Medieval Medicine In Geoffrey Chaucer's " The Canterbury Tales".

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Omar Hernandez

Teresa Gibson

English 2332

June 27, 2003

Medieval Medicine

        In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “ The Canterbury Tales” we learn how physicians use to practice medicine.  In the Prologue Chaucer talks about how physicians would use the humor system, astrology to diagnosis and treat their patients, and also shows that there was a huge difference between a surgeon and a physician during these times.

         Chaucer describes the medical practitioner as “He knew the cause of every malady, were it of hot or cold, of moist or dry,…The cause being known, down to the deepest root, (Chaucer 14)”.  In medieval times medicine was quite different than modern day western medicine.  Nowadays, there is almost always a cure for whatever the problem may be.  If not there will be an extensive amount of research that will take place in order to find a cure.  One of the ways that physicians would diagnosis patients was with the use of the humor system.  This system was based on the four humors, blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile (Gibson).  All of these are directly related to four earthly elements, earth, air, water, and fire (Gibson).  Earth paired with black bile, air with blood, water with phlegm, and fire with yellow bile (Gibson).  Each of these pairs brought upon a certain amount of balance in order maintain health.  “Melancholy, like earth, was cold and dry. Phlegm, like water, was cold and wet.  Blood, like air, was hot and moist; and choler, like fire, was hot and dry (Smith 4).”  Diagnoses were based on the abundance of any of these one humors (Gibson).    Most of the remedies were based on a strict diet, depending on the particular humor that was unbalanced (Smith 4).  For example, a man that was considered to be choleric would have to eat moist and cool food such as salads (Smith 4).

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        “ For he was grounded in astrology; Treating his patients with most modern physic dependent on his skill in natural magic; (Chaucer 14).” Another method that medieval physicians tended to use was that of astrology.  Before anything the physician would figure out the patients astrological chart (Smith 3).  This would all eventually correlate with the humor theory depending on the pattern of heat, cold, dryness, and moisture in relation to the sun and planet during the patient’s birth (Smith 3).  These calculations were based on the nine concentric circles: the first moved, the fixed stars and zodiac, Saturn, Jupiter, mars, ...

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