The 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 12-15, 2016.
A coalescence of several factors –increased access to manuscripts because of digitization projects, new interest in the history of medicine and health, and a widened perspective on western Europe’s ties to the Mediterranean and beyond– have brought new attention to the work and activities of Constantinus Africanus (d. ante 1098/99), the first known translator to render Arabic medical literature into Latin. Coming from North Africa, he eventually settled at the monastery of Monte Cassino under the famed abbot Desiderius (d. 1087). Despite the unquestionable impact of his work, much remains to be investigated about the texts he produced and the larger revolution in western medicine he facilitated. Thinking about Constantine in terms of the “Beneventan zone” focuses our attention on three key issues.
1) What was happening in medicine in southern Italy even before Constantine arrived? Increasing evidence suggests that Monte Cassino was already a buzzing center of medical activity: older medical texts were being dusted off, edited, and newly copied. Compendia of pharmaceutical recipes were being compiled. In some cases, they were being crafted into new works that employed alphabetical or head-to-toe schemas to create new order. Several texts were being translated from Greek into Latin. What prompted all this activity? Why this new attention to older manuscripts and texts?
2) What did Constantine bring with him from North Africa, not only in terms of his books or his learning, but also of the culture of the Islamicate world? Constantine’s arrival in Salerno ca. 1077 coincided with the Normans’ continuing campaign to retake Muslim Sicily. Incursions into North Africa itself would follow later. One of the striking ways in which Constantine transformed western medicine was in bringing into the pharmacopeia a much larger array of items of *materia medica* widely used in the Islamicate world but which were still unknown in the Latin world. Indeed, for his medicine to function, there had to have been a considerable transformation of the medicinal products sold in local shops. In other words, Constantine did not simply translate Arabic medicine into Latin. He contributed to an already expanding Latin medical corpus, vocabulary, and pharmacopeia by making essential participation in new international markets of drugs.
3) Intriguingly, the script being used for these medical books also shows a point of inflection. There was a mini-explosion of new copying of medical texts in the middle decades of the 11th century, mostly in Beneventan, and mostly using local Beneventan exemplars as sources. But already during Constantine’s lifetime (and even Desiderius’s lifetime), we see increasing use of Caroline. In fact, only a handful of the nearly 30 texts associated with Constantinus have survived in Beneventan copies. Why? Certainly, the past several decades of Beneventan studies have shown that that script was more often used for certain kinds of texts and registers of writing, particularly liturgy. But medicine had not been excluded before, and we see under Desiderius’ reign the production of some of the largest medical compendia in Beneventan that we know of. Did Beneventan’s status change? Or was there a perception of a new, larger “market” for medical texts, one where the local script of the old Lombard duchy would no longer do?
These two sessions will thus focus on medicine as a mode of communication and activity that connected the Beneventan zone both with its neighboring Muslim and Greek regions, but also with the rest of Latin Europe north of Rome. Papers will be welcome that connect any of these themes, but particularly those that focus on how script and book production help us pinpoint the particular, radical transformations in medicine in this period.
If interested, please submit an abstract of roughly 250-300 words along with a Participant Information Form (PIF), which can be found at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/index.html#PIF
All proposal materials are due by September 15, 2015.
Send proposals or inquiries to:
Dept. of History
441 E. Fordham Rd.
Bronx, NY 10458