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Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians

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There was without doubt a chasm between rich and poor during the entire pre-NHS period (and only slowly diminishing post the foundation of that service). It is concerned with ‘the largely neglected and often disturbing history of European court medicine: when kings, ladies, gentlemen, priests and scientists used and consumed human body parts to treat a broad variety of common ailments of the time'. His previous publications include: John Donne (Palgrave, 2007), Murder After Death (Cornell, 2007), The Smoke of the Soul (Palgrave, 2013), and The Secret History of the Soul (Cambridge Scholars, 2013).

More Hamburger icon An icon used to represent a menu that can be toggled by interacting with this icon.A Century of Supernatural Stories - Spectral cats; magical candles; parents murdering their fairy children. I wish certain areas were delved into or prodded a bit to discuss its connection to other things mentioned.

I also knew that some remedies in this class continued much longer than anyone in the 21 st century might care to think. In the west it became known around the 12 th century, when it appears to have been confused with the Arabic mumia: a mineral pitch, which was also used medicinally. Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires charts in vivid detail the largely forgotten history of European corpse medicine, when kings, ladies, gentlemen, priests and scientists prescribed, swallowed or wore human blood, flesh, bone, fat, brains and skin against epilepsy, bruising, wounds, sores, plague, cancer, gout and depression. Picking our way through the bloodstained shadows of this remarkable secret history, we encounter medicine cut from bodies living and dead, sacks of human fat harvested after a gun battle, gloves made of human skin, and the first mummy to appear on the London stage. And yet the myths about cannibals in the furthest reaches of the New World only got started in earnest when cannibalism—sanctioned by church, state, and science—became a thing in the Old World.Certainly this would not give formal medical recipes or procedures, but it might show where some of the earlier ‘rich persons’ medicine had gone. Or that rich men were willing to pay poor urchins to come to their estates, where their arms would be incised with razors and their blood would be drunk straight from the vein while still hot, warm, and pulsing. Tuck into the second and revised edition of Richard Sugg’s book, Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires, which shows the different ways in which the human body was prescribed and eaten as medicine by people throughout Europe, right up until the reign of Queen Victoria. Thinking I had seen (in my mind’s eye) just about every horrific or bizarre spectacle of blood drinking at the scaffolds of Austria, Germany or Scandinavia, even I was impressed to read of the near riot in 1866, when desperate men and women crammed blood-soaked earth into their mouths after a rare Swedish beheading. Medicinal cannibalism utilised the formidable weight of European science, publishing, trade networks and educated theory.

Children might be inoculated; babies were more frequently born in hospital, but home doctoring was a proud and continuing norm for many people, and some procedures and recipes were indeed very odd and ancient. This book is full of rich detail, making you both recoil and yet read on, fascinated by our ancestors’ imaginative ways to try and heal the sick. In its quest to understand the strange paradox of routine Christian cannibalism we move from the Catholic blood-drinking of the Eucharist, through the routine filth and discomfort of early modern bodies, and in to the potent, numinous source of corpse medicine’s ultimate power: the human soul itself. Sugg refers to its use by John Donne in the 17th century, and supposes that he was better able to deal with the idea because he was (as a clergyman) able to embrace the pigeons as God’s creatures.This rich and authoritative account of beliefs about the medical efficacy of dead bodies is a fascinating, if gruesome, eye-opener.

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