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Carole Rawcliffe

Many current assumptions about health provision in medieval English cities derive not from the surviving archival or archaeological evidence but from the pronouncements of Victorian sanitary reformers whose belief in scientific progress made them dismissive of earlier attempts to ameliorate the quality of urban life. Our own tendency to judge historical responses to disease by the exacting standards of modern biomedicine reflects the same anachronistic attitude, while a widespread conviction that England lagged centuries behind Italy in matters of health and hygiene seems to reinforce presumptions of ‘backwardness’ and ‘ignorance’. By contrast, this paper argues that a systematic exploration of primary source material reveals a very different approach to collective health, marked by direct intervention on the part of the crown and central government and the active involvement of urban communities, especially after the Black Death of 1348-49. A plethora of regulations for the elimination of recognized hazards was then accompanied by major schemes for environmental improvement, such as the introduction of piped water systems and arrangements for refuse collection.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Siam Bhayro and Sebastian Brock

This paper presents the newly rediscovered ‘Syriac Galen Palimpsest’. The manuscript has been subjected to the latest imaging techniques, which has allowed scholars to identify its undertext as containing a Syriac translation of Galens Book of Simple Drugs. After discussing the history, imaging and identification of the manuscript, we proceed to consider its significance for our understanding of the transmission of Greek medical lore in Syriac and Arabic, for which the Book of Simple Drugs serves as a convenient model. Several common misconceptions,regarding the Syriac medical traditions are addressed, including the assumed inferiority of the Syriac translations, compared to the Arabic ones, and the role of Syriac as an intermediary between Greek and Arabic.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Jenefer Cockitt

For over a hundred years, palaeopathologists have studied the ancient Nubian population, examining the patterns of disease and trauma evident in the surviving human remains. Despite the remarkable amount of progress made in this area, there have been few attempts to discern whether there is enough available evidence to support the existence of a defined ancient medical tradition in the country, akin to that in neighbouring Egypt. Given the lack of textual sources for prehistoric Nubia, evidence for such a tradition must be sought in the human remains themselves. Here, an assessment will be provided of the possible palaeopathological evidence for healthcare practices in ancient Nubia, focusing in particular on the artefacts from the first Archaeological Survey of Nubia. The data presented, although tentative, represent the first point on the road to greater understanding of ancient Nubian medical traditions.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
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Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Trevor Curnow

This article explores the origins and early development of the cult of Asclepius. Most of the relevant materials are found in classical literature, although archaeology can also help to shine some light on certain areas. Unsurprisingly, the origins of the cult are quite obscure. A number,of places in ancient Greece competed for the honour of being his birthplace, and there is no conclusive reason for deciding in favour of any of them. One thing that is constant in the stories told about him is that Apollo was usually his father. Another constant in the history of the cult is the practice of incubation. It seems likely that the cult brought together and combined elements of several healing cults that were originally quite separate. The cult emerged at the same time that Hippocratic medicine was developing. A new understanding of the nature of the soul, and the relationship between it and the body was also taking root. It is reasonable to believe that these facts are related, although harder to say exactly how.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Rosalie David

Ancient medical and healing systems are currently attracting considerable interest. This issue includes interdisciplinary studies which focus on new perceptions of some ancient and medieval medical systems, exploring how they related to each other, and assessing their contribution to modern society. It is shown that pre-Greek medicine included some rational elements, and that Egyptian and Babylonian medical systems contributed to a tradition which led from classical antiquity through the Middle Ages and beyond. The reliability of sources of evidence is considered, as well as the legacy of the ancient healing environments (temples and healing sanctuaries) and disease treatments (including surgical procedures and pharmaceutical preparations). Finally, where documentation survives, the legacy of social attitudes to health and disease is considered. Overarching principles directed policies of social medicine and healthcare in antiquity and the Middle Ages: for example, the causes and transmission routes of infectious diseases, as well as the basic principles of sterilization, were unknown, but nevertheless attempts were made to improve sanitation, provide clean water, and ensure access to trained physicians. In some cases, the need to limit the size of the population prompted the use of contraceptive measures, and surviving information also illuminates attitudes to deformity, disability and the treatment of the terminally ill.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
S.P.B. Durnford

Incompletely understood medical texts, like other kinds of technical writing, pose problems that require a multi-disciplinary approach. In addition, the etymological writings of ancient commentators hint at their own cultures priorities and limitations. Progress today, therefore, also depends partly upon how well we can harmonize our own thinking with the beliefs and practices of an alien culture, whose medicine may overlap with culinary and other social uses. A puzzling word may have been reshaped to reflect the supposed properties of the entity denoted or the use made of it. Plant names, which figure strongly in such texts, are particularly liable to be passed from language to language as ‘culture borrowings’ and are thus especially vulnerable to this false rationalization process, commonly known as ‘folk etymology’. In a personal exploration I analyse some modern vocabulary and identify several varieties of the process and then illustrate its effects by means of toponyms and medicinal plant names from mediaeval Italy and ancient Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Greece and Italy. Since no known language seems immune from etymologizing, the generic points that emerge are offered as a contribution to the decipherers craft.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Maria Haralambakis

In 1954 and 1958 the John Rylands Library acquired a significant portion of the library of Dr Moses Gaster (1856–1939). As a scholar and bibliophile, Gaster collected manuscripts, printed books, pamphlets and amulets. His collection reflects his wide ranging interests: philology (including Romanian language, folklore and literature), Judaica, magic and mysticism, and Samaritan studies. This article presents a survey of the varied Rylands Gaster collection. It includes an inventory of the miscellaneous manuscript sequence, a complete handlist of Gaster‘s German manuscripts and an introduction to the archival material.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
R.M. Liuzza

Long before the invention of the mechanical clock, the monastic computes offered a model of time that was visible, durable, portable and objectifiable. The development of ‘temporal literacy’ among the Anglo-Saxons involved not only the measurement of time but also the ways in which the technologies used to measure and record time — from sundials and church bells to calendars and chronicles — worked to create and reorder cultural capital, and add new scope and range to the life of the imagination. Techniques of time measurement are deeply implicated in historical consciousness and the assertion of identity; this paper proposes some avenues of exploration for this topic among the Anglo-Saxons.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Lewis Burton

There are now two orders of ministry in the Methodist Church, the Order of Presbyters and the Order of Deacons. The latter developed out of the previously existing Deaconess Order but now enjoys the same status and privileges as the former. A study of the Order of Presbyters was completed in 2007, but it was thought that a similar study of the Order of Deacons would be of value in shedding light on the present task they are asked to do, their work experience in the circuits, and the various stresses and demands to which they are subject. The data for this survey was collected by a questionnaire put to the 119 deacons of the Order then active in the circuits. Evidence from analysis showed that their congregations did not fully understand the nature of a deacons ministry, complicated by the fact that, unfortunately, deacons were often employed to ease a shortage of presbyters in the circuits.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library