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Re: Prediction time...
Hello Nick and Happy New Year to All,
You may find some interesting material in the following:
Love, Marriage, Romance & Women... In Medieval & Celtic Culture
Soranus of Ephesus:
Rebecca Flemming, King's College London
"Introducing Late Antique Gynaecology"
Nick Pelling wrote:
> Hi everyone,
> Happy New Year to you all!
> In the spirit of medieval almanackes and soothsayers, here's my New Year's
> Day best-guess of what the VMS are all about (and why) - feel free to shoot
> me down in flames for the next 12 months, until we can restart the process
> in Jan 2003. :-)
> 1. HYPOTHESIS
> The VMS are a Northern Italian proto-gynaecologist's version of the early
> 15th Century "Physician's folding calendar" as found in Sloane MS 2250. But
> instead of uroscopy charts and "zodiac man" diagrams, it holds information
> pertinent to her own particular profession.
> This (of course) begs the question - what information would that be?
> 2. BOTANICAL/HERBAL
> The primary information would be her own copy of a herbal (like
> Dioscorides): and (unsurprisingly) this is what I think we will find when
> we decode the botanical pages - I don't expect any huge
> surprises here. In fact, my strategy will be to find existing Southern
> European Dioscorides' text and use the structure of that on those botanical
> pages strongly identified by Dana to crack the code.
> My suspicion here is that our gynaecologist lives in a large urban area,
> and only has access to the roots (or, rather, the active parts) of herbs
> and plants via a herb-woman/herbalist or perhaps apothecary: and has
> particularly concentrated on diagrammatising the root-systems - the
> (fantastical) flowers are (in many cases) works of imagination based on
> dried specimens (or written descriptions). In cases like f21r's Rupturewort
> (where she knows the leaves but not the roots) she barely bothers to draw
> the roots in at all - that would go against the grain for someone whose
> stock-in-trade is roots.
> This of course leads on to the whole pharma section: these would be then
> recipes for women's-health-related ailments or conditions. My suspicion is
> that the mysterious containers depicted are a particular type of albarelli
> made specially for our wealthy gynaecologist, and are an index for her to
> make fresh batches of each multi-herb recipe.
> There's a point to be made here: later medical practitioners moved to
> one-problem-one-herb solutions, but our author clearly worked within a
> multi-herb solution mindset. I'll re-read Siraisi on this to see what this
> implies as for dates and places.
> 3. ASTROLOGICAL
> The astrological section's function is now painfully obvious to me - and
> (as normal) I should have listened to Steve Ekwall months ago. In essence,
> it's vaguely similar to FAC 8 , but for predicting male/female conception.
> Steve said (way back) that ES told him that the dots in the stars indicated
> male/female births: at the time I took this metaphorically, when in fact
> (like everything else in the VMS) it is probably completely diagrammatic
> and/or representational.
> I think these diagrams are probably meant to be read like this: get an
> astrologer to determine which degree of which sign the sun is currently in,
> and then refer to the diagram as to whether conceiving then would yield a
> male or a female birth. It shouldn't matter to us whether this works or not
> - but rather whether our gynaecologist believed it to be true.
> Many other types of data are likely to be encoded here - hopefully this is
> a start in decoding them.
> 4. BALNAEOLOGICAL
> The balnaeological section's link (via Tony Clarke's pineapple mayweed +
> period pains observation in New Scientist) with the botanical section is
> another indication to me that gynaecology is basically where we should be
> looking for the narrative thread behind the VMS.
> Anecdotally: when I show people the balnaeological section, they always
> comment (unprompted) on the resemblance between the sketch at the top of
> f77v's and fallopian tubes.
> I believe that part of the author's duties/jobs involved consulting at a
> large public baths: and that this section contains information that she
> would use as part of her work.
> Another tack I intend to take involves identifying which towns in Europe
> (specifically in Northern Italy) had large public baths at this time, and
> if any records of the workers on their payroll during 1400-1500 still
> exists - basically, to try to identify the social ecology of bath-workers
> of the time (in the style of the Cambridge historian Peter Burke).
> 5. MAP
> It's entirely possible that the map section holds representation of the
> gynaecologist's own conception [sorry] of developmental biology - some of
> the images may even represent her stylistic idea of the inside of the womb
> - I don't know.
> However, I think it's many times more likely that it simply holds stylised
> maps of nearby towns and roads to help her travel between clients.
> Map-making skills were in transition during this period, and it may well be
> that the structure of the VMS' maps can be decoded stylistically using
> other similar documents. I don't think that this has been adequately
> explored to date.
> 6. CONCLUSION
> At a time when the church strongly disapproved of gynaecology, the owner of
> the VMS needed to carry round specific data necessary for her work - she
> had wealthy patrons/clients throughout a large urban area. Basically, she
> needed an encrypted physician's folding calendar to take with her.
> This included data on not only herbs and medicines, but also on
> women's-health-related issues, such as period pains, fertility and
> conception, perhaps even contraception as well.
> She therefore commissioned an intelligencer (which is what many historians
> now call code-makers - but back then, such individuals would have usually
> been well-versed in alchemical and kabbalistic ideas as well) to devise a
> new code that was not only secure but readable (though not necessarily
> compact). This was because - for her - it was (literally) a case of life or
> death. :-|
> 7. CONJECTURES
> I'm fairly certain that the above will turn out to be true: but, for a bit
> of spice, here are some more speculative ideas - make of them what you
> will. ie, "it would be nice if any of the following were true, but I
> honestly have no idea one way or the other... yet." :-)
> (a) The "tall barrels" from the pharma folios were specially commissioned
> for the gynaecologist to hold her potions - the recipes beside them show
> what goes into each. These appear nowhere else in records, so would have
> been a very local phenomenon - hence would have been produced by local
> ceramics artisans.
> (b) Only someone with wealthy women patrons would have the money to
> commission such tall barrels - so this limits the VMS to being used within
> a rich urban area. Apothecaries were very rich, so there would have been
> room for a specialist type of apothecary - though I don't know whether
> women were allowed to be members of guilds like the Arte dei Speziale e
> Medici... my guess is not.
> (c) I'd only predict wealthy women patrons to be found in an early modern
> slightly matriarchal society, or a society with what modern screenwriters
> call "strong women" - the Church was very strong in some towns, and had the
> power to burn gynaecologists (or in fact anyone they didn't like much). Our
> author would have to be operating within a locally modern, humanist,
> inclusive society, rather than a medieval, religious, purely
> church-mediated one.
> (d) So: we're looking for a Northern Italian town, with highly-skilled
> local maiolica-making artisans, large public baths, and an early-modern
> slightly-matriarchal society, with a number of wealthy families who would
> be modern-minded enough to want a gynaecologist. And with a nearby castle
> with swallow-tailed crenellations. :-)
> Find that town, and you've found where the VMS is from. :-)
> Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....
> * * * * * * *
>  Obscure reference: many years ago, Richard Boulter (a flat-mate of mine
> from University) compiled an index (for Melody Maker magazine) of the
> various items published/created by Factory Records in Manchester (the
> subject of an upcoming film), which included "FAC 8" - the "Factory Egg
> Timer", by Linder, dated 1979. Here's someone else's notes on Fac 8:-
> Additional Notes:
> Also referred to as the 'Menstrual Egg-Timer'.
> Only one prototype was made by Linder, singer of 'Ludus', who was
> also known as an early girlfriend of Morrissey (!).
> The egg timer looks like an abacus, and is described in one of the
> early Factory newsletters as 'A four bar abacus, seven beads to
> the row, final five blood soaked lint.'
> I'm sure it was bleakly hilarious in 1979. :-)