Linda Ehrsam Voigts – Bernard of Gordon's schort & profitable tretis vpon Þe pronostikis: A useful survey of ways to predict the outcome of illness


Event Date: 26 May 2012
Royal Holloway, University of London
11 Bedford Sq
London WC1E 6DP

The Department of History Royal Holloway University of London presents:

Medical Prognosis in the Middle Ages

Linda Ehrsam Voigts (University of Missouri-Kansas City)
Bernard of Gordon’s schort & profitable tretis vpon Þe pronostikis: A useful survey of ways to predict the outcome of illness

This paper introduces the scholastic subject of medical prognosis with sixteen questions found in the Tractatus phisice of Ralph Hoby, O.F.M, (1437).  It then focuses on the 1295 Montpellier treatise by Bernard of Gordon on the ‘arduous and difficult science of predicting’. Bernard’s Latin work was transmitted with at least three different titles: De pronosticis, Liber pronosticorum, and De crisi et criticis diebus. The treatise is organized in five particulae: 1, on fevers, compound diseases, and apostemes; 2, on seasons, habit, age, regions, winds, and humoural complexions; 3, on crises or paroxysms (nature, length, and intensity); 4, on prediction of the course of disease by study of a patient’s mental faculties (cognition, imagination, and memory) and his senses, appearance, behaviour, and corporeal functions (breathing, pulse, and bodily excretions); 5, on the nature and significance of medical crises and critical days.  This paper then addresses the Middle English translation of Bernard’s text with the title ‘Þe short & profitable tretis vpon þe pronostikis’, a rare example of very early translation into English of a Latin university medical treatise (late fourteenth or early fifteenth century), surviving almost entirely in one manuscript and in fragments in two others. An analysis of the Middle English translation reveals that the translator was more skilled than we otherwise expect in such an early effort to bring Bernard’s scholastic Latin into coherent English. There was clearly interest in late medieval England in having this academic text accessible to non-latinate readers, and the translator made a valiant effort to rise to the challenge.




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