Exhuming Trotula, Sapiens Matrona of Salerno

Exhuming Trotula, Sapiens Matrona of Salerno

By Beryl Rowland

Florilegium, Vol.1 (1979)

Introduction: In the catalogues of the mediaeval libraries as Canterbury and Dover are entries indicating that the monks once possessed copies of medical treatises attributed to Trotula, wise woman of the Salernitan School. Such works on the diseases of women were popular and their appearance in some extensive medical collections need not surprise us. The authoress, who has been called “a medieval Lydia Pinkham, enjoyed the reputation of being expert in feminine matters. For several centuries De passionibus mulierum, De aegritudinibus mulierum, De curis mulierum, Trotula major, and Trotula were ascribed to her, and also works having to do with cosmetics and the care of the complexion, De ornatu mulierum and Trotula minor. In addition to entire manuscripts, certain chapters under the titles Practica de secretis mulierum and Practica domine Trote ad prouocanda menstrua were often copied, their attraction being partly due, in the opinion of one critic, to their “pornographic character. Christchurch library included the last named title; St. Augustine’s library Trotula maior de curis mulierum, Trotula minor, Trotule, and in the collection of John of London Trotula maior et minor; the library of Dover Priory owned Trotula maior de pas and Trotula maior.

Whether these libraries possessed the Latin treatises as has generally been assumed is, however, debatable. At the Royal College of Surgeons, London, is a fifteenth-century manuscript 129a.i.5, written in English and headed by a distinctive red rubric: “hic incipit liber Trotularis.”  It is a gynecological text apparently copied from Sloane 249, part of a collection of medical treatises once owned by John Woot. This Sloane manuscript, roughly written on poor parchment without elegance and without decoration, seems to have been extensively copied. One lavish copy, Sloane 2463, on fine quality parchment with initials colored red or blue against a background of feather-like foliation, corrects some of its errors; the manuscript at the Royal College of Surgeons does not.

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