Medieval Pandemic Cures That Were…Medieval appears in the Library of Congress Blog
Illustration from “Herbarium.” Rome, 1481. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
“As the world grapples with containing the COVID-19 pandemic with a range of vaccines, each with varying rates of effectiveness, it’s worth remembering that cure-alls for deadly pandemics have often proven to be more of a mirage than a reality.
The Library’s collection of medical texts from the ravages of the bubonic plague in 14th -century Europe, known as the Black Death for the color of the swollen lymph glands it caused, are an uneasy reminder of this, showing that the best practices of the era would horrify us today.
Many of these volumes are found in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Also, some medieval medical texts have been edited and reprinted and can be found in the Library’s general collections. They offer a window into an earlier time when even the most sophisticated doctors lacked knowledge of germ theory and microbiology. Medieval physicians had little to work with other than their own observations and past experiences in treating different illnesses; a deadly virus like the plague simply overwhelmed them. Mortality rates for the most virulent forms of the disease were reportedly as high as 95 percent…”
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This intriguing look into the medical practices of Europe some 600 years ago was written by Andrew Gaudio, a reference librarian in the Researcher and Reference Services Division, Library of Congress.