Medical Texts in Old English

(1251 words)
  • Debby Banham (University of Cambridge)

Historical Context Essay

England was unique in western Europe in having a medical literature in its own tongue in the early middle ages. Why this should be is not clear, but there is probably a connection with the programme of translation from Latin to Old English conducted under the aegis of King Alfred (871–99). Like other early medieval medical texts, the Old English (OE) ones contain little original composition, but consist mainly of compilations and recompilations. Most of their contents, mainly recipes with some charms and prayers and a limited amount of theoretical material, go back ultimately, and in some cases immediately, to Latin sources, but there is also native Anglo-Saxon material in most of them. Apart from the major collections discussed h…

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Banham, Debby. "Medical Texts in Old English". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 14 August 2009
[, accessed 02 July 2015.]