Friday, July 6, 2012


A leechbook was a collection of remedies, called so because a physician or surgeon was called a "leech." Bald's Leechbook is a very early (9th century) example.

It contains the only known plastic surgery procedure in an Anglo-Saxon text:
For hare lip, pound mastic very small, add the white of an egg, and mingle as thou dost vermilion, cut with a knife the false edges of the lip, sew fast with silk, then smear without and within with the salve, ere the silk rot. If it draw together, arrange it with the hand; anoint again soon.
We don't know if this is just theory, or if it were actually put into practice with the desired results.

Bald was not the author, and not likely a medical man. A Latin colophon at the end states:
Bald habet hunc librum Cild quem conscribere iussit
"Bald owns this book which he ordered Cild to compile."
Cild may have been someone with medical experience as well as being the organizer of the book, or he may have simply been a copyist who brought together various sources for Bald. Two doctors are mentioned in the book, Dun and Oxa, but we don't know much else about them.

The leechbook is organized into two volumes, dealing respectively with external (such as skin, teeth, or ear) and internal (such as upset stomach, jaundice, or vomiting blood) problems. The surgery is in part one. This organization is different from many other leechbooks and collections of knowledge, which often gather together every bit of lore known to the author without much regard for categorization. Another collection is a late 10th/early 11th century manuscript named Lacnunga (Anglo-Saxon for "Remedies") by its 19th century editor. It uses Anglo-Saxon and Latin to list medical knowledge, remedies (some the same as in Bald's), prayers, charms and incantations, and some Old Irish poetical prayers for health.

Both are found in the British Library. A 19th century searchable edition of Bald's can be found here.

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