Session 119: Ystafell 12
New work on medicine and medical texts in the Celtic languages (I)

Chair: Deborah Hayden

Medicine as philosophy: The Beaton medical manuscripts

Eystein Thanisch
Faclair na Gàidhlig, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, UHI

Classical writers and their medieval transmitters compared medicine to philosophy, on the basis that it requires knowledge of all other disciplines, the difference being that philosophy heals the soul and medicine the body. The manuscripts produced or commissioned by members of the Beaton family, the leading physicians of Gaelic Scotland in the Middle Ages, show a breadth and interconnection of interests that implies they conceived of medicine in a similar way. Alongside Gaelic translations (from Latin) of core medical textbooks and treatises, their manuscripts also include works on logic, chronology, astrology, and more, all for the support of medical study. Individual texts therein also draw on a comparable range of subjects and comment explicitly on how they interrelate.

The diversity of material in the Beaton medical manuscripts has already been noted by John Bannerman, who ascribes it to the family’s participation in a wider Classical Gaelic literate culture. This paper explores how the resources of Classical Gaelic were not only of literary or linguistic relevance to the Beatons. They were also evidence used by this family and the scholars with whom they worked to develop and support medical study as philosophy, in both scope and underpinning, with the complex scholarly requirements that this entailed. Thus, while the level of medieval Gaelic medical scholars’ Latinity has been questioned, their understanding of Graeco-Latinate learned medical tradition is arguably acute, if selection of texts and material is considered as well, and also proved to be productive.

Medical material in early Irish literary sources

Ranke de Vries
St. Francis Xavier University

This paper will examine a number of references to medical conditions and medicine in non-medical manuscript sources (e.g., references in saga literature, annals, dindṡenchas-texts, and legal texts). It is part of a larger investigation into medical material present in medieval Irish literary sources which has as its chief aims: (1) to provide an overview of medical vocabulary present in non-medical texts; (2) to attempt to identify medical conditions and ailments, leading to more accurate translations of the terminology used; (3) to help provide a more complete overview of the types of afflictions present in medieval Ireland; (4) to contribute to an overview of disease patterns prevalent in medieval western Europe.

Remedies for disorders of the ear in a medieval Irish medical compendium

Siobhán Barrett
Maynooth University

This paper will discuss remedies for various ear disorders that are found in RIA MS 24 B 3. This manuscript contains part of a medical compendium that consists largely of herbal recipes for various ailments, broadly arranged in head-to-toe order. A prose section describing over thirty recipes to treat ear disorders takes up sixty-six lines of text. In other sections of this compendium recipes are found in verse form, but initial findings seem to indicate that this section contains only prose. The ingredients listed include plants, animal parts and animal products. Most of the cures are topical applications. Disorders of the ear described include infection, deafness, tinnitus, worm infestation and overhearing. This paper will examine the cures recommended for diseases of the ear in this and other medieval medical texts, with a view to determining the nature of the ingredients used, the sources of the text and its place within the broader medieval medical tradition.