Medical Prognosis in the Middle Ages

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

This is the first gathering of this kind of experts on medieval medical prognosis. While scholarly work has been carried out on certain examples of the wide range of medical prognostics extant from the Middle Ages, there has to date been no gathering of experts in the field, nor any focused collection of papers devoted to this topic.

Medical prognostics ranged from high-end, learned methods, such as the Hippocratic-Galenic ‘Signs of Death’, astrological predictions, uroscopy and sphygmology (pulse-reading), to ‘occult’ practices, such as divination (the interpretation of signs) and ritual magic, through to ‘popular’ experiments, such as the practice of throwing a piece of lard at a dog and working out the fate of the patient depending on the dog’s reaction. Therefore, prognosis was far from the territory of the educated physician alone. It was carried out by people from a broad range of social backgrounds.

As well as being experts in the field, the speakers chosen for the day work on a broad range of topics and all are expert in the relevant manuscripts. The keynote speaker, Charles Burnett of the Warburg Institute, has worked on a vast array of Latin, Greek and Arabic prognostic devices, most notably astrology and divination; Linda Ehrsam Voigts of the University of Missouri is an expert in Middle English scientific texts and will present on Bernard de Gordon’s De prognosticatione; Peter Jones of King’s College, Cambridge will give a paper on fifteenth-century practitioners’ use of prognostics; M. Teresa Tavormina, Professor of English at Michigan State University, who has published widely on medicine in medieval English literature, will present on the prognostic content of Middle English uroscopies;  Sandor Chardonnens, who has worked on Anglo-Saxon prognostics, will turn his attention to the use of late medieval English astrological manuscripts; Luke Demaitre of the University of Virginia, who has researched many aspects of medieval medicine, including learned prognosis, will present on Bernard de Gordon’s translation of a geomantic treatise; Glen M. Cooper, Professor of History at Brigham Young University, who has recently produced an edition of Galen’s On Critical Days from Greek into Arabic will turn his attention to astrology in intellectual thought in the Latin West in the later Middle Ages; and Laurence Moulinier-Brogi, well-known for several articles on uroscopy and on the medicine of Hildegard of Bingen, will present on William the Englishman’s fascinating thirteenth-century tract, De urina non visa.

As well as these eminent speakers, Sophie Page and Bill MacLehose, both of UCL, will chair two of the day’s panels. Sophie works on magic, astrology and natural philosophy, and Bill on medieval medicine. Their contribution to the day will be invaluable.

The two organisers will also be involved in presenting on the day – Jo Edge will give a paper on her PhD research into The Sphere of Life and Death in late medieval England, and Peregrine Horden will offer closing remarks



Welcome by Jo Edge (RHUL) .



Keynote address:

Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute)
Medical and Astrological Prognosis in Abu Maishar


Panel 1: Astrology

László Sándor Chardonnens (Radboud University Nijmegen)
‘The Sygne of Man with Pottes’ and other Zodiacal Names in the Vernacular in Medieval English Medicine

Glen M. Cooper (Brigham Young University)
The Possibility of a Scientific Medical Prognosis: Medicine and Astrology in Four Medieval Thinkers

Panel 1 discussion


Panel 2: Uroscopy

Laurence Moulinier-Brogi (University Lumière Lyon 2)
William the Englishman’s ‘De urina non visa’ and its fortune
[AUDIO HERE] (paper read by Jo Edge)

M. Teresa Tavormina (Michigan State University) Prognosis v. Diagnosis in Middle English Uroscopic Texts

Panel 2 discussion


Panel 3: Prognosis and Divination in Bernard de Gordon

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

Luke Demaitre (University of Virginia)
‘Archanum de reductione geomancie ad orbem’: Another Side of Bernard de Gordon?

Panel 3 discussion


Panel 4: Prognosis and Medical Practice

Jo Edge (RHUL)
The medical context of the ‘Sphere of Life and Death’ in late medieval England

Peter Murray Jones (King’s College Cambridge)
Practitioners and Prognosis in the Later Middle Ages

Panel 4 discussion

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