Article ID: CBB001422193

“You Have No Good Blood in Your Body”. Oral Communication in Sixteenth-Century Physicians' Medical Practice (2015)


In his personal notebooks, the little known Bohemian physician Georg Handsch (1529--c. 1578) recorded, among other things, hundreds of vernacular phrases and expressions he and other physicians used in their oral interaction with patients and families. Based primarily on this extraordinary source, this paper traces the terms, concepts and images to which sixteenth-century physicians resorted when they explained the nature of a patient's disease and justified their treatment. At the bedside and in the consultation room, Handsch and his fellow physicians attributed most diseases to a local accumulation of impure, putrid or otherwise pathological humours. The latter were commonly said to result, in turn, from an insufficient concoction and assimilation of food and drink in the stomach and the liver or from an obstruction of the humoral flow inside the body and across its borders. By contrast, other notions and explanatory models, which had a prominent place in contemporary learned medical writing, hardly played a role at all in the physicians' oral communication. Specific disease terms were rarely used, a mere imbalance of the four natural humours in the body was almost never inculpated, and the patient's personal life-style and other non-naturals did not attract much attention either. These striking differences between the ways in which physicians explained the patients' diseases in their daily practice and the explanatory models we find in contemporary textbooks, are attributed, above all, to the physicians' precarious situation in the early modern medical marketplace. Since dissatisfied patients were quick to turn to another healer, physicians had to explain the disease and justify their treatment in a manner that was comprehensible to ordinary lay people and in line with their expectations and beliefs, which, at the time, revolved almost entirely around notions of impurity and evacuation.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Stolberg, Michael; (2013)
Empiricism in Sixteenth-Century Medical Practice: The Notebooks of Georg Handsch (/isis/citation/CBB001213587/) unapi

Article Hannah Murphy; (2020)
Skin and Disease in Early Modern Medicine: Jan Jessen's De cute, et cutaneis affectibus (1601) (/isis/citation/CBB992058159/) unapi

Book Elmer, Peter; (2004)
The Healing Arts: Health, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500--1800 (/isis/citation/CBB000773358/) unapi

Article Dross, Fritz; (2011)
Vom zuverlässigen Urteilen (/isis/citation/CBB001420790/) unapi

Book Mortimer, Ian; (2009)
The Dying and the Doctors: The Medical Revolution in Seventeenth-Century England (/isis/citation/CBB001230358/) unapi

Book Aberth, John; (2011)
Plagues in World History (/isis/citation/CBB001033389/) unapi

Thesis Metzger, N; (cited 2010)
Premodern Histories of Lycanthropy and Ephialtes (/isis/citation/CBB001567253/) unapi

Book Demaitre, Luke E.; (2007)
Leprosy in Premodern Medicine: A Malady of the Whole Body (/isis/citation/CBB000773314/) unapi

Article Mortimer, Ian; (2005)
The Triumph of the Doctors: Medical Assistance to the Dying, c.1570--1720 (/isis/citation/CBB001030802/) unapi

Article Stolberg, Michael; (2013)
Medizinische Loci communes (/isis/citation/CBB001420950/) unapi

Article Mello, Amílcar D'Avila de; (2011)
John Banister: um cirurgião elisabetano no Brasil (/isis/citation/CBB001420508/) unapi

Article Bartolini, Donatella; (2015)
On the Borders: Surgeons and their Activities in the Venetian State (1540--1640) (/isis/citation/CBB001422194/) unapi

Book Stein, Claudia; (2009)
Negotiating the French Pox in Early Modern Germany (/isis/citation/CBB000933044/) unapi

Article Tagarelli, Antonio; Piro, Anna; (2014)
On the Illness of Politian (Agnolo Ambrogini, 1454--1494): Syphilis At Its Identification in Europe (/isis/citation/CBB001421987/) unapi

Book Nükhet Varlik; (2015)
Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600 (/isis/citation/CBB948772983/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Mortimer, Ian
Varlik, Nükhet
Stolberg, Michael
Demaitre, Luke E.
Elmer, Peter
Stein, Claudia L'Engle
Medical History
Royal Historical Society. Transactions
Journal of World History
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Medizin, Gesellschaft, und Geschichte
Johns Hopkins University Press
Manchester University Press
Rowman & Littlefield
Royal Historical Society, Boydell Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
Physicians; doctors
Disease and diseases
Platter, Thomas, the Younger
Platter, Felix
Platter, Family
Hippolyt Guarinoni
Handsch, Georg
Banister, John
Ottoman Empire
Great Britain
Early modern
16th century
17th century
15th century
18th century

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment