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Good Anglo-Saxon Medicine Resource

Since I don’t seem to have any thoughts bursting to be released from my brain, I think I’ll return to talking about stuff I’ve read. I just finished another book which I think deserves a mention. After reading Pagan Survivals by Bernadette Filotas I decided now would be as good of a time as any to tackle the books I have on Medieval Magic. My “to read” shelf is actually three shelves; over 90 books. Several of them fit into categories fairly easily. For example, I have five books on Medieval women, seven on Anglo-Saxons and nine on Carolingians. Heck, I even have three to read on Medieval prisons. I’ve read three books on magic/medicine since Filotas. The first two didn’t do much for me but I just finished Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing by Stephen Pollington. This is a very good book and will make a useful reference.

This book can be divided into three sections; an opening section discussing Anglo-Saxon medicine; a middle section consisting of translations of Old English medical sources and; a final section, divided into appendices, where Pollington discusses specific aspects of source material.

The opening section includes substantial background information. A brief overview of Anglo-Saxon medicine, uses of herbs in medicine and a discussion of sources is included. This last was the most useful part of this section for me. The focus is on the origination of plant-names, whether they are from Germanic, Latin or Old English (or quite often a combination of these). I’ve always found these kind of discussions interesting and consider them important in discussions of the evolution of cultures though I’m woefully ignorant of the basics of linguisitics or philology. He closes this section with an encyclopedic catalog of all of the plants named in the Lacnunga, Old English Herbarium and Bald’s Leechbook. He does the same for all other materials used in medicine.

The second section is the translations. These are in facing-page format with the Old English on the left, the English translation on the right. The manuscripts include the Lacnunga, Old English Herbarium and Bald’s Leechbook. I am, of course, unable to comment on the quality of the translations but I’m looking forward to having these to refer to when I run across citations.

The book ends with another encyclopedic section. As appendices, Pollington lists and describes the uses of the following in Anglo-Saxon medicine: 1) amulets; 2) causes of disease; 3) charms; dreams, omens, 4) fate and well-being and; 5) tree lore. He organizes this section by the materials they were made from for physical objects, and by theme for the non-physical. For example, he discusses amulets made from antler, teeth, amber, quartz, etc., and for tree lore by species. For causes of disease he has included dwarfs, elves and elfshot, flying venom, and worms and serpents.

I think this will be a good reference for me. Interestingly, when it comes to the Late Antique/Early Medieval period I am less familiar with Anglo-Saxon/Britain than continental Western Europe (which is why this post is much more a description than an analysis). I need to work on that, fairly soon – in looking at the Kalamazoo program, I noted a lot of Anglo-Saxon sessions that I’ll likely be attending.

Pollington, Stephen, Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant Lore, and Healing. Hereward: Anglo-Saxon Books (2008). ISBN: 978-1-898281-47-4.

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Posted by on March 20, 2011 in Books, Disease and Medicine

 

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