Mediocre Medicine

by Mari246 on March 30, 2016 - 2:48pm

Mediocre Medicine

Empirical Observations

            The Anatomy of Consumption is a medical novel, written by Gideon Harvey in 1674. It is a small pocket book with rough dimensions of 15cm by 10cm, with an estimated weight of at most one pound. The book cover is made of leather, with a dark hazelnut tint, bordered with slight discoloration on the edges. It has a musty and old odor. The pages are delicately attached to the cover. Due to the age of this novel, one must be careful when flipping through the pages. The font is printed, with the exception of the biography of the author, which is written in cursive. The language is quite different from modern day English; words are written differently and sentences are oddly formulated. There is no marginalia, pictures or diagrams. The corners of the front cover and pages seem to have some water damage but it is minimal. The book does not look like any of the science books students handle today; they contain a large amount of pages, diagrams, indexes, table of content and there is a definite size difference.


             The Anatomy of Consumption did not have any depictions so the analysis needed to be completed through reading and searching for keywords such as: humors, purging, autopsies and witchcraft. Similarly, Medicine by Harold J. Cook was strictly written details and facts. The similarities from both texts were lifted while the differences were made with novels of today.

            In the 15th and 16th century, early modern medicine revolved around the four humors: phlegm, black bile, blood and yellow bile. The body was seen as being composed of these liquids, which needed to remain pure and balanced (emotions and lifestyle). These liquids were the makeup of one’s character and if they spoiled, it would disrupt the rest of the body. An example, “If the proper course of life were followed for anyone’s particular temperament, disease would be averted and health maintained; if one of the nonnaturals caused one’s natural temperament to become unnatural […] then illness would surely ensue” (Cook 410). According to the paradigm, when a problem arose, a humor that had become too strong or had gotten corrupted needed to be removed through means of purging (bleeding, vomiting or diarrhea) and transference (transferring the disease onto something else).

            By the mid 1530s, the paradigm began to shift towards ancient (Greek) methods, which went beyond purging or transference. “ Professors physic agreed with those among the ancients who had argued that the understanding of health and disease was rooted in an understanding of the ordinary course of nature in the body (physiology) and that this in turn could best be understood in relation to a study of the parts of the body (anatomy)” (413). Numerous dissections had been completed using the bodies of deceased criminals. Autopsies were done publicly at times and had been attended by important luminaries and also students studying religion and medicine. These intellects or scholars were the few able to read books relating to the new findings of the paradigm.

           The humors were used to diagnose people but witchcraft was also a possibility. “The clergy, judicial inquisitors, and physicians who investigated rural doings sometimes interpreted them as originating in dealing with the devil, who was often thought to have an active role in nature. Yet physicians were also among the first to attribute witchcraft to delusional illness” (417). The witnesses must be credible so acts such as devout prayers and exorcisms could be exposed to the person in need.

            The Anatomy of Consumption and Medicine have very similar content, although when comparing them to today’s findings, they differ greatly. The human body is still studied today through anatomy and physiology but in more scientific detail. The four humors are not something that the medical field adheres to. The diagnosing process and appropriate treatments that follow are more complex than ever. Research has enabled us to progress and diverge from 15th and 16th century beliefs.


Works Cited

Cook, Harold J. “Medicine” in the Katherine Park and Lorraine Daston (eds.) The Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003): 407-434. Print.

Harvey, Gideon. The Anatomy of Consumption. London: Thomas Fohnfon, 1674. Print.