When we hear the word medicine, doesn’t that imply it is a remedy to cure a sickness or disease? Medicine is used to restore our faith, hope, and most importantly, our lives. For hundreds of years, medicine has been known to cure many people including those who had barely an ounce of life left. However, as the Middle Ages progressed, medieval medicine became popular among people even though it was killing them instead of healing them. One example is the Black Death.
As this horrible disease was spreading rapidly in Central Asia and Europe in the 1320s, thousands of people were dying and were in need of help. Some practices of medieval medicine were Phlebotomy, or bloodletting; which consisted of leeching, cupping, and venesection. (Livingston) Although patients often died because of infections, the loss of consciousness, and cutting of arteries, which caused unstoppable bleeding, many physicians believed this was a method of surgery.
In leeching, the physician would attach an annelid worm to the effected area and allow the leech to do its job. With the cupping method, when the cup was heated hot enough, it acted like a vacuum and sucked the blood up through the skin. For venesection, it “was the direct opening of a vein, generally on the inside of the arm, for the draining of a substantial quantity of blood. ” (Livingston) The process of bloodletting was from an idea that blood was to be drawn from a “specific vein” so it would affect a particular organ.
(Livingston) “It was not enough that a patient be bled, he must be bled from a proper vessel. There was a theory that various internal organs were connected with various superficial veins, so that bleeding from these veins drew noxious humours from organs which could not otherwise be reached” (Cameron 165). In the Middle Ages, medical theory was based on the idea of humors. “According to this theory, the human body had four humors: yellow bile, which was hot and dry; blood, which was hot and moist; black bile, which was cold and dry; and phlegm, which was cold and moist.
” (Corzine 59) These four humors were also linked with the four elements of the earth: fire, air, earth, and water. If someone was deeply ill, physicians believed that the humors in the body were imbalanced. If the humors were balanced, then the person would be perfectly healthy. Certain emotions were also used to distinguish people who had an excess of a certain humor. “An individual’s temperament was determined by the predominance of one or more of the humors. ” (60) For example, for a person who had too much blood, they tended to act happily.
If they were dull, they’d have too much phlegm and if they had too much black bile, physicians would “prescribe a hot and wet medicament. ” (Bruccoli 440) However, physicians often used Phlebotomy to cure these humor imbalances in a person but instead of curing, they were killing them quicker. Modern medicine has been steadily changing because of the rapid increase of medical technology. But as we look back in the medieval days, physicians did not have the technology or the intelligence to improve their medical theories. They figured by bleeding their patients, it would balance the humors and cure them.
However, physicians never saw the flaws of their medical theory of humors, which caused the death of many patients. Cameron, M. L. Anglo-Saxon Medicine. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 1993. Corzone, Phyllis. The Black Death. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1997. Bruccoli, Matthew J. ; Richard Layman. Word Eras. Vol 4: Medieval Europe. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2002. Livingston, Michael. Misconceptions about Medieval Medicine: Humors, Leeches, Charms, and Prayers . 11 Dec. 2003 http://www. strangehorizons. com/2003/20030317/medicine. shtml.