Early Modern Medicine Casebooks
January 17, 2019 2:48 AM   Subscribe

The casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634 In the decades around 1600, the astrologers Simon Forman and Richard Napier produced one of the largest surviving sets of medical records in history. The Casebooks Project, a team of scholars at the University of Cambridge, has transformed this paper archive into a digital archive.
posted by Lezzles (7 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
How interesting! - I'd heard of Simon Forman before in his capacity as a theatregoer (he wrote in his diary about going to see four of Shakespeare's plays in 1610/11).
posted by misteraitch at 4:31 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Ohhhhh, *delighted gasp* the metadata...

cases where pregnancy is mentioned

I wish I knew more about conducting an horary. Any astrologers in the room?
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:37 AM on January 17

Fascinating stuff. Paracelsus may have been driven out of multiple cities and banned from ‘medical’ practice in much of Germany and Switzerland by the traditional (Galenic?) medical faculties, but here we see his techniques ascendant in England roughly 80 years later.

Napier’s prescription for a patient with “tympany” (abdominal distension): “For a tympany for Captain Cony at St Albans experimented lately by him. The hand of a dead woman to stroke his belly 3 or 4 times. 2 apply a plaster of black snails, shells & all beaten in a cloth, from the stomach over the belly to the peritineum afresh one day & night for a night & this voided water abundantly & brought down his belly. For a woman, a man’s hand & for a man a woman’s hand”
posted by sudogeek at 6:14 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

There is a wonderful book called The Lodger, written by Charles Nicholl, in which he was able to use court documents and other primary source material to flesh out the lives of an immigrant French protestant family (the Mountjoys) that Shakespeare took rooms with on Silver St in London in the early 1600s. Somewhat miraculously, Nicholl was actually able to connect Marie Mountjoy with entries in Forman's casebooks. Its a fantastic book (only marginally about Shakespeare, but more interesting for the somewhat sordid family tale of the Mountjoys), and an interesting complement to these casebooks - a great demonstration on how this material can be connected with other extant records to bring the real lives of the people of this era into focus.
posted by anastasiav at 6:57 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

Brain surgery!!

The surgions in Oxford began to cut Mr Thomas Longfilds head & afterward seered his scull & afterward Did Drill his skull that is poure uppon his skull some corrosives that so they might get out a bladder which they thought caused his madnes. they began to cut his head the 5 of Decemb. die Mercurii h p m 3. 30. mi. 1599. but he dyed the weddensday moneth after or the tuesday

I CANNOT IMAGINE why this didn't turn out well.
posted by telepanda at 7:35 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Wow! This is fascinating. I used to study early modern recipe books, which often had medicines included. It would be interesting to see if any medicines show up as treatments.
posted by apricot at 10:53 AM on January 17

This is incredible. I have been practicing horary astrology for nigh-on twenty years now, and this is a treasure-trove of cases by two legendary masters of the art. The major challenge for horary astrologers today - who are rarer than hen's teeth among the various subtypes of astrological practitioners - is that we don't see anywhere near the number of clients that 16th/17th century astrologers would have, and our forebears would have gotten more practice than any of us, by an order of magnitude. A few thoughts:

- Simon Forman was apparently quite a character, according to the later astrologer William Lilly. Lilly's account of Forman portrays a deeply flawed and scandalous man, one given to lechery and not successful in worldly matters, but who "in horary questions (especially thefts) was very judicious and fortunate; so also in sicknesses, which indeed was his master-piece. In resolving questions about marriage he had good success: in other questions very moderate. He was a person of indefatigable pains. I have seen sometimes half one sheet of paper wrote of his judgment upon one question..." (William Lilly, His History of His Life and Times (35-36).

- In the absence of medical tests (other than careful physical examination of the patient and her urine), a good doctor had to be a highly competent astrologer. Diagnosis via astrology was an art in itself. Physicians could cast a horary chart - the astrological chart for the moment the patient asked their question, as did Forman and Napier; or a decumbiture chart, either cast for the moment of the patient's first lying down with the disease (if known) or for the moment when the physician took delivery of the patient's urine. Most iatroastrological works of the period focus on decumbitures (see, e.g. Nicolas Culpeper), but the notebooks show that horary can be used quite successfully for diagnosis. In modern times, medical horary has to be treated with caution, as the interpretation of the chart stands on the Greek medical humoral model of diagnosis and treatment. For example, one of Napier's cases prescribes bleeding for a young man, George Bicklye, a fellow of Magdalen College, who fell and hit his head, resulting in tinnitus and "giddiness in his head." The chart suggests an overabundance of the melancholic, cold/dry humor, as four planets are in Capricorn, a cold and dry sign, in the sixth house of disease. When the young man is bled, Napier notes the blood comes out black, affirming his belief that the melancholic, black humor was involved and had to be let out.

- Apart from the many medical cases, Napier and Forman's clients bring a stunning variety of personal concerns, as they do today. For example: "Mrs Emilia Lanier. Friday 2 September 1597, 7.30 am. Whether she shall be a lady, & how she shall speed. She has been favoured much of her majesty and of many noblemen & has great gifts & been much made of. And a nobleman that is dead has loved her well & kept her and did maintain her long. But her husband has dealt hardly with her and spent and consumed her goods and she is now very needy and in debt & it seems for lucre’s sake will be a good fellow for necessity doth compel. She has a wart or mole in the pit of the throat or near it." Forman does not describe his judgment, but the rather discouraging chart reflects the dire straits the remarkable Emilia Lanier is in. The chart (in my view) is not at all encouraging of Lanier becoming a lady, though Forman predicted that she would be one. She never received the hoped-for title. It is known that Forman aggressively pursued Lanier sexually, as is evident from "for lucre's sake [she] will be a good fellow for necessity doth compel." We cannot know if his judgment was clouded by his desire to please, but it's judgments like these that elicited the "very moderate" comment by Lilly.

There is much more to write and explore, but this comment has gotten ridiculously long. I'm happy to answer any questions for those interested in the astrology described in the notebooks. Thank you for this post, Lezzles!
posted by Atrahasis at 9:01 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]

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