Session 131: Ystafell 11
New work on medicine and medical texts in the Celtic languages (II)

Chair: Ranke de Vries

Second of two related panels organised by the project 'Medieval Irish Medicine in its North-western European Context: A Case Study of Two Unpublished Texts' (MIMNEC), funded by a Laureate Award from the Irish Research Council (2018-2020; Principal Investigator: Dr Deborah Hayden).

The flesh that consumes: medieval Welsh treatments for gangrene

Diana Luft
Canolfan Uwchefrydiau Cymreig a Cheltaidd Prifysgol Cymru (CAWCS)

The medical recipe collections found in the four fourteenth-century manuscripts which comprise the earliest medical texts in Welsh, include remedies for conditions described variously as cancer, bad flesh, dead flesh, wild fire, and consuming flesh. Through comparison with analogues for these recipes in contemporary Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin recipe collections, it becomes clear that all of these remedies are actually meant to treat one illness, that is gangrene. Many of these remedies may appear strange, and it is difficult to see how they would treat this intractable condition. Nevertheless, these remedies are informed by contemporary beliefs about the nature of this disease, and they do make sense when understood in this context.

In this paper I will look at these remedies for gangrene, their sources and analogues, and the theories behind them. I will demonstrate how the various Welsh terms for this disease came to be, and how different methods of interpreting these texts in the past may have contributed to the erasure of these sources and analogues from discussions of them. I will show how their appearance in the four fourteenth-century manuscripts can help us to understand the relationship between these sources. Lastly, I will discuss how these remedies for gangrene can help us to understand the relationship between the corpus of medieval Welsh medical recipes and the larger European medical culture of which they were a part.

The in principio as a charm text in late medieval Wales

Katherine Leach
Harvard University

Sotheby MS C.2, is a small Welsh medical manuscript from c.1500. It contains a handful of charms, mostly in Welsh. One charm text is the Prologue to the Gospel of John, in Latin but orthographically Welsh. Previous scholars have simply classified this text as a fragment of a religious text. This text was used throughout Europe as a charm to drive out demons and bad dreams, and as a cure against epilepsy, often referred to as morbus Sancti Johannis.  

This paper will consider the use of the in principio as a charm. Despite its inclusion in Welsh manuscripts also featuring Latin, this charm was never fully recorded in Latin. Nor was the text translated into Welsh when it functioned as a healing charm, despite the fact that it indeed existed in Welsh religious texts. Rather, the Latin verses were written in Welsh orthography regardless of the language of the texts surrounding it. Was this simply because it, as a charm, circulated orally, and among practitioners who could not write Latin? Or does it indicate a particular way in which the vernacular was preferred over Latin for healing, even when the text itself remained at least partly in Latin?

This text has the potential to reveal insights into the ways in which the vernacular was used in healing practices. Additionally, in unveiling this unpublished hybrid text, with its distinct Welsh orthography, I hope to present scholars with a new source for Latin pronunciation in fifteenth-and sixteenth-century Wales.

A survey of charms in a sixteenth-century Irish medical compendium

Deborah Hayden
Ollscoil Mhá Nuad - University of Maynooth

This paper will examine the nature and function of several charms that are found in an Irish medical compendium of mainly herbal recipes for various ailments, broadly arranged in the head-to-toe order typical of medical manuals throughout the medieval period. The text, which was copied at the turn of the sixteenth century by a member of the Mac an Leagha medical family, is preserved in what was originally a single manuscript, but now survives as fragments in two separate, composite manuscripts, namely RIA MS 24 B 3 (445) and RIA MS 23 N 29 (467). While its contents consist primarily of recipes written in either prose or verse form, at least sixteen charms have been included at various places throughout the work. The discussion will present the first comprehensive catalogue of these charms and identify some parallels for them in other medical manuscripts, with a view to shedding light on the transmission of this material among Irish scholarly circles during the medieval period. It will also consider the distribution of charms within the compendium as a whole, and their significance in relation to the overall purpose of the text as a manual of practical medicine.