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HEALTH AND WELL BEING : A MEDIEVAL GUIDE

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HEALTH AND WELL BEING : A MEDIEVAL GUIDE

Profusely illustrated with 132 full colour images from 6th century Byzantium, 11th century Iraq and 14th century Italy

  • By Andrew Forbes, Daniel Henley and David Henley

The Tacuinum Sanitatis is a medieval handbook on Health and Well Being. First printed in Europe in 1531, it was aimed at an educated secular readership and offered concise and sensible advice on how to live a long, healthy and enjoyable life.

Four handsomely illustrated manuscripts of the Tacuinum survive, all produced in Lombardy and now housed, respectively, at libraries in Rome, Vienna, Paris and Liège.

The Latin text describes in detail the beneficial and harmful properties of plants and foodstuffs, as well as considering social, physiological and psychological aspects of wellness. Following established medieval principles, it sets forth six essential elements for mental and physical well-being:

  • Sufficient food and drink in moderation
  • The importance of fresh air
  • Regular alternating periods of activity and rest
  • Regular alternating patterns of sleep and wakefulness
  • Maintaing balance of the Humours or Four Temperaments
  • Positive and Negative effects of states of mind

The Tacuinum hypothesises that Illness results from imbalance of these elements, therefore a healthy life should be lived in harmony.

Interestingly, the Medieval European Tacuinum is based on an earlier Arabic work, the Taqwim al‑sihha تقويم الصحة  or ‘Maintenance of Health', an eleventh-century Arab medical treatise by Ibn Butlan, a Christian physician of the Abbasid Period who practiced in 11th century Baghdad. Ibn Butlan‘s Maintenance of Health deals with matters of hygiene, dietetics, and exercise, emphasizing the benefits of regular attention to personal physical and mental well-being.

Still more fascinating, Ibn Butlan‘s study rests in large part on the seminal work of the 1st century CE Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist Dioscorides, author of De Materia Medica, a five volume encyclopedia and pharmacopeia examining in detail the medicinal properties of herbs, plants, vegetables and other foodstuffs that was written in Asia Minor between 50 and 70 CE.

The Tacuinum, therefore, represents more than 1,500 years of accumulated medical knowledge from Ancient Greece, the Islamic Golden Age and Medieval Europe. Although the ‘Four Temperaments' hypothesis is rejected by modern science, the common sense approach and good advice of the Tacuinum as a Guide to Health and Wellness rings down through the ages and and is of surprising contemporary relevance.

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