Royal Holloway History Department Research Seminar Series
Date: 20 October 2009
Peregrine Horden – What’s Wrong with Medieval Medicine?
As the late great Roy Porter observed, we in the developed world have never have it so good. By any measure we have never been healthier. And yet we have also never been so anxious about our health, or so critical of modern medicine—biomedicine. We look to alternative traditions, many of them Asian. Why do we not also look back to the pre-modern medicine of Europe? What’s wrong with medieval medicine? What could a study of it offer our current malaise? Peregrine Horden explores the medicine of medieval Europe, not as a repository of neglected herbal remedies, but as an example of a medicine that acknowledges its limitations, that aims for rhetorical ‘success’ in the therapeutic encounter rather than biological efficacy; that provides prognosis as much as cure – and that derives its pharmacopoeia from (to us) strange material such as dead vultures as well as from ‘traditional’ herbal lore.