IMC 2015: Sessions

Session 109: Medicine of Words: Literature, Medicine, and Theology in the Middle Ages

Monday 6 July 2015, 11.15-12.45

Sponsor:University of Oxford
Organiser:Daniel McCann, St Anne's College, University of Oxford
Moderator/Chair:Kathleen Walker-Meikle, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York
Paper 109-aFraming Medicine: The Form and Function of Verse Prefaces in Middle English Medical Tracts
(Language: English)
Jessica Henderson, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, Downtown
Index terms: Manuscripts and Palaeography, Medicine
Paper 109-b'You want me to send you spiritual consolation [ . . .] but I send you my afflictions': Feeling and Devotion in the Anglo-Norman Treatise Le Miroir pur bien vivre
(Language: English)
Catherine J. Batt, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Medicine, Religious Life
Paper 109-cMedicine of Words: Purgative Reading in Richard Rolle
(Language: English)
Daniel McCann, St Anne's College, University of Oxford
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Medicine
Abstract

Words, whether in poetry or prose, have a power beyond their meaning. They are capable not simply of expression but also of action; they can hurt or they can heal. This session will explore the interconnection between literature, medicine, and theology during the Middle Ages. It focuses upon the idea that medieval texts are pieces of linguistic craft and intention, their words chosen and arranged with a purpose in mind. Poems in this period can be as crafted as theological treatises, their meters and rhymes as intentional and purpose driven as any medical instrument. They possess a power over the body as well as the soul, and can manipulate the emotions as easily as speaking can manipulate the breath. Potentially medicinal or malign, words in the Middle Ages are seen as tools to be used to persuade, to please, to heal or to harm.

Framing Medicine: The Form and Function of Verse Prefaces in Middle English Medical Tracts
This paper examines a series of interrelated Middle English verse prefaces to longer prose medical tracts in order to argue for their importance as liminal sites between ‘literature’ and medicine. These verses are essential to the use of the longer prose tracts that they precede as they provide the cohesion of a narrative frame. On a material level, they are integral to the transmission of the collection as a whole unit. This paper will tease out the complicated textual relationship between these texts and discuss the mise-en-page of several manuscript witnesses, including the semantic implications of laying verse out as prose.

‘You want me to send you spiritual consolation [ . . .] but I send you my afflictions’: Feeling and Devotion in the Anglo-Norman Treatise Le Miroir pur bien vivre
The unedited (possibly earlier-14th-century) Anglo-Norman Miroir begins as an epistle of spiritual consolation, but its voice quickly centres on the abject unfitness of its narrator to act as devotional guide in the face of his own worldly vicissitudes. Nevertheless, drawing on familiar preaching techniques, the treatise provides an imaginative account of the relation between divine and human love, drawing on domestic imagery and observation, Latin quotation from (among others) Bernard, patristic writings, biblical exegesis, medicine, folklore and cookery, in ways that raise questions about the relationship between the language of concrete imagery, prayer, and affectivity.

Medicine of Words: Purgative Reading in Richard Rolle
When Richard Rolle praises his translation of the Psalms as a ‘medicine of words’ he is not being metaphorical, but rather literal. This paper will explore the therapeutic understanding of religious writing with specific reference to Rolle’s Meditation A. It will first look at a range of religious texts to see how they articulate their medicinal function as a literal purgation of the soul. It will then explore medieval theories of grammar to clarify the relationship between reading and affective response, before returning to close reading of Meditation A. This text functions to purge the soul of its poisonous affections by evoking pity, fear, and sorrow for the crucified Christ.