In the Middle Ages, the sick occupied a liminal space, between health and death, between Earth and the afterlife. Likewise, monsters, whether elves, demons, or dragons, were perceived as liminal beings, existing in transitory spaces: bridges, marshlands, and borderlands. This paper focuses on Anglo-Saxon and medieval England, and the connection between monsters and disease. Using the Anglo-Saxon medical corpus, imported Latin texts, religious writings, and folklore, this paper displays the intertwined borders of the liminal sick and their liminal monsters, and discusses the ways in which monstrosity and disease were conflated and how these ideas affected treatment.
Mondino de Liuzzi, known as ‘the Restorer of Anatomy’, revived the practice of anatomical dissection lost for approximately 1700 years. Since antiquity, the female body was a site of conquest wrapped up in complex constructions of sexual scientific medical discourse and social practices based on ancient medical texts. Societal norms bound bodies; yet bodies remained susceptible to external and internal, physical and invisible forces. Dissection played a role in breaching the physical boundaries of the body. Though anatomical dissection should have shed light on ancient medical misconceptions and inaccuracies, medieval dissection reinforced the errors put forth by ancient authors.
The skin, the border between outside and inside of the body, reflects the integrity of the body, and when wounded its treatment remained a crucial challenge in the Middle Ages. While the early authors advocated the suppuration of wounds as a necessary factor for wound healing, Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320), surgery’s master, was a forerunner by recommending an aseptic treatment of wounds without suppuration, and a first intention healing by suturing wounds when their borders could be joined. This first intention of healing a wound by joining the borders, when there is no tissue loss, remains the first option in modern care. Henri de Mondeville had a resolutely modern approach to surgery that transcends the boundaries of time.