Medicine through time has evolved into many different discoveries and achievements spearheaded by revolutionary changes in our technology as well as practices. However, the grassroots of such revolutionary and modern developments lie in the past, by exploring some of the main leaders of progress in medieval Europe as well as their developments, ideologies, and practices, this paper aims to shine the light on medicine as less commonly known.
“Byzantine Medicine, Tradition and Empiricism”, by Owsei Temkin, and “Galen” by Frederick G. Kilgour. Are two sources dedicated to capturing Galen’s notorious work throughout the history of medicine. Capturing his role as a key figure in medieval medicine, who’s work would set a backbone for the many developments to follow. While popular belief would label Galen as a successor to Hippocrates, serving to extend and complete the frameworks of much of his work by carrying on his work and further consolidating it. The studies used aim to capture Galen’s work as an individual in shaping medieval medicine and bringing forward knowledge of the human body. When Galen began his studies of medicine and anatomy “medicine was entirely innocent of a scientific basis”, this is primarily since the practice of anatomy and dissection of humans had been banned, a barrier that for many years hindered physicians from pursuing evidence through applied research and experimentation, and a barrier that stagnated the progress of medicine in medieval Europe for many years. It would, however, be through Galen’s challenging nature and drive, that medicine would evolve. Despite the dissection of animals such as monkeys being the tolerated method used by all medieval surgeons. Galen viewed “anatomy, physiology, and pathology” as empirical to the study of medicine, understanding the great differences between animals and humans that make them incomparable to one another and would eventually seek answers beyond such methods. Despite predominantly relying on pigs, he additionally dissected the human skeletons of the dead as well as relied on the thorough inspection of the anatomical buildup of tissues and muscles of those with wounds or cuts and would obtain valuable knowledge about human anatomy unobtainable from the dissection of animals. The sources claim his experimental methodologies, as the drive behind much of the medieval knowledge and understanding of human anatomy, by capturing the role of his debates with the sects of the Empiricists and Methodists portrayed in his book “on sects” that would become “one of the elementary texts in Alexandria”, as a motivation for greater development in medieval medicine. Empiricists and Methodists who had “little but experience” on real medicine were set back by their lack of accurate knowledge on the human body and human anatomy. Galen however, sought to demolish the empirical and methodical approach and replace it with rationality seen in his pursuit of useful and recorded medicine through dissection and anatomy, inspiring medieval surgeons to follow such an approach in the process. Through Galen’s pursuit of knowledge beyond all historical medical books left by predecessors, seeking anatomy as a primary drive for his medical practices, he would drastically change medieval understanding of the human muscles. And would eventually find the existence of 300 muscles in all, becoming the first person to demonstrate that a muscle has one job, “contraction”, and claiming that each muscle has only one direction of contraction. Through his groundbreaking research, Galen would be able to illustrate maps of the human body and increase medical knowledge of the human muscular system and its various functions, ultimately identifying muscles that are still commonly known in modern medicine.
“Galen” additionally offers insight on Galen’s role as a successor of Hippocrates’s revolutionary work during the medieval era, this is primarily through his development of the “theory of opposites”. A theory that formed the backbone of Hippocrates’s four humors, a medical belief that would shape medieval medical practices for many decades to come. Hippocrates’s four humors was a commonly known theory that believed the body was made of 4 elements or “humors”. “Blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile”, all of which must be balanced amongst each other for one to stay healthy, claiming that all health problems would be closely related to the imbalance of one of the humors. The theory would be further established by Galen’s’ “theory of opposites”, suggesting that the humors could be rebalanced by applying the opposite, the idea that whatever it is to be balanced must be met by its counterpart in attempt to do so. The theory would be met with very little opposition as people would soon begin to follow Galen’s suggestions, as he introduced many practical cures to solve this. Some of the treatments under Galen’s theory of opposites would be the likes of “bloodletting” which involved letting out the blood of the body to balance its levels, through cupping, cutting a vein or using leeches to absorb the believed “excess” blood levels. As well as “purging” which involved giving patients “laxatives” and “emetics” in attempt to make them vomit to help cleans and treat an ill body. Despite its flaws, Galen’s theory of opposites would become extremely popular within medieval Europe as other doctors, apothecaries, as well as barber-surgeons, would take his remedies to heal the sick, once again capturing his role as a leader of progress in medieval Europe.
Galen’s work additionally extended to research the correlation between dietary behaviors and illnesses, attempting to find any type of correlation between the two through his use of autopsies that served to enhance medieval knowledge of diets and their impacts. “Galen: on the properties of food stuffs” by Galen captures his research quest and process, using observation and applied methods to find answers and improve his understanding. By observing the plants in attempt “to see how the plants were eaten by country people”, and additionally emphasizing the idea of constantly observing how plants behave around us, by observing the way plants and other drugs “changed according to season, location and other factors” emphasizing direct impacts of external factors on our bodies as we digest such plants into our dietary systems. Additionally, examining the various food properties and their direct correlation with the four humors. Further enhancing medieval understanding of the impact of one’s diet on their health.
Another major character in bringing forward and shaping medieval medicine throughout Europe would be Guy De Chaulliac, who’s work would not only enhance understanding amongst the medieval medical community but would also serve to inspire many surgeons to follow. “The standard medieval manual of surgery” By Gillian Furlong, provides both illustrations and insights on Chauliac’s revolutionary advancements, as well the respect he obtained for such revolutionary advancements. Guy de chauliac who’s well-earned reputation as the “most famous surgeon of the middle ages” would be further established through his creation of the “Chirurgia Magna” also known as the “Cyrurgia”, a surgical script that would ultimately become “the most important and influential medieval manual of surgery”. Eventually being labeled as “the standard surgical text of its age”, serving as an inspiration for many medieval doctors, and continuing to be used until the late 17th century. “Guy de chauliac: pre-eminent surgeon of the middle ages” by David A.k walgters. Further serves to illustrate the inner structure of the “Cyrurgia”, by describing its workings, capturing its powerful role in bringing medieval medicine forward. The manual is described as being divided into seven sections focusing on “anatomy, aposthema (swellings), wounds, ulcers, fractures special diseases and antidotary” each one of the seven sections is further divided into two doctrines the first including all that is a “generic approach”, and the second doctrine being divided into chapters “based on a particular site or body region”. Through his thorough outline and detailed research referencing various body parts, Chauliac would shine the light on many discoveries and practices, helping educate medieval doctors and serving as a script and guide for many medieval surgeons. Due to his discoveries and notable surgical manual, De chauliac would soon become an administrative figure within the medical community, helping educate and Inspire surgeons with his various discoveries, and similarly to Galen encouraging medieval surgeons to obtain greater understanding through observation and experimentation, rather than being confined to previous discoveries or the ideas of their peers. Though his progressive thinking Chauliac would not only lead to the creation of a manual that would continue to be useful for the next 200 years but would also lead to an evolved medical mindset that like his predecessors encouraged applied experimentation rather than following previous findings. Chaulliac’s advancements to medieval medicine would also be seen in the surgical fields where he would once again become an inspiration. His most prominent role being his emphasis on the sanitation of the practices within a surgical setting, as well as the management of wounds. Which would be translated in his teachings to remove all unsanitary and mixed bodies near wounds before surgery in attempt of eliminating the risk of infections to the wound. Chauliac’s ability to understand the threat of a lack of sanitation within a surgical setting serves to capture his extremely advanced views, this is primarily due to how underdeveloped medieval sanitary methods were, with surgeons having to primarily rely on aseptic methods as antiseptic remedies would only come to be during the 18th century. chauliac encouraged the cleanliness of the doctor and the surroundings especially in the process of dealing with bodies prone to infections. His embracing of “the power of nature in healing” was additionally reflected on the traditional natural remedies he advised to deal with infections and severe pain of wounds such as the likes of “poppy’ and “red warm oil”.
“Guy de chauliac” by Ballaro Beverly, captures his role in the surgical world beyond sanitation, seen through his work with bones and healing strategies. Chauliac would suggest the use of “ splinting and suspension” to treat broken limbs, which involved hanging a rope from the ceiling over a sick patients’ bed to facilitate the sick person's' movement, a practice that has remained in use in our modern-day in attempt of preventing the limbs of shortening as the bones healed. De chauliac work revolved around prioritizing the patients' comfort, something that was often overlooked within the primitive medical treatments in medieval Europe, additionally captured through his use of methods such as a “sponge soaked in a narcotic substance” as a form of aesthesis and in attempt to further maintain patient comfort and promote healing. The source captures his work’s ability to surpass his death around 1368, having left behind a great legacy of achievements and discoveries from a surgical manual that would continue to guide medieval surgeons for centuries to come, and through his additional implementations of natural remedies as well as sanitary measures to reduce infection rates, and his advanced work with limbs and bones. All serving to shape medieval medicine as well as set a legacy of patient care within the medieval surgical setting.
Despite being heavily overlooked as extremely outdated and primitive, medieval medicine could be noted as a major backbone for much of the medical practices followed in the modern world. Individuals such as guy de chauliac and Galen, have been some of the predominant leaders of advancements throughout medieval Europe and the world, through the effective and practical remedies they served to advance surgical knowledge in medieval Europe as well as their discoveries on anatomy, dietary systems, and various surgical practices that improved medical knowledge and inspired radical changes in medieval medicine.
- Ballaro, Beverly. “Guy de Chauliac.” Guy de Chauliac, August 2017, 1. https://search-ebscohost-com.eznvcc.vccs.edu:2443/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=20210015&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
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