A history of Scottish medicine: themes and influences by Helen Dingwall

By Helen Dingwall

Together with advancements in drugs, surgical procedure, and replacement medication relating to the altering financial and social heritage, the writer bargains a brand new synthesis of drugs and society in Scotland.

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There may not have been double-blind controlled trials of digitalis and other plants; what there was, though, was a gradual build-up in the communal experience of the effects of the ingestion or external application of an immense variety of substances, either singly or in combinations. In this sense, there was probably very little difference between the usage of plant-based remedies in ancient, medieval and, indeed, in early-modern Scotland. 19 From this, much useful information can be derived about medicine in ancient times.

Even with the advent of the printed word in some of the more advanced areas of Europe towards the end of the first millennium, one of the most popular medical illustrations was that of ‘zodiac man’ – a representation of a human being, together with the symbols of the zodiac placed on the part of the body which would be affected if the individual became ill during the span of a particular sign. For example, if someone became ill in April, under the sign of Taurus, it was considered most likely that the neck would be affected, or would be the seat and cause of the disease.

In 1000 AD the Scottish equivalent may not have been referred to in these terms, but in effect he or she was in all other respects a normal member of the community, with no special training, but the recipient of special gifts of prophecy and cure. This is perhaps one of the fundamental aspects of pre-medieval medicine in relatively uncivilised parts of the world – those who cured were not trained to cure in any modern sense; rather they were recognised as having been given powers to cure. In 2002 AD those who minister to medical needs have ‘powers’ which have been acquired after lengthy periods of specialised study; in 1000 AD individual healers became identified by other means.

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