Examples of Medieval Plague Treatises from Central Europe

"Doktor Schnabel von Rom" ("Doctor Beak from Rome") engraving, Rome 1656 Physician attire for protection from the Bubonic plague or Black death.Examples of Medieval Plague Treatises from Central Europe

By Renata Mikotajczyk

Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU, Vol.4 (1996/7)

Introduction: Studying the phenomenon of the plague in the Middle Ages one discovers that by far the most numerous source material directly connected to the epidemics is represented by the plague treatises. Naturally, the earliest and the most elaborate medical texts of known Western authors have received the attention of scholars. Medical writings on the plague from Central Europe are less known and remain in most part inedited. This paper is a result of a still incomplete investigation of medical texts preserved in the University Libraries of Cracow and Prague. It aims at presenting two chosen plague treatises and outlining a few problems and possibilities for a future study of this kind of source material.

An interesting text entitled De causis, signis, curis et preservationibus pestilencie has been preserved in three codices of the Jagellonian University Library in Cracow.  The first was copied around 1360 by an otherwise unknown Sulislav, who closed the text with the sentence: Explicit tractatus reportatus per manus Swli(sla)vy a magistro Johanne licenciato in physica. Summo opere est adhibendum. The treatise was later added to other medical texts, among others a few smaller plague treatises. Today, the codex BJ 1962 contains also a Practica of Guillelmus de Varignana and libellas De regimine sanitatis corporis humani by Johannes of Dobra, who also copied parts of the collection, added an index and many marginalia, and ordered the codex to be bound.

Another copy of the treatise, written probably in 1426, has been preserved in the codex BJ 821 among other medical works, like Prognostica and De Urinis of Bernard of Gordon or Liber medicinalis of Maino de Maineri and another text of Johannes: Nova vinea seu custodia sanitatis. The codex closes with three shorter treatises De pestilencia. Again we encounter a few marginalia of Johannes of Dobra which show that he was a reader if not the owner of the book. Otherwise the codex at some point belonged to the University as the inscription Liber collegii states on the inner side of the binding. The third copy of the treatise De causis, signis, curis et preservationibus pestilencie is found in the codex BJ 2197 together with Guido Bonatti’s De revolutionibus annorum and Pietro d’Abano’s De venenis. In 1489 the codex was donated to the University of Cracow by Blasius of Kazimierz.

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