Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
An Irish Version of Gualterus de Dosibus (Author: Walter de Agilon/Galterius Agilinus)

Introduction: Walter of Agilon (fl. 1250) and his works.

Not much is known about this author. His name has many variants: Galterius Agilus or Agilinus, Gualterus (de) Agilis or Agilinus or Agilonis or Agilon or Agulum, Agulinus, Gautier d'Agiles, Gualterus de Afguillo, Valtherus Agilo, Walter de Agilon, Walter of Agilon, Walter Agilo, Walter de Agelon, Walterus Agulinus, Walterus Agulum, Waltherus Medicus, Waltherus Salernitanus have all been used.

In Alcuin and MIRABILEWEB we find the following medical tracts, all undated, attributed to him: Compendium urinarum; Contenta urinarum; De contentis urinarum; De dosi medicinarum; De urinis; Febres (=Tractatus de febribus); Glossule super versus Egidii; Liber pulsum (=Liber de pulsibus); Modus iudicandi urinas; Summa medicinalis (=Practica medicinalis). The Compendium urinarum was edited by J. Pfeffer in 1891, and the Summa medicinalis by Diepgen in 1911. For the remaining tracts there are no editions recorded. Even the new focus of popular wisdom, Wikipedia, has as yet (December 2017) no entry on him. So when Diepgen complained, over a hundred years ago, that Walter of Agilon was neglected this still rings true.

His nationality is uncertain, and Diepgen hinted at a Spanish background, based on the name Aguilon ‘which is very common in that peninsula, and the mentioning of Spanish coins’ (5) in the Summa, though Francesco Puccinotti in Storia della Medicina suggested that he was French. There is in fact a community of Aguilón in Zaragoza, Aragón, which settlement was established by the 12th century at latest, but no research has been done in this respect. (As Michael McVaugh has pointed out (1), due to the existence of a medieval papermill in Xàtiva (Valencia), which was part of the Kingdom of Aragón, there was a ‘remarkable series of royal and municipal records’ made for the crown of Aragón still extant in the archives.) Walter was given the epithet ‘Salernus’ in Clm 325, fol. 36v–38v. He is accepted to have been active between 1240 and 1250, and according to De Renzi ( Collectio Salernitana, I, 293) he may have been a witness in a document written in 1272. Diepgen characterises the De Dosibus as a pharmacological tract in the arabistic manner, written before the Practica medicinalis, as it is cited there. The editors of Arnaldi de Villanova Opera medica omnia call it ‘simply a close paraphrase of Haly Abbas' rules in the Pantegni for compounding medicines’ (29). This may be one of the reasons why it has not attracted more interest.

Diepgen names Walter's Summa as his longest and most important work, as Walter strove to provide a practical guide for treating all illnesses, diseases and ailments, including the most pertinent sections of surgery and obstetrics, at a time when the teaching of the scholastics began to gain ground in the art of healing (6). The Summa shows strong Arabic influence.

However, from an Irish perspective De Dosibus holds a lot of interest, too, firstly for the terminology that has been used, or even created, by Cormac Mac Duinnshléibhe. He participated in shaping and consolidating Irish medical, anatomical, pharmaceutical and botanical terms, being a prolific translator whose works were often copied. But there is quite a number of terms that have not yet made their way into Irish dictionaries. Terminology appearing in Sheahan's glossary on pp 147–178 was not excerpted to add entries in the Royal Irish Academy's Dictionary of the Irish Language (edited between 1913 to 1976, when it was finally published). This is evinced by the fact that De Dosibus does not appear in the sources listed there.

Secondly, it tells us a lot about the reception of medieval medical literature. De Dosibus was just another work that was copied, and copied again, be it in compendia, or in an Irish doctor's vademecum, to be studied in conjunction with similar works. Sometimes digests and extracts of longer works were added to thematically related tracts under the direction of an ollamh leighis, or professor of medicine, in a medical school, as Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha has observed. There is much more to be explored to find out how the Irish doctors shaped and assimilated the learning gleaned from scholastic teaching on the continent which included both medicine and natural philosophy. Since there were no universities in Ireland at the time, the medical schools had a similar function to universities on the continent and in England. Pupils from the hereditary families of healers would learn their art there for many years, serving the master as his amanuenses, and travelling with him, assisting him on his travels through the country when he was called to patients.

When cataloguing Harley 546, O'Grady stated (177) that the medical tract was written by Cormac himself, based on the colophon on f. 11, col. 2: ‘Táirnic ann sin libhur Galteruis do dosisib na leigheas. Cormac Mac Duinnthshléibi do cuir in thsuim so a nGaeidheilg do Diarmaid mac Domnaill hí Leighin ocus gur fhoghna dosan ocus dá cloind a tarbhaigi do comáin et rel. In cethrumhadh lá do Kl. april do críchnaighedh in forcedal so a Cluain Uamha sa bliadain darb annala don Tigerna in nuimhirsi do bliadnaib 1459.’ This means Cormac translated it, but not that he wrote the manuscript text.

Among the five manuscripts Sheahan used, he found none to be the original. He concluded this from a comparison of the hand with that in London BL Arundel 333, which contains text written by Cormac, according to a colophon on folio 113b. Sheahan's stemma (32) shows the original copy O from which two intermediate copies branch off, X and X1. From X, two intermediate copies Y and Y1 derive. From Y, the existing B (=RIA 445) and H (=TCD 1326) are derived. From Y1, H2 (=TCD 1312) is derived. From X1, two intermediate copies Z and Z1 are descended. From Z, E (=TCD 1436) is derived, and from Z1, Har (=BL Harley 546).

Concerning the language, Sheahan (33) stated ‘the language of the fifteenth century does not differ much from that of the present.’ For a study of the grammatical forms, he referred to Eleanor Knott's Bardic Poems of Tadhg Dall Ó Huiginn (1550-1591) (London 1926) and James A. Geary's doctoral dissertation An Irish version of Innocent III's De contemptu mundi, (Washington D.C. 1931). The latter contains a translation of the Latin text into Irish by William Mac Givney (Maguibhne) completed by 1443.

At Sheahan's time of writing, and before, the perception that the language of the fifteenth century was not much different from that of the ‘present day’ seems to have been common among scholars in the field who were familiar with literature from this transitional period. An infamous example was Osborn Bergin, who deemed even a translation of the Irish Grammatical Tracts unnecessary. However, modern scholarship has abandoned those notions of oligarchic hegemonial knowledge. It is hoped that making available this edition electronically will instead contribute to a more nuanced understanding of Early Modern Irish, certainly in the genre of medical literature where a lot of work still awaits.

Beatrix Färber, School of History, University College Cork.