Medicine In Medieval Serbia

Medicine In Medieval Serbia

When South Slavs came to the Balkans, people
who already lived there practiced medicine which had its roots deep in pagan and folk
practices. But numerous findings of medical instruments, and document mentions of Byzantine
hospitals in Serbian towns, tell us that medieval Serbia also had Hippocratic medicine.
Serbian medieval medicine developed under the influence of Byzantine Empire and Italian
states. In the middle regions, church was the one who was spreading that kind of medicine,
and in the coastal area – intermediators were sailors who traded with Italian states.
Main characteristics of old apocryphal medicine were mysticism, magic and astrology.
According to this kind of medicine causes of diseases were evil spirits, who can only
be defeated by good spirits who work in favour of men. That means that healing, recovery
from a disease could be explained as fight between good and evil.
In Byzantine apocryphal medicine, evil that causes all deceases is embodied in one particular
person, but in Serbia there were multiple evil spirits which cause deceases and accidents
in human life. Devils, moras, witches, she-devils, evil Nazor, Vila, are just some of them.
Maybe the most interesting one of these spirits is Нежит. It is an evil spirit which
causes disease of all body’s organs. There is a prayer, from a XVII century prayer book
for this evil thing. “Oh, you Nežit, come out of this God’s
servant (and then they say the name of the ill person), out of his head, his eyes, nose,
ears, neck, shoulders, hands, fingers, nails, heart, stomach, his liver, his back, knees,
his feet, bones, out of his blood and all inside organs. Christ casts you out, now and
forever.” In almost all collected works of Serbian apocryphal
medicine, there is at least one prayer for treatment of the snake bites. This of course
means that snake bites happened more often in middle ages.
Oldest prayer for snake bites can be found in “Priest Dragolj’s Corpus” from XIII
century. In it it’s mentioned unknown drug called бзња. First it says that you need
to take chopped бзња селнаго, and put it exactly on a bite wound. Then you should
repeat several times this formula: “I was walking by the sea, and I saw animal skin,
and under the animal skin there was some evil, and under this evil there was a snake by the
name of Hlata, and the snake had bitten a man. Man tied his leg where the snake bit
him, and he cried, he cried so loud that Christ himself heard him. And Christ asked him: “What
is wrong with you man?” And the man says that snake Hlata had bitten him.”
This prayer sounds more like a story, an unfinished story. But there is another one, maybe more
interesting one, that sounds almost as a sort of witchery. It goes like this:
“Ћирије нерон, арпоктикон, ћепилалисиме трисис то
окамтутрос, ћетунију, кутуагију, пнемату, ћенаигнијанни.“
Say this 5 times near the person who is bitten by the snake, and the person will be better.
Words are clearly of Greek origin, although its not certain what they actually mean. These
kind of prayers and magic formulas can also be found in Russian and Bulgarian documents.
Unlike apocryphal medicine, in canonical medicine there were only prayers recognized officially
by the church. Two most common prayers were (big one and small one) of Saint Basil the
Great. The power of healing was attributed to a lot
of christian saints. Two most known miracle doctors were saint Cosmas and Damian. They
healed not only people but also animals. Medieval society was constantly under the
influence of christian mysticism which could not find reconciliation with biological viewpoint
of ancient world. Byzantine manuscripts on medicine were copied from documents by various
ancient physicians, and in XIII century, thanks to Rastko Nemanjić they came to Serbia. Some
of the folk and pagan traditions and practices though were still added in the translation.
Some of the famous Serbian medical codices are: Hodosh codex, Hilandar medical codex,
medical codex – Ијатрософија о всакој вешти.
Now we are going to look at some recipes from the codices.
COUGH (От кашља) You need to take quince, dip it into the beef
tallow, bake it and eat it. Also you can take garlic baked in honey.
HEADACHE (Јегда болит глава) For this you need to mix bear fat and horseradish
and spread it all over where the pain is. TOOTHACHE (Јегда болит зуб)
You need to burn the deer antler, take the ashes, and put it on the tooth. Do this every
night until the pain goes away. SOBERING (О упивајушти се)
Drink vinegar three times. Or, eat one cabbage root and five bitter almonds.
Serbian medieval medicine ended in 1757. when first Serb graduated from medical university
in Halle. That was Jovan Apostolović. His graduation and later dissertation for a doctoral
degree were milestone in Serbian history of medicine.
That’s all for now thanks for watching.


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