can still teach with regard to common modern default—and often ableist—assumptions that frequently underlie interpretations of seemingly straightforward texts. As with the mandrake entry and other texts treated in previous chapters, close attention to the language of a seemingly straightforward entry in Bald’s Leechbook elucidates subtle patterns that point the way toward alternative ways of understanding adversity, bodies, and subjectivity in medieval and modern contexts. Orality, aurality, and the faculty of
Hybrid creatures emerging from the pages of Old English medical texts readily capture the modern imagination. A powerful medicinal root in an Old English herbal is rendered with distinctly human arms and legs; a swarm charm inscribed in the margins of Bede’s Old English history addresses bees as Valkyrie-like beings; an entry in the compilation known as the Lacnunga identifies a wayside plant as both herb and mother. Yet the most powerful forms of hybridity in the Old English healing tradition are more subtle and pervasive: linguistic hybrids of Latin and vernacular, cultural hybrids fusing Christian liturgy and Germanic lore, and generic hybrids drawing simultaneously from an ambient oral tradition and an increasingly ubiquitous culture of writing. Hybrid healing seeks to meet such textual hybridity with a methodological hybridity of its own. Drawing from a range of fields including historical linguistics, classical rhetoric, archaeology, plant biology, folkloristics, and disability studies, a series of close readings examines selected Old English medical texts through individually tailored combinations of approaches designed to illustrate how the healing power of these remedies ultimately derives from unique convergences of widely disparate traditions and influences. This case-study model positions readers to appreciate more fully the various forces at work in any given remedy, replacing reductive assumptions that have often led early medieval medicine to be dismissed as mere superstition. By inviting readers to approach each text with appropriately diverse critical frameworks, the book opens a space to engage the medieval healing tradition with empathy, understanding, and imagination.
hearing as a default. Far from assuming hearing as a monolithic experience shared by all, the remedies in Bald’s Leechbook suggest a wide spectrum of auditory possibilities. Close attention to the grammar of the Old English leonfot entry in relation to its closest Latin analogue reveals a similar pattern. The oldest extant Latin analogue of the Herbarium 21 prescribes herba leontipodium (lionfoot) ‘si quis devotus defixusque fuerit’ [‘if one is accursed and fixed’]. 22 The adjectives devotus and defixus , however
healers outside the medical corpus are exceedingly rare, we are nonetheless quite fortunate in having extensive collections of the remedies themselves. The two most complete medical compilations of vernacular remedies are found in the late Old English Leechbooks (BL, Royal 12 D.xvii)—comprising two books organized roughly in head to foot order (collectively known as Bald’s Leechbook , from the name found in a Latin colophon at the end of the second book), along with a third book (known as Leechbook III) —and a collection
as marginalia—serves the dual function of being both aid to identification and a healer’s weapon against disease. For instance, garclife , a flowering plant whose nomenclature (literally, ‘spear-burr’ or ‘burdock’) ‘refers to the towering pointed and spear-like florescence of the plant and its burr-like fruit’, 25 appears in the Lacnunga (entry cvxvi; f. 186r) as part of a lung-salve; in the Herbarium (xxxii; f. 186r) with remedies for such ailments as sore eyes, warts, or snakebite; and in Bald’s Leechbook
tenth century. The curing of leprosy sufferers features regularly in some of the hagiographic and homiletic writings of the late Anglo-Saxon period, 16 and various medical treatises exist from the late ninth and tenth century, including the Old English Herbarium ; the Lacnunga ; and Bald’s Leechbook , a work with possible Winchester connections. More significantly, archaeology is providing a growing body of evidence for the organised burial of leprosy sufferers in the late Saxon period. At Norwich, excavations in the medieval churchyard of Saint John’s Timberhill
tenth-century Anglo-Saxon scribe Cild and his recipes, some of which concern herbal concoctions to be drunk, sometimes out of special vessels such as church bells, with similar remedies for the ‘feeble-minded’. 136 Drinking out of a church bell is in Bald’s Leechbook, but is applied for a demoniac and not an idiot as Walker had erroneously claimed. 137 Another recipe by Bald appears to be more promising: ‘Against mental vacancy [ ungemynde ] and against folly [ dysgunge ]; put into ale bishopwort, lupins, betony, the southern or Italian fennel, nepte, water agrimony