Sex, Aging, and Death in a Medieval Medical Compendium: Trinity College Cambridge MS R.14.52, Its Texts, Language, and Scribe

Sex, Aging, and Death in a Medieval Medical Compendium: Trinity College Cambridge MS R.14.52, Its Texts, Language, and Scribe

Edited by M. Teresa Tavormina
2006 | (2 vols.) 930 + xxvi pp. | 19 ills. | 978-0-86698-335-8 | Hardcover 6 x 9 in
MRTS 292 | $110 | £89 |

Trinity College Cambridge MS. R.14.52 offers a remarkable and compendious perspective on the vernacular dissemination of learned medical knowledge in 15th century England. Described by Linda Voigts as "the single most important surviving witness to Middle English scientific and medical writing," it contains a broad selection of learned medical and scientific texts in Middle English translations, many of them unique to this manuscript.

The texts from the manuscript edited in this two-volume book include the pseudo Baconian De retardatione accidentium senectutis and two authentic Baconian texts on longevity; a ME text of Gilbertus Anglicus's Sickness of Women; three forms of the John of Burgundy plague treatises; a hitherto unidentified English translation of a long commentary on Hippocrates's Prognostics; theoretical treatises on reproductive physiology and anatomy (the De coitu of Constantinus Africanus and the De humana natura attributed to Constantinus); a compilation of texts on astronomical and measuring instruments that incorporates sections of Chaucer's Astrolabe); short treatises on the planets and signs; and a treatise on the seven liberal arts. The main scribe of the manuscript is the prolific “Hammond scribe,” known to have written at least 15 Middle English manuscripts, containing a wide variety of literary, religious, legal, and scientific texts; contributors to the volume have also shown that a substantial section of the manuscript was probably translated by a single individual, who may have collaborated with the Hammond scribe in other codices as well.

In addition to these edited texts, the book includes essays on the physical description of the manuscript, a full inventory of its contents, the scribe, the scribal dialect, and the translation strategies of the translator responsible for the first part of the codex; appendices on accidence, word-frequency, and manuscripts cited; an extensive general glossary and more specialized glossaries of materia medica and proper names; a bibliography; and plates and figures illustrating selected chapters.

The texts included in the book should appeal to a wide range of readers: historians of science and medicine will be interested in the vernacular versions of texts by or attributed to Roger Bacon, Hippocrates and his commentators (including Galen, Bartholomew of Salerno, Bernard of Gordon, William of Saliceto, and others), Constantinus Africanus, and Messahala; Chaucerians will be interested in the De coitu translation and the compilation of texts on astronomical instruments that contains sections of The Astrolabe; students and scholars of women's health will appreciate having an extensively annotated, critical edition of The Sickness of Women; and epidemiological historians and many Middle English scholars will be glad to have more accessible texts of the John of Burgundy plague treatises, two of them critically edited for the first time. The treatises attributed to Bacon contribute to the fascinating history of the human quest for long life, a quest that played a significant role in English learned medicine during the reign of Henry VI, and one that is reflected in the extensive citations of the Secreta Secretorum and the references to occult and alchemical remedies for aging throughout those treatises.