Tag Archives: Middle Ages

“Aristotle’s Sex Manual” Going to Auction

courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull

courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull

A manuscript dated to the 17th century and inaccurately attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle is going up for auction at Lyon and Turnbull.

“Images in this “master-piece” show a woman’s torso and drawings of hairy children with extra limbs, and according to the Guardian, an image showing a woman’s torso opened up to reveal a baby in her womb. But there are no actual explicit images…” – Cathy Marsden

The book was likely written as an ‘information’ manual for the newly married, providing “medical information” on human sexuality and reproduction. The information, often grossly inaccurate, provides great insight into the minds of medical science. The “medical tidbits” state that a woman could give birth to a Black child if she was thinking of Black men during the conception or that a child conceived out of wedlock would be hairy or otherwise deformed. It also provides instruction for conceiving a child of a specified gender, by planning conception by the phases of the moon. The book even includes an instructional section for midwives (although modern midwives would be best to ignore his advice).

To learn more about the text, see the article in LiveScience, The Telegraph, or the Huffington Post.

 

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Suffering for Faith: The History of Stigmata

This month, Smithsonian Magazine looks at the history of stigmata – when a faithful follower receives and suffers wounds or pain similar to those experienced by Christ on the cross (most commonly seen in the hands). The religious experience has been controversial amongst believers and non-believers alike, and science has been unable to pinpoint its cause or event agree on its existence.

In addition to claiming that the marks are divine gifts to the holy, skeptics have argued that cases of stigmata were hoaxes, symptoms of other diseases (including plague), or a form of hysteria. Even the Catholic Church is hesitant to discuss the issue (nearly all stigmatics are Catholic).

To learn more about the history of Stigmata, see the article on Smithsonian’s Blog: “The Mystery of the Five Wounds.”

British Library Displays Medieval Manuscripts

The British Library is highlighting their collection of illuminated manuscripts from the 9th through 16th centuries. See this article on the BBC with beautiful images and an interview with the curator Scot McKendrick.

Half of Medieval Graves Reopened

In a ghoulishly Halloween appropriate post, MSNBC reports that approximately 40% of Medieval graves were disturbed after burial. This is not the standard ‘grave-robbing’ report, rather, mortuary analysts argue that traditional looting was not the objective of these individuals. Rather, they may have had a myriad of objectives: relieving the dead of suffering, retrieving heirlooms, political propaganda, and more.

“Some researchers say in early medieval periods the cemetery may have been a place to play power games, to display the dead with very rich grave goods. It may have been an important factor when families or clans are competing with each other,” Aspock said.

To read more about this theory, see the article in MSNBC.

Scientists Identify “Black Death” as Yersinia pestis Bacteria

A team of German and Canadian scientists have identified the Yersinia pestis bacteria as the culprit in the Black Death (the plague that swept Europe and Asia killing 1/3 of the population).

By examining DNA bacteria from medieval plague victims, scientists believe that they have properly identified the bacterium that so readily swept through Europe.

The findings have been published in this month’s Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, you can also find a summary in Science Daily.

New Study Lets Rats off the Hook for the Black Death

Archaeologists studying the Bubonic Plague in London have determined that the evidence from plague burials and water-front graves suggest that the disease was spread from human to human contact (rather than from flea infested rats).

“The evidence just isn’t there to support it,” said Barney Sloane, author of The Black Death in London. “We ought to be finding great heaps of dead rats in all the waterfront sites but they just aren’t there. And all the evidence I’ve looked at suggests the plague spread too fast for the traditional explanation of transmission by rats and fleas. It has to be person to person – there just isn’t time for the rats to be spreading it.” (Guardian)

To learn more about the archaeologists’ findings, see this article in the Guardian. Also, I am including a picture of a “Fancy Rat” as I find rats adorable.

 

Warmer, Wetter Weather Exacerbated the Plague

Scientists working in China have recently linked climate conditions with outbreaks of the plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis. Plague bacteria is primarily spread by fleas that reside on rodents. During warm, wet months there is more vegetation growth which means an abundance food for rodents. More rodents means more fleas, hence greater spread of plague.

Yersinia pestis is the leading culprit in the Black Death, an epidemic that swept through Europe in the 14th century and ultimately killed 1/3 of the world’s population. The Black Death originated in China and made its way to Europe via traders – most famously when a ship filled with dead or dying men stricken by the plague landed in a Sicilian port in 1347. From there, the plague spread exponentially leaving a swath of death in its wake.

While the plague bacteria still exists today, it is largely controlled and treatable (if detected early). Additionally, better sanitation conditions help to keep the disease at bay. To read more about the new scientific determinations about the connection between weather conditions and the plague, read this article by Discovery News. If you would like to read more about the Chinese origins of the Bubonic Plague, read this article by Discovery News.