This section of MS 17 contains the following:
There are two compendia of medical materials in MS 17: one on the first two folios of the manuscript, and another at the very end on fols. 175r-177v. The contents of both have been catalogued by Cameron 1983, 153, and Hart 2003, 442-461. Almost all the texts in both compendia were transcribed by Singer 1917, but as this transcription contains lacunae as well as numerous errors, they have been re-transcribed for The Calendar and the Cloister.
Historians from Charles Singer in 1917 to Cyril Hart in 2003 have contended that the division of the medical material in MS 17 into two sections is accidental. Their argument rests on two assumptions: first, that both medical anthologies were copied from a single exemplar; and secondly, that these materials were added to MS 17 as an afterthought. Singer argued that the medical material was entered on additional leaves added to the front and back of the codex, but does not explain why they were divided in this manner.
He therefore dissociated these medical materials from the rest of the volume.
Indeed, for him the medical materials derived from a very different world from the computistica. The calendar material stemmed from Byrhtferth of Ramsey, who died about one hundred years before MS 17 was made, but the medical contents were judged to be "Salernitan", and hence quite avant-garde in 1110.
Singer's views have largely been corrected,
but his implication that medical texts are merely accidental additions to computus manuscripts has been silently endorsed by later scholars. In consequence, the purpose of the medical texts has seemed puzzling to historians. M.L. Cameron observed that MS 17's medical anthology is not suitable for practical use: its recipes and therapeutic admonitions are neither numerous or sophisticated, and the careful structure of compilations such as the Leechbook of Bald is missing. Yet Cameron saw no significance in the computistical setting of these texts. The medical material was judged "from its position" not to have been part of MS 17's original conception, and any connection with the "non-medical" core must have been purely casual, flyleaves and margins being favoured places to store miscellaneous medical information.
Hart's analysis is rather more complex, and takes account of both the structure of the manuscript's gatherings, and of the fact that the front and back medical material are written in the same two-column, 41-line frame. However, it is driven by his ruling hypothesis about the creation of MS 17, namely that it was copied by Thorney monks, but at neighbouring Ramsey Abbey, and from a now-lost Ramsey exemplar.
Hart suggests that as the scribes' work on MS 17 at Ramsey was drawing to a close, they discovered the medical material there, and decided to include it. Scribe A began to copy the "Ramsey Medical Treatise" at fol. 175v and continued to 177v, when he realized he would not have sufficient space to finish the passionarius. He then ruled an additional bifolium (the present fols. 1 and 2), but instead of finishing the passionarius, he instead left fol. 1r blank to accommodate its conclusion, and started instead on the paraphrase of Vindicianus on fol. 2v. He never finished the passionarius.
Hart's scenario is not entirely persuasive, for he does not explain why Scribe A would stop in the middle of the passionarius and start a fresh text in a fresh bifolium without finishing the first one. Moreover, both Singer and Hart do not take into account the fact that the front and back medical anthologies in MS 17 mirror one another in subject matter and arrangement: in both cases, an introductory section on the physiology and pathology of the four humours is followed by a more practical section devoted to therapeutics, recipes, materia medica, and similar topics. This gives the distinct impression that the two sections were intended to echo one another, and to frame the entire volume. The existence of a similar two-part framing anthology of medicine in a contemporary English computus manuscript -- Durham, Dean and Chapter 100 -- reinforces this impression of deliberate planning.
However, Hart's hypothesis of a Ramsey origin for this material finds some support from a source which he does not mention: Abbo of Fleury's commentary on the Calculus of Victorius of Aquitaine. Abbo taught at Ramsey during his sojourn in England, and his disciple Byrhtferth of Ramsey is closely connected to the computistica in MS 17. Victorius' Calculus is simply a series of mathematical tables, but Abbo's commentary is far more wide-ranging, touching on a number of philosophical issues involving number and its manifestations in the physical world. This leads him to the four elements, and to Plato's description in the Timaeus of the elements as a harmonic chain. The elements, in sum, are number made visible and tangible. The culmination of this discussion is an explanation of the problem of relative weight based on the four qualities which bind the elements together: heat, cold, moisture, and dryness. Cold, for example, makes things heavier, and dryness lighter. Abbo then applies this to human physiology, particularly the effect of moisture in the body, and to the relative wetness and density of wine, honey and oil. It will be noted that the material in MS 17's front section on medicine deals with the four humours and their qualities, the evacuation of blood, and weights and measures, inter alia the relative weights of wine, honey and oil. In sum, there is suggestive evidence that this material came from a manuscript connected in some way with Abbo. However, as the discussion of Humours (1) and especially Weights and Measures will indicate, the links to Abbo's commentary are less exact than could be hoped. Moreover, an Abbonian exemplar from Ramsey is by no means the only option: texts closely cognate to Humours (1) ,
, and the
, are also found in a block in a section added about 1100 to the mid-11th c. "
Moreover, the fact that medical materials are included in MS 17 does not depend on chance at all, but is profoundly bound up with the manuscript's computistical character. First, the folios that lie between its two medical anthologies contain more than a little medical material. For example, the lunaria on fol. 4r and the iatromathematical devices on
The importance of time to medicine is proclaimed in the very first text in MS 17. The four humours of which the human body is composed are related through their elemental qualities (hot, cold, wet and dry) to the four seasons of the year. Blood is hot and moist like spring; red bile or choler is hot and dry like summer; black bile is cold and dry like autumn; and phlegm is cold and wet like winter. Diet,bloodletting and purgation -- the mainstays of preventive and therapeutic intervention, whose goal is to expel excessive or corrupted humours -- are to be administered with this relationship in mind. Other calendrical factors, such as the "dog-days" of summer, and temporal considerations like the age of the patient, must also be considered. This humoral schema is the cornerstone of the medieval heritage of ancient medicine.
But the accent on the time elements made it a subject of interest to computists as well. The classic expression of this interrelationship was a chapter in Isidore of Seville's De natura rerum, illustrated by a much-copied diagram connecting the seasons, the ages of human life, the humours, and the elements and qualities of the natural world: this text and the diagram appear in MS 17 on fol. 39v. Bede incorporated this material into ch. 35 of
De temporum ratione
, entitled "On the four seasons, elements and humours,"
and Bede's eleventh-century admirer Byrhtferth of Ramsey constructed his Diagram (fol. 7v) to express the connection of the ages of life to the seasons of the year.
Looking at these medical texts from a computist's viewpoint also explains their non-technical character: they are enhancements to or extensions of the lore of time, not in the first instance manuals for professional study or work. This distinction becomes clearer when one examines the manuscript context of the medical texts catalogued by Ernest Wickersheimer. Wickersheimer set out to expand the repertory of early medieval medical manuscripts compiled by Augusto Beccaria by including codices which contained medical material, but which were not primarily medical in character.
Wickerheimer described only the medical items in the manuscripts, but by following his references to catalogue descriptions, one can situate each text into the manuscript as a whole. A sampling of about half of Wickerheimer's manuscripts (the first 49 of a total of 119) reveals that in 14 (30%), the medical material is associated with computistica. These manuscripts also almost always contain prognostica, recipes and some statement of the relationship of the ages of man and/or the humours to the elements and seasons. A good example is Dijon, Bibl. publique 448 (s. XI, Saint-Bénigne).
This is a computus manuscript comparable to MS 17, with a calendar and Paschal table, treatises by Bede and Helperic, and much additional computistical matter. The medical material consists of two diagrams illustrating the harmony of the elements and humours,prognostication devices, texts on the "Egyptian Days" (compare to fol. 3v, fol. 40v), amulets and charms, and an extract from Isidore of Seville'sEtymologiae on fingers, nails and cartilage. The material in MS 17 is both more scholarly and more abundant than that of the Dijon manuscript; indeed, it resembles the kind of texts found in medical codices like Montpellier Faculté de Médecine 185 (s. X-XI, Saint-André-de-Villeneuve) or Paris BNF lat. 12119 (s.IX, Saint-Bénigne, Dijon).
Prognostica Galieni on fol. 2v is found in Paris fol. 170r; pseudo-Hippocrates on bloodletting (fol. 2r) appears in Montpellier fols. 98r-100r and Paris fols. 32v-34r); and Vindicianus' Epistula ad Pentadium (fol. 1v) is also in Montpellier fols. 101r-102v. In short, it is not unusual that MS 17, as a computus manuscript, should contain medical material, but the choice and extent of its texts are somewhat superior to the average.
In this respect, MS 17 has only one rival: Durham, Dean and Chapter Library MS 100 (ante 1128, Durham Cathedral Priory), a volume not only contemporary with MS 17, but one which presents many intriguing parallels in terms of the selection and arrangement of its material. As in MS 17, medical materials occupy the first and final folios of Durham 100, as reconstructed by Saxl and Meier.
The volume opens with a text on the four humours, just as does MS 17, and drawn from the same source, Vindicianus' Epistola ad Pentadium. This is followed by the medical sections of Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae, namely book 4 on medicine, the beginning of book 11 on the parts of the human body and the humours, and extracts from book 17 on herbal remedies. A quotation from Ambrose's Hexaemeron 3.809 on medicinal plants introduces an incomplete text by Hrabanus Maurus on the same topic. The core of Durham 100 (now fols. 1-84) is computus materials. But the volume ends with medical recipes, an alphabetical list of herbs with remedies (compare to fol. 176r), a second compendium of recipes, and a series of cautery diagrams. With the possible exception of the last item, the contents of the Durham anthology are as conservative and non-technical as are those of MS 17.
1 Singer 1917, 62.
2 Singer 1917, esp. 118-119 and 123.
3 Singer 1917, 108-109 and 149 sqq.
4 Notably by Cameron 1993, 54-58; Hart 2003, 447.
5 Cameron 1983, 144, 150-151.
6 The Ramsey origin of this material has been accepted by Cameron 1983, 136, who adds that the medical content must have been assembled in this institution. He dates its compilation to the end of the 11th century (150-151).
7 Hart 2003, 444-445. Somewhat similar views about the unity of MS 17's exemplar and the accidental nature of the division of the two medical anthologies are offered by Cameron 1993, 54.
8 Wallis 1995a, and Wallis 1995b, 122-123. Computists were frequently identified as having a special interest in medicine. For example, a computus treatise of A.D. 737 preserved in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek 128, refers to Dionysius Exiguus, the creator of the standard Paschal tables of the medieval west, as "vir in artemedica arte argutissimus". This is evidently a mistake for "in arithmetica arte", but the error is a revealing one: see Krusch 1910, 234. The 12th century computist Ralf of Campo Longo was a physician, as was his 14th century counterpart Simon Bredon: see Talbot 1962.
9 Schoener 1964.
10 Wallis 1999, 100-103 (translation) and 319-321 (commentary).
11 Wickersheimer 1966, introduction 7-8; Beccaria 1956.
12 Wickersheimer 1966, no. 22.
13 Wickersheimer 1966, nos. 29 and 76. It is interesting to observe that the Paris manuscript, though otherwise completely medical in character, has computus tables on its first folio: see Delisle 1863, 223.
14 Wallis 1995a, 125 and 141-142 n. 54. For description, see Related Manuscripts. Originally the order of folios in this MS was 85-101, 1-84, 101-121: see Saxl and Meier 1953, 441-447.