By Karin Zimmermann
In my recent First Monday Library Chat interview, I described the wonderful collections within the Bibliotheca Palatina at the Heidelberg University Library. As you might recall, one third of the German manuscripts within the Bibliotheca Palatina are recipe books. In fact, many of the Electors Palatine – the rulers of the Palatinate – were especially interested in medical prescriptions. They were eager to get information wherever they could and so they even collected single recipes. This kind of medical ‘small texts’ are revealing of social networks and the relationships which existed between the compilers and collectors. With a few exceptions the single recipes were handed down anonymously and so we know almost nothing about the authors of these small texts. However, in the larger collections, the names of the contributors are often mentioned either in the title of a whole manuscript or in the heading of a recipe.
The cited recipe contributors consist of not only professional physicians and surgeons but also of a large group of ‘layman or amateur doctors’. Some of the Electors Palatine were particularly known as collectors and compilers of medical literature. For example, over his life time, Louis V (reigned: 1508-1544) compiled and wrote in his own hand, a ‘Book of Medicine’ which spans 13 volumes (c. 3200 leaves of parchment) (Cod. Pal. germ. 244, 261-272)
Fig. 1: Recipes from one of the volumes of Louis V ‘Book of Medicine’ for the medical and magic use of carrots.
In order to save space, Louis V developed a system of scribal abbreviation. Often, a single recipe was supplied by various persons to him, that means up to ten people or even more gave him the same recipe. The mentioned ‘layman doctors’ are mostly members of the court, like a valet, a court organist, a scribe at the chancellery, a secretary or a bailiff. The example (Fig. 2) shows you the following abbreviations (you find the real name in parenthesis): P (Elector Palatine), C bar (Christoffel Federlein, barber of Louis), Hensell (Hensel von Schifferstadt, official), Jilge (Walter Gilg, barber), Cal (Wilhelm Kal, a court physician), Hurlewegin (Regina Hurleweg, a female physician), Has (Heinrich Has, court counsellor), Hanaw (Count Philipp III or IV of Hanau-Lichtenberg).
Fig. 2: A recipe against lice (Fur die leus) with the abbreviated names of eight contributors.
One of Louis V’s successors, Elector Palatine Louis VI (reigned: 1576–1583), was also an enthusiastic collector and compiler of recipes and medical texts. The Bibliotheca Palatina includes around 70 medical manuscripts connected to Louis VI. While many of the manuscripts were created for Louis VI by scribes, some of them include entries written in his own hand. Louis VI often rearranged the same recipes into different groups depending on what kind of collection he wanted to create. So we find collections where the recipes are ordered by indication, by different kinds of confection or even by the time when the main ingredient of the recipe can be harvested or the month when the medication should be used.
Fig. 3: The ‘Kunst-Buch’ (Book of arts) of Louis VI, his most elaborate collection, written down on more than 300 folios of parchment it contains more than 2.100 recipes and prescriptions.
When we begin to look at the kinds of diseases treated, we find that they reflect contemporary life at court. The eating habits, the high consumption particularly of wine and meat was not exactly conducive to health. So it is no surprise that there are many prescriptions for gout. Consequences of malnutrition and sexual debauchery can certainly to be seen in the recipes for haemorrhoids and genital warts. Much space is given to the field of gynaecology with recipes for the elimination of menstrual disorders, on obstetrics, or to regain lost fertility (for both men and women). Veterinary medicine is also well represented, though mainly in the area of ‘Roßarzneien’ (horse medicine). A phenomenon which may be explained by the preference for keeping horses at the court. Between the medical recipes there are often interspersed some cosmetic recipes or recipes for ‘beauty treatment’ like dying hair or brightening teeth. You can also learn something about disinfestations of fleas, lice, mice and so on; how to dye clothes and how to remove stains and other household recipes. In these cases the term ‘recipe’ is not exclusively based on the medical use. We might conclude by mentioning the cookbooks in the collection. It is interesting to note that the cooking recipes and the medical recipes are not often mixed together. Finally, of course, there is no lack of ‘varia et curiosa’. There are numerous magic and fun recipes, which are present in surprisingly large numbers and usually quite abruptly next to ‘normal’ medical recipes. The variation goes from love-spells to magic that should cause severe damage. Perhaps an indication of changing beliefs, it seems many contemporaries were suspicious of these practices and we often find notes like “who knows if that is useful” or in the margin.
Fig. 4: One of the readers made a note to a treatise with verveine (Verbena officinalis): “Zauberej so vorr gott ein greuell” (“Beware, that’s magic and an atrocity to god”).
If you want to explore the collection of medical manuscripts at HUL you are welcome. You can easily browse the codices online. As of late you can leave qualified annotations to the digitized manuscripts or folios. You only have to register (cf. Fig. 5). If you have any questions, feel free to contact me @ Zimmermann@ub.uni-heidelberg.de.