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On the Qualitees, Maners and Kunnynge of a Surgean (Author: Lanfranc of Milan)


On the Qualitees, Maners and Kunnynge of a Surgean

The following text is taken from 23. N. 16 (=MS 443), a small quarto paper MS. in the Royal Irish Academy, and forms three and a half chapters of Lanfranc's Chirurgia Magna. The MS contains 138 folios written in a clear, neat, small hand, with many contractions. It contains a number of Early Modern Irish translations of Latin Medical works as follows:

  1. Aphorisms of Hippocrates
  2. Circa instans, etc. (fol. 1–33 )
  3. (fol. 33–40)
  4. (fol. 41–55)
  5. (fol. 56–58)
  6. (fol. 58–60)
  7. (fol. 60–73v)
  8. (fol. 74–106)
  9. (fol. 107)
  10. (fol. 107–124)
  11. (fol. 124–126)
  12. (fol. 126–127)
  13. (fol. 127–129)
  14. (fol. 129–133)
  15. (fol. 133v, l. 17–138v.) See infra.


These translations are masterly and faithful renderings of the original, and show the skill and ease which whith the early Irish doctors could reproduce technical and philosophical Latin treatises in their own tongue. These works were used as text books in the Medical Schools, and the large number of copies preserved in libraries throughout the world prove how extensively they were used. As I do not know of any other copy there are no variants.

23. N. 16 was one of the MSS. in the collection of Sir William Betham, the then Ulster King-of-Arms, and was acquired by the Royal Irish Academy in 1850, by subscription ( Proceedings 1850–1853).

The MS. was written between the years 1597 and 1601, but the name of the scribe was unfortunately lost. In a note on fol. 122 the scribe asks a blessing on the translator, i.e. Séamus Mac Gearóid Uí Fiongaini. On fol. 123 there is a similar prayer, but here the name is Donatus Juvenis, so apparently the various treatises were translated by different scholars. The text abounds in contractions and abbreviations, almost every second word being illegible to the uninitiate. These contractions formed a medical code which was in use throughout the Middle Ages, and was very difficult to interpret. Many scribal notes and colophons occur throughout the MA., which are interesting from a topographical, historic, and human point of view. The following are some examples:

fol. 11v. ‘O Mary (Virgin)! Often have we had to complain of you, Kate. Because you found no coin in my purse, small is your care for me today.’)

fol. 22v. ‘Great is your drunkenness and your chatter, Tadg mac Chriosdora, you disgusting mercenary churl.’

fol. 23v. ‘In the room of the friars I am now, St. John's Eve, 1597.’


fol. 61. ‘Finis Anno Domini 1596. — On the 22nd of May in Achaidh mhic Áirt (a ruined church north west of Ballyragget in Co. Kilkenny bordering on Queen's Co.). A skirmish took place between Uaithni mac Ruruighi Í Mhordha and Master Framhas, Uaithni having the protection of the Council and the Justice, and Master Framhas had the misfortune to fall thereat and if reports are true that was no great loss for the Irish; many English fell too, and whether they did or not, Uaithne would not have minded killing them. And it is related that Seoirse mac Seamus fell on that day, and if it's true it is a sad tale because he was learned, noble-minded and honourable. And it is no lie that Seoirse fell.’

fol. 83. ‘I am weary today from all I endured in the heat yesterday.’

fol. 122. (End of Egidius on contents of urine). ‘Since the remaining words of the author are easy to understand, for that reason we shall put an end to the work in honour of God and of Mary our Queen and of the Court of Angels.’
‘Finis anno Domini 1610 — The 22nd of June in Edarguil in the presence of Donnchadh og Ó Conchubhair. May God give his grace to the soul of the person who put Irish on this, that is, Sémus mac Geroid Ui Fiongaini. And at that time the final rout and banishment of the inhabitants of Laoighis took place, men, women and young people small and big. And Sir Henry Power, president of the County of Laoighis and the Sheriff of the same county, Piggott, are destroying and plundering everywhere that they can find cattle, horses or sheep or any of their property in their own


county. And those people (Power and Piggott) have authority to hang everyone they can catch.’

The MS is in a very bad state of repair. Both corners are much damaged and some pages are missing at the beginning and end.

The language is Early Modern Irish, such as was used in all Irish Medical MSS, bearing no trace of Middle Irish peculiarities. The value of the tract is largely lexicographical — it would be of little use from the modern medical point of view — and as such is very great, as it contains many unrecorded medical and philosophic terms, both native and adapted from Latin. I have not altered the spelling and I have italicised only the most unusual contractions, leaving the ordinary abbreviations expanded without much comment.

The translation is of the opening chapters of the Chirurgia Magna of Lanfrancus de Mediolano.

Lanfranc was born not later than 1245, and was probably a member of the noble and well-known family of Lanfranchi. He studied in Bologna under William of Saliceto, who was professor at that university from 1269 to 1275 and left in that year for Verona. In 1270 Lanfranc wrote his Chirurgia Minor. In one of the innumerbale squabbles of the Italian city states he took the side of the De la Torre family against the Viconti. When his party was overthrown Lanfranc was


expelled, or fled, from Milan about the year 1294. He was in Lyons in 1295, and went on to Paris in 1296. Here, being a friend of William de Brescia he was received at the Collège of St. Côme (founded 1260), and was taken up by the Parisian surgeon Jean Pitard (died ca. 1330). Later he became surgeon to Philip le Bel.

While he was still at Lyons he began his Chirurgia Magna and finished it in Paris in 1296. This is an expansion of his earlier work. Lanfranc died about 1306. He stands with Guy de Chauliac, who is said to have been his pupil, as amongst the greatest surgeons of the Middle Ages. Jehann Ypermann, the greatest of mediaeval Flemish surgeons, is also believed to have studied under him. The well-known French surgeon, Henri de Mondeville, was present at some of his operations.

The chief interest in Lanfranc's work is his treatment of wounds. He taught that in the case of a wound involving a bone the latter must be completely mended before the surrounding flesh might be sewn up—as otherwise it would never heal — for its matter is created from the seed of the father and the mother. (See paragraph 7 infra.)

He held that cancer of the breat was incurable and refused to operate.

The Chirurgia Magna
The Chirurgia Magna contains five treatises (tractatus) each of which is divided into teachings (doctrina) and again subdivided into chapters (capitulum). The following fragment contains merely the first three chapters of the first teaching of the first treatise, and part of the beginning of the second teaching which is not divided into chapters.

The first Treatise is of general rules of surgery, etc.: the second of wounds and of anatomy; the third of cures for diseases which are not wounds; the fourth of algebra(?) i.e. broken bones and dislocations; the fifth deals with cures and is an antidotarium.

Lanfranc claims that his book covers the whole field of surgery, as is shewn by the name he himself gave it,


Ars completa totius chirurgiae. The Chirurgia Minor is a much smaller book containing only sixteen chapters, the last of which is an antidotarium.

The opening of the fifth book of the the Chirurgia Magna is a typical example of Lanfranc's quietly ingenuous style: ‘Tractatus quintus huius libri est antidotarium. In quo intendo ponere medicinas tam simplices quam compositas: quae huic arti, quantum ad chirurgiam spectat: sunt necessariae: quanquam non omnes ponam: quoniam infinitae sunt: & ab intellectu humano incomprehensibiles: nec est aliquis quantumcunque expertus: qui millesimam partem sciat earum, quae valent ad chirurgicum instrumentum. Nullas enim in eo ponemus: nisi illas quibus longo tempore sumus vsi: quas a reverendis doctoribus medicis, ac etiam mulieribus habuimus; quae omnes sine dubio in casibus suis sunt expertae.’ (fol 255v.)

The Chirurgia Magna was printed first in Venice in 1490. As there is no copy of this edition in Ireland I have used


the reprint of 1546, which forms part of a collection of the works of famous surgeons entitled: Ars Chirurgica, Guidonis Cauliaci
Bruni, Theodorici, Rolandij
Lanfranci et Bertapaliae, Rigeri et Gulielmi Saliceti

The Irish text occupies fol. 208–210.

The editions of Lanfranc's works are as follows: Chirurgia Magna; Chirurgia Minor: Venice 1490, 1519, 1546. Lyons 1533.

The Chirurgia Magna has been translated into various languages, French translation by Guillaume Yvoire, Lyons 1490; German translation by Otto Brunfels, Frankfurt am Main 1566; English translation from two MSS. Bodleian Ashmole 1396 (ca. 1380). British Museum Additional 12056 (ca. 1420) edited for the Early English Texts Society as Lanfrank's Science of Cirurgie by Dr. Robert v. Fleischhacker, 1894, original series 102.

Irish translation 1606 (see infra).