The Virtues of Balm in the Late Medieval Period

The Virtues of Balm in the Late Medieval Period

Truitt, Elly (Bryn Mawr College)

Early Science and Medicine, 14:4 (2009): 711-736


In the Troy Book (c. 1412-1420), John Lydgate’s Middle English poem about the Trojan War, balsam (balm) kept Hector’s body extraordinarily well preserved, so that it appeared astonishingly alive. Priam wanted not only to erase all evidence of the abuse his son’s body suffered at the hands of Achilles, but also to keep Hector’s body preserved “from odour and abomynacioun,” with no evidence of decay, and displayed aboveground with a wholly life-like aspect: “But •at it be lifly and visible/ To •e eye, as be apparence, / Like as it were quyk in existence…1 But, as Lydgate noted, in the ordinary course of nature, “corrupte muste, ri•t of verray nede/…•er may be made noon opposicioun, / Aboue •e grounde •if •e body lie,/ •at of resoun it mvt putrefie…

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