Part of the reason why I study Anglo-Saxon history is because I think there is plenty of academic value in it. Most of the reason is because I come across wonderful sources like Bald’s Leechbook. Bald’s Leechbook is an Anglo-Saxon medical manual made up of three books (labelled I, II and III) that was probably compiled in the mid-tenth century. Written mostly in Old English, the primary (and only, I believe) translation of the three books was undertaken by a man called Reverend Cockayne in 1864. Rev Cockayne set out to preserve the original feel of the text, which has resulted in a somewhat clunky but largely entertaining read – to me at least. I believe that treating all these remedies with academic respect is not mutually exclusive with a good laugh. I present to you Bald’s Leechbook, translated by Cockayne, glossed by the Eastern Anglo-Saxonist:
‘For fellon, catch a fox, strike off from him while quick, that is alive, the tusk, or canine tooth, let the fox run away, bind it in a fawn’s skin, have it upon thee’ (I, xxxix.3) [poor fox!]
‘Of the laughter that cometh from the spleen’ (II, xxii.2) [makes you wonder what that sounded like]
‘Of the stone which hight agate. It is said that it hath eight virtues… The seventh virtue is that he who taketh the stone in drink, will have so much the smoother body’ (II, lxvi) [as seen in the Old English GQ magazine]
‘Against a woman’s chatter; taste at night fasting a root of radish, that day the chatter cannot harm thee.’ (III, lviii) [definitely one for the married men]
…and my absolute favourite…
‘In case a man be a lunatic; take skin of a mereswine or porpoise, work it into a whip, swinge the man therewith, soon he will be well. Amen.’ (III, xl)
If you’re interested, you can find Cockayne’s translation of Bald’s Leechbook here. Please, please do not try any of these remedies at home. But if you do, please, please let me know if they actually work. Especially the dolphin-whip one.
Cockayne, Thomas Oswald. Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England. London: Longman, 1864.