All About History

MEDIEVAL MD

The medical knowledge and understanding of the human body in medieval Europe was very different compared to what we know today. It was largely based on the practices set out by physicians, in particular Hippocrates and Galen, during the ancient world and the belief that the body comprised of four humours: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm – with illness occurring when they became out of balance. Each humour corresponded to one of the four elements and its associated qualities, and so blood was like air, hot and wet; yellow bile was like fire, hot and dry; black bile was like earth, cold and dry; and phlegm was like water, wet and cold. Cures often revolved around these qualities, so if a disease was considered to be cold and wet, then something hot and dry would be recommended to counteract it.

Contrary to popular myth, dissections did occur during the medieval era but they were rare and so the inner workings of the human body were not fully understood. For medieval physicians, diagnosis was determined on the appearance of the patient and observation of the symptoms, in particular measuring the pulse and analysing urine. Numerous surviving manuscripts depict charts that showed physicians how to examine urine based on its colour, smell and even taste. Treatment fell into three categories – diet, medication and

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