Cold temperatures are best for conception

Two weeks ago, we read Giles of Rome’s advice on moderation in the diet, and this week we are examining the best time to conceive children – male and female.  In the Book II, Part I, chapter 17, Giles explains what Aristotle says in Textus poleticorum and De metheoris regarding conception.


Book II, part I, chapter 17, ff110v-111r. De regimine regem et principum, Italy, 14th century. Call no. 10a 212.


Read more

The crisis: good news or bad?

In book 2 of Galen’s De crisibus, Galen describes a crisis as “a sudden change in a disease, either towards death or recovery; which last is produced by nature secreting the good from the bad humours, and preparing the latter for excretion.”  In what ways might the bad humours be excreted?

This answer we can find in book 3 of De crisibus.


Beginning of book III, folio 22v. Galen, De crisibus libri III, France. circa 1200 – 1250. Call no. 10a 233.

Read more

On crises

Galen (129 – circa 200/216) was a Greek physician, surgeon, and philosopher in the Roman Empire.  He was born the city of Pergamum in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).  His extant works total over 120 treatises and 3 million words, although it is estimated this accounts for only a third of what he wrote.  Although his works were not translated into Latin in the ancient period, they were translated into Arabic.

The Library holds over 200 books in English, German, and Latin related to Galen and his works, including 10a 233: De crisibus libri III (On crises).  The Library’s copy of De crisibus, as mentioned last week, was written in the first half of the 13th-century in France, and is Gerard of Cremona’s translation.  Gerard of Cremona (1113 or 1114-1187) was an Italian translator of books from Arabic into Latin.


Beginning of book II, folio 7v. Galen, De crisibus libri III, France. circa 1200 – 1250. Call no. 10a 233.

Read more

Summer fruits to rid oneself of a hot fever

In medieval medicine, humoral medicine was a common practice.  (For more about the humors, see my earlier post here.)  When patients were ill, food and drugs – often plant-derived – were prescribed, taking into account not only the symptoms, but also his or her temperament, age, location, and time of year.

Balancing the humors seems to me to have been somewhat precarious at times.  If one was too choleric (hot and dry), foods and herbs that were considered cold and moist were prescribed.  However, too much could cause a swing in the opposite direction.  Foods were assigned qualities similar to those of the four humors – for example, cucumbers and watermelons were considered cool and moist.


Folios 65v – 66r. Baptista Massa de Argenta, De fructibus vescendis, Ferrara, Italy. 1471. Call no. 10a 189.

Read more

Recipes for “Natural Magick”

(This is our second blog entry in The Recipes Project’s virtual conversation, “What is a Recipe?” For a bit of background or to read the first article, on a 19th Century recipe manuscript from Lancaster, PA, click here.)

Magia Naturalis, or Natural Magick, written by Giambattista della Porta was first published in 1558 in Naples when the author was fifteen years old. Della Porta was an Italian scholar and playwright known for his expertise and knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, and for having contributed many advances to the fields of agriculture, optics, pharmacology, hydraulics and more.

The edition held at The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is the first English translation published in 1658, 100 years after its initial publication. It contains some of the additions added by della Porta in subsequent editions, most notably, the first published description of the convex lens and camera obscura. Though he did not invent these, his work in perfecting and describing them, and their inclusion in Natural Magick, contributed to the dissemination of this knowledge.

But, you may be asking by now, what does this have to do with recipes? A quick look at almost any page in volume reveals the answer.


Bread recipes from Natural Magick

Read more