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By Paula Luteran
Master’s Thesis, Kansas State University, 2011
Abstract: Medieval French literature provides the modern researcher with references to the healing arts in many passages that are incorporated into prose or poetic works. Because there was no clear separation of the genres into modern classifications, references to treatment of sicknesses of body, mind or spirit are woven into many literary works, providing us with a kind of snapshot of the state of the art healing practices of the day. Texts make reference to herbs and plants used to cure the ailments of the body, gardens and flowers that refresh the spirit, miraculous unguents, cures through the intercession of the saints and the Virgin Mary and surgical procedures. Texts examined here include Le Roman de la Rose, Erec et Enide, Aucassin et Nicolette, Les Lais of Marie de France, Le conte du Graal, Le chevalier de la charrette, La Condamnation de Banquet, Yvain, Cligès, La Chanson de Roland and Treize Miracles de Notre-Dame. The picture they provide of the medicine of the time has a certain charm and quaintness that many moderns seek in holistic treatments of today which hearken back to this more rustic medicine.
Introduction: Literature offers the reader a glimpse into the world of the time, and medieval literature of France and Spain often make reference to medical matters of the day. What were some of the treatments used to cure the body? How were the troubled mind and spirit put at ease? What were remedies for emotional unrest such as lovesickness and depression? How was the soul nourished and brought to fullness of life? The medieval notion of health embraced each of these spheres, which were closely intertwined. The approach to healing was a mixture of folkloric and homeopathic style remedies alongside techniques which might be termed “scientific”, such as the surgery for bodily wounds that is mentioned from time to time. For the medieval mind, all techniques used were their state-of-the-art, and while some of the remedies used might seem primitive, they yet have a certain sophistication, especially for the time.
Ironically enough, in recent years modern society has seen a great renaissance in the holistic health field. A great number of people have returned to natural cures for health concerns. Many of these cures hearken back to earlier times. While it is doubtful that what medieval medicine prescribed always promised good results, it is also true that medieval men and women had an intrinsic intuition for the things which might promote health, used wisely. What may come across to the modern reader as naïveté or simplicity, may in fact be a purist quality, a desire to look at the problem and to treat it with the basics. Perhaps with so much emphasis on the “scientific” side of medicine, society lost touch with the “natural” side of medicine, which stands out in the medieval world.