Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum. Code of Health of the School of Salernum

By JOHN OSDRONAUX, LL.D., M.D., Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the Law School of Columbia College, N. Y. Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott & Co.
ROBERT, Duke of Normandy, and second son of William the Conqueror, was wounded with a poisoned arrow at the fall of Jerusalem, and on his way home to England stopped at Salerno to seek the advice of the famous school of medicine, which had flourished there ever since the tenth century. He was told that the wound could be cured only by suction ; and when nobody else would attempt the perilous service, his wife, as is well known to romance, drew the poison from the hurt with her own lovely and loving lips, while he slept, and the prince got well. But he did not recover so rapidly that he did not need counsel concerning his mode of life ; and the faculty of Salernum uttered their wisdom in his behalf in a series of maxims and prescriptions couched in Latin verse, and applicable to all the ordinary contingencies of health and sickness. At first they gave him some general advice, in the following terms, to use a quaint translation of 1607 : —
“ The Salem e Schoole doth by these lines impart
All health to England’s King, and doth advise
From care his head to keepe, from wrath his harte.
Drink not much wine, sup light, and soone arise.
When meat is gone long sitting breedeth smart;
And after noone still waking keepe your eies,
When mov’d you find your selfe to nature’s needs,
Forbeare them not, for that much danger breeds,
Use three physitians still — first Dr. Quiet,
Next Dr. Merry-man, and Dr. Dyet.”
This admirable prescription they then expanded into more than a hundred particular rules of possibly varying value, but unvarying simplicity and clearness. What Dr. Ordronaux has now done is to give us a new versified English translation of this poem, largely preserving its spirit of downrightness and directness, and prefacing his version with a very pleasant sketch of the history of the School of Salernum and of the poem itself. From this it appears that the poem has, since the invention of printing, constantly reappeared in new editions ; in German sixteen times, in French nineteen, in Italian seven, in Dutch, Bohemian, Polish, and Irish, each one, in English ten ; and besides there have been one hundred and seven Latin editions. From this great popularity, our translator naturally argues great merit: —
“ It is the condensation of truth in compact, suggestive sentences, adorned by the elegance of rhyme, and thus invoking the harmony of numbers to the aid of memory, which has given to this poem an undying charm. Written in plain, untechnical language, saturated with the broad common sense of daily experience, and prescribing for all the necessities and all the dangers of practical life, it at once comes home, as Bacon said of his essays, to ‘ Men’s Businesse and Bosomes ’; and the innumerable imitations of it which sprang up in mediæval Europe, wherever a medical school existed, attest in the most forcible manner possible the high and fixed reverence it commanded in public estimation.”
Of course the ordinary reader will find the wisdom of the school of Salernum quite as delightful when, in the light of modern popular science, it seems a little obsolescent, as when it shines with undiminished force and lustre. A certain old-wifely air in much of the advice detracts little from its authority ; and we read with comfortable faith, —
“ The radish, pear, theriac, garlic, rue, All potent poisons will at once undo.”
And we feel sure that the most reckless and dissipated person will honor a prescription so consonant with reason and nature as this : —
“ Art sick from vinous surfeiting at night? Repeat the dose at morn, ’t will set thee right.”
It is interesting to know that the unruliest of the passions was once within the control of science; and for this reason, at least, it seems almost a pity that phlebotomy should have fallen into disfavor : —
“ Bleeding soothes rage, brings joy unto the sad, And saves all love-sick swains from going mad.”
The rules for this noble treatment are very abundant and explicit, and Duke Robert, and after him all afflicted, are fully instructed at what age, in what months, in what condition, from which veins, and how, they are to he let blood, and are warned of states and seasons when it is dangerous. The most curious of these instructions relate to
“In spring, and likewise in the summer tide,
Blood should be drawn alone from the right side.
In autumn sere, or on cold winter’s day,
Take from the left in corresponding way.
Four parts distinct we must in turn deplete —
The liver, heart, the head, and last the feet. In spring the heart — liver when heats abound,
The head or feet, whene’er their turn comes round.”
There are many directions for regulating the diet, some of which would surprise the sufferers who pin their faith to Dr. Dio Lewis, while others seem the germ of the conspiracy of that physician and the doctors of Sancho Panza to deny hunger all that it craves, and bid it wholesomely satisfy itself with whatever the appetite abhors. Yet on the whole the balance is in favor of nature and of sense, and the patient of the school of Salernum is advised to use and to disuse pretty much the same things that his taste and his good old family doctor prescribe and proscribe at this day. All who feel grateful to Providence for good cheer will agree with the following, especially as far as it relates to free indulgence in winter : —
“ Slender in Spring thy diet be, and spare ;
Disease, in Summer, springs from surplus fare.
From Autumn fruits be careful to abstain,
Lest by mischance they should occasion pain,
But when rapacious Winter has come on,
Then freely eat till appetite is gone.”
Concerning wines the school has also somewhat to say of such practical effect that we cannot altogether withhold its wisdom from our readers : —
“The taste of wines, their clearness, odor, shade,
Are living proofs of their specific grade ;
You ’II find all those that are of highest source,
Fragrant, frigid, fair, fuming high with force.”
“ Rich, heavy wines that are both sweet and white,
The body’s size increase, and e’en its might.”
“ Ripe, good old wine imparts a richer blood
To him who daily tastes its tonic Hood ;
But when too dark — beware ! the danger’s great
That you may grow inert, and not elate.
Let wines be fine and clear, mature and old,
And mixed with water, still, their sparkle hold ;
Then quaff a mod’rate draught, secure and bold.
(Addition from Paris Ed., 1861.)
Bright beads, when rising fast in any wine,
Bespeak good quality and vintage fine ;
But sparkling wine, unless its tide flows free,
Is false and doubly base in quality.
In good wine beads and bubbles take their start,
Resilient ever from the central part.
In wines depraved and drugged the bubbles spring,
From out, alone, the margin’s narrow ring.”
In turning from this odd, old-fashioned book, we must not fail to own that we have copied purposely the quainter passages, and have scarcely touched a bottom of sound reason and knowledge there is in it. We ought all to thank the translator for his version, and to be glad of a new edition of a book which, while it will minister in some degree to man’s passion for doctoring himself, may also chance to amuse him so much as to take his mind off his malady, and make him forget what he went to it for. This is an advantage it has over modem popular treatises on health.