Anglo-Saxon Medicine by Malcolm Laurence Cameron

By Malcolm Laurence Cameron

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He might bleed his patients but does not seem to have employed bloodletting with the abandon indulged in later by many physicians, and his medicines seem often to have been prescribed with the knowledge that they had previously been found effective in similar circumstances. He might prescribe sensible diets, and did. Perhaps his most useful role was to offer support to his patients in the hope that recovery was possible, thus enabling them to rally their natural resources to combat their illnesses.

For example, he gave directions for the lancing of an abscess of the liver. In the account in his sources, an important part was played by a tent or wick inserted into the incision, by means of which pus and other matter could be drawn off from the abscess. This tent is not mentioned in the English translation. It is probable that the operation, which continued to be performed into the 31 Cambridge, Peterhouse 251, 133r ('De cura erisipile', 'De erisipilatibus que intrinsecus fiunt'); l40v-l4lr ('De cancrea').

For example, the little work of Cassius Felix from which Bede took his quotation on dysentery, in spite of its conveniently small size, had little or no influence on Old English compilations. A glance at its pharmacopoeia shows that most of its remedies, suitable for North Africa and the Mediterranean region generally, were virtually impossible to compound in Anglo-Saxon England. The same may be said for another work, the Conpositiones of Scribonius Largus, 29 also of slender dimensions, for which no evidence exists that it was ever used or even known in England.

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