Total Medicine: An Approach to the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Medical Texts

Lecture: English Department and Affiliated | February 13 | 5 p.m. | 300 Wheeler Hall

 John Niles, Professor Emeritus, Berkeley English

 Medieval Studies Program

When we enter the realm of Anglo-Saxon medicine we find ourselves in a landscape of total war, with all the curative plants of the earth and all beneficent animal extracts aligned with the physician, angels, archangels, and the almighty God against the attacks of wyrms, elves, witches, and flying venoms. We are also in a pre-Scholastic environment of experimental science where the curative properties of certain botanical extracts were put to good use on the basis of careful observation and trial and error, in a system of knowledge derived from ancient Greece and Rome.

This paper relates to a current joint international project to re-edit the whole corpus of Anglo-Saxon medical texts for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. While taking an overview of this large and remarkable literature, I will single out particular cures and clusters of cures for attention, whether for their interest in their own right, or for their bearing on social history, or for what they can contribute to a yet larger program of recovery: the history of knowledge, into which the history of science can be folded.