MacBeath. An account of the MacBeath family is given in the introduction to the Regimen Sanitatis, an Irish medical manuscript in the British Museum now British Library (Add. 15, 582), edited with a facsimile and an English translation by H. Cameron Gillies, M.D., 191129. On the title page they are described as physicians to the Lords of the Isles and the Kings of Scotland for several centuries. The name is variously written 'Bead, Beda, Macbheatha, Macbheathadh' in Gaelic (meaning 'son of life') and 'Betoun, Beatone, Bettun, Betham, Macbeth, McBeath' in English. They were widely read and experienced physicians. A traveller in Skye in 1700 states that Fergus Beaton in South Uist possessed the following MSS, namely: Avicenna, Averroes, Joannes de Vigo, Bernardus Gordonius, and several volumes of Hippocrates30. It is thought that David Betthun also graduated in Padua, became a fellow of the College of Physicians, and may be regarded as the sole connecting link between the mediaeval hereditary physicians of Eire and Alba, and the medicine of the Renaissance31.


    All these families of hereditary physicians appear to have kept in touch with medical learning in England and on the Continent — they all read some books of the School of Salernum, the Arabian physicians; and Bernard of Gordon and John of Gaddesden were known to them. Many of their sons rose high in their profession, and their fame spread far beyond the four seas of Ireland.


    Welsh medical manuscripts appear to be similar to Irish in form and subject matter, i.e. translations from Latin sources and herbals. Meddygon Myddfai is supposed to have been composed in the 13th century by Rhiwallon, the most famous mediaeval Welsh physician and the first of those doctors who succeeded each other up to the end of the 18th century in Myddfai, not far from Llandeilo. They claim their origin from a farmer named Gwyn, who lived with his mother near Llyn y Fan Fach in the Black Mountains. He induced a beautiful lady from under the lake to marry him on certain conditions which he was unable to keep, so that after three years she left him. Her sons, mad with grief at the loss of their mother, tried to find her again. One day she appeared to them, and told Rhiwallon, the eldest, that he must devote himself to the service of humanity. She taught him the virtues of plants and the art of healing. He became the most eminent doctor in his country, and Rhys Gryg, Lord of Llanddovery in Dinefwr, gave him the territory of Myddfai. He is said to be the author of Meddygon Myddfai, which fact is stated in the opening lines of the book. Rhys Gryg is well known in Welsh history. He allied himself with King John in 1210 though he fought against him later. In the 19th century


    several families in Wales claimed descent from the physicians of Myddfai. Meddygon Myddfai is contained in the Red Book of Hergest33, and was edited by the Rev. John Williams, M.A. (Ab Ithel), Rector of Llanymowddwy, and published in 1865 for the Welsh Manuscripts Society with variants from the Tonn 18, Cardiff, MS 28, and Fenton 29, Cardiff, MS 58. There is another copy in British Library, Add. 14, 913. Meddygon Myddfai was re-edited with a French translation by Paul Diverres, and published in Paris in 1913.


    A very large number of Irish medical tracts exist in manuscript in various libraries. As far as I know the only one published, is the Regimen Sanitatis (cf. supra). These medical texts were mostly translations from the Latin, and were apparently used as textbooks during the 14th and 15th centuries or even earlier. Their chief interest is linguistic and lexicographical, as they contribute nothing new to the general knowledge of medicine. It seems certain, from the number of copies made of the better known works, that they were extensively used.

    On pp L-LVI Winifred Wulff lists and describes unpublished Irish medical manuscripts and their repositories. This section is available in a separate HTML file on CELT .


    While reading the contents of these mediaeval medical manuscripts one is struck by the wide knowledge of the mediaeval physicians, as well as by their lack of any great powers of observation.

    Sir Norman Moore says of them: ‘For all but a few, medical study was to read the works of authority and to fit cases under the headings given in such treatises, whiie medical writing consisted in producing fresh books by extract and abstract from previous books.’ The same observation would apply equally to the translators and compilers of our Irish Medical Manuscripts. All the well known Arabian authorities are quoted without criticism, so that there is little opportunity for the display of native knowledge or medical customs. For a knowledge of native remedies and herblore we must go to the people themselves in the country parts of Ireland, where the memories of ancient beliefs and practices have not quite died out.

    I shall conclude in the words of the author:

    ‘Lege feliciter. Et si qua perperam impressa aut lingue anglice egestate perplexa videbuntur, multa in sermone patrio inserta sunt, rogo, amice lector, ignoscas.’


    My best thanks are due to:

    1. Miss Eleanor Knott, for reading the proofs of the whole text and the glossary, and for much painstaking help;
    2. Rev. Paul Grosjean, S. J., for reading proofs and making many helpful suggestions;
    3. Miss Maud Joynt, for help with proofs;
    4. Dr. Charles Singer, University College, London, for obtaining for me the loan of the Rosa Anglica (4th Edition, 1595) from University College, London. It was through Dr. Singer that I was able to identify the Irish text as a translation from the Rosa Anglica;
    5. Dr. Percy Kirkpatrick, Royal College of Physicians, Dublin, for the loan of books;
    6. and finally Miss Nora Walsh, without whose constant and unfailing assistance this book would never have been published.

    Acknowledgements are also due to

    1. the Delegates of the Oxford University Press, for permission to quote from the New Oxford Dictionary;
    2. the Staffs of the following Libraries, for their courtesy in affording facilities in my work on their Manuscripts:
    3. The Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.
    4. Trinity College, Dublin.
    5. Kings Inns Library, Dublin.
    6. British Museum now British Library.
    7. National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh (Advocates' Library),
    8. and to the printers for their patience and efficient work in the face of many difficulties.