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A letter from Aldobrandino of Siena (1256)

Translated letter: 

At the beginning of this book, we shall say why it was done, where it first was, and when it was done at the request of the countess of Provence, mother of the queen of France, the queen of England, the queen of Germany, and the countess of Anjou.

And master Alebrans of Florence did it, in the year of the incarnation of Jesus Christ 1256, when she was to come to see her daughters, as she did, and she had this book made for her because he could not go with her, because she did not want him to leave the merchants from beyond the Alps he was taking care of, and she was more attached to him than to any other. So she had him make this book to take it with her and keep it.

And he did the book in 4 parts, of which the first speaks of the whole body, which things are proper to keep its health and which not, and it is divided into 20 chapters. The second part speaks of how to care for each member in itself. The third part of the things that we use in common. The fourth teaches how one can, by nature, know man and woman from the outside.

And let all who will see and hear this book know that they should not doubt him who made it; for no one living can fault him, except by corrupt writers, for he has brought authors/authorities in astronomy, nature, and medicine to witness what the book treats.

It speaks of astronomy where it speaks of the twelve signs by which the sun makes its course, the elements, the planets, and other things which are invisible to us; it speaks of medicine when it teaches us to care for the body in health and remove illnesses and many other things.

It gives instruction in nature, as how to know the nature of men and women and many other things that we have to use, which are not proved by tainted experiences with no authority, but rather by the best authorities who speak of the aforesaid three sciences, Hypocrates, Galen, Constantine, Jehennist(?), Isaac, Aristotle, Diogenes, Serapion, Rasis, Avicenna, and other authors that will each be found in his chapter, one supported by another.

God who, in his great power, established the world, who first made heaven, then the 4 elements, earth, water, air, and fire, and was pleased to have all other things from the moon down made by the power of these 4 elements, that is grasses, trees, birds and all other bests, fish, and men, and he made all the other things before he made man, and he made man last, in his semblance, as the most noble creature he could make on earth, and gave him complete lordship over all things what he had made first, and he wants everything to be subject to man because he is as the end/goal of all things. As Aristotle says, one should know that the end is the best thing in all works, for by the end one does whatever one does.

Now, one should know, since all things are made of the 4 elements, as you have heard, and because the 4 elements change their nature always from one to another, and become corrupt, it is fitting that everything made form the 4 elements becomes corrupt, gets young, gets old, changes, and can not remain in one state.

Thus, since man is engendered and made from these 4 elements, not by nature as are the stars and the angels which remain in one state and do not change, but man as long as he lives until he dies changes from day to day and will never remain in one state, therefore Our Lord gave him, as the noblest creature, a science which is called physics, by which he can care for the health he gave him at first and can remove illnesses, for physics is made especially to care for health; but do not think that physics is a science to make man live forever, but to guide man until his natural death. And know that natural death is in 70 years by nature and more or less as it pleases Our Lord.

And I shall tell you why, for man grows in force and beauty and vigor up to 35 years and then it is fitting that he spend the same time getting old and going to nothing, as Avicenna shows. Thus one can see that those who die before their natural term do so because of an outrage to their nature and their constitution, and those who live longer, do so because they have a good constitution and good care from physics. And there are also a number of other reasons which we shall not say, because one would have to ave a lot of learning in order to understand them. So understand that what we shall tell you is according to nature, but living and dying is at the pleasure of Our Lord.

Now, we shall talk about one part of that science that we have named, which God gave man to take care of his body, which has many parts as we shall tell you. One part is to take care of the body, the generally healthy as well as the unhealthy, as Constantine says, and the other can be to care for each member in itself and for that there will be 2 principal parts in this work because we are principally concerned with these two, and the third will speak of simple things that man has to use, the fourth is called physionomy, by which one knows from looking at a man if he is good or bad, and each part will have special chapters as we shall find:

the first is about air; the second eating; the third drinking; the fourth sleeping and waking; the 5th working and resting; the 6th bathing; the 7th living with a woman; the 8th why one should avoid anger; the 9th, at what time one should be bled; the 10th, why one should cup and what it benefits; the 11th, what bloodsuckers are good for and why one uses them; the 12th, why one should purge and when; the 13th, why it is does good to vomit and what it is good for; the 14th, how one can guard against pestilence and corruption in the air; the 15th, how one should care for the body in each season of the year; the 16th, how one can know the places and cities where one lives most healthily; the 17th, how to take care of oneself on a sea voyage; the 18th, how a woman should care for herself when she is pregnant and how to teach a woman to deliver her child easily; the 19th, how to take care of the child once it is born and how to know and choose the nurse to take care of and nourish the child; the 20th, how to take care of the body in each age and how to retard oldage and keep oneself young.

Because we have said above that we want to talk about some parts of physics, for better understanding of what we shall tell you, we will say first what physics is.

Physics is a science by which one know all manners of man's body and by which one cares for the health of the body and removes illness, and we can say that this science has 2 parts: one is theory, the other practice.

By theory, we know how to recognize and judge all the laws of physics, that is to recognize and know that there are 3 kinds of fevers. In one case, the humors are corrupted, and this kind of fever physicians call "putrid fever" (phebris putrida). Another happens to the members, which is called ethics (ethica). The third comes from the spirit, which is called ephemera (effimera). These laws of physics and many others we know by theory.

By practice we know how and in what manner one should act and maintain man in health and remove illness. We begin thus with how one should know to take care of the health of the body in practice, and we leave the theory, because that is not part of our concern, and first we shall begin with the air.

Original letter: 

Au commencement de che livre, si dirons pour coi il fu fais, et la où il fu prins, et quant il fu fais à le requeste le contesse de Prouvenche ki est mere le roine de France, le roine d’Engletiere, et le roine de Alemaigne, et la contesse d’Angou.

Et si le fist maistres Alebrans de Florence, en l’an de l’incarnation Jhesu Crist ans, quant ele dut venir veir ses filles si com ele fist, et li fist cest livre por che k’il ne pooit aler avoec li, car ele ne vaut mie k’il laissast les marcheans d’outre les mons k’il avoit en cure, et ele tenoit plus de lui ke d’un autre. Si li fist faire che livre por porter avoec li et por garder.

Et il mist .iiij. parties el livre, de coi li premiere parole de tout le cors, quels coses il sont propres à santé garder et queles non, et est ordenee par. xx. capiteles. || La seconde partie parole de cascun menbre garder à per lui. Li tierche partie parole des coses k’il nous couvient user communement. Le quarte enseigne coument on puet, par nature, counoistre l’oume et le femme par dehors.

Et sachent tout cil ki ce livre verront et orront k’il ne doutent mie de celui ki le fist; ke nus ki vive i sace ke reprendre, se n’est par les escrivains corrunpus, car il entrait à tiesmoignage les auteurs, d’astronomie, de natures et de medecine de coi li livres parole.

D’astronomie parole il là où il parole des .xxi. signes par coi li solaux fait sen cours, des elemens et des planetes et d’autres coses ki nous sont invisibles; de medecine parole il en ce k’il nous aprent le cors à garder en sante et à remouvoir les maladies et mout d’autres coses.

De natures dist il enseignemens, si com de counoistre le nature des hommes et des femmes et de mout || autres coses k’i nous couvient user, et ce n’est mie prouvé par les esperimens corrunpus ki ne sont mie d’auteur, ains est prouve par les milleurs auteurs ki parolent de ces .iij. sciences devant dites, si com par Ypocras, par Galiien, par Constentin, par Jehenniste, par Ysaac, par Aristotele, par Diogenen, par Serapion, par Rasis, et par Avicenne, et autres auteurs que cascuns detierminara en sen capitele, li .i. par l’autorité de l’autre.

Diex, ki par sa grant poissance, le monde establi, ki premierement fist le ciel, apriè fist les .iiij. elemens, c’est la tiere, li ewe, li airs
et li fus, si li plot ke toutes les autres coses de la lune en aval fussent faites par le vertu de ces .iiij. elemens, si com sont herbes, arbre, oisel et toutes autres biestes, poissons, et houmes, et fist premierement toutes ces coses avant k’il fesist oume, et l’oume fist il au deesrain, à sa samblance, por le plus noble creature k’il pe||ust faire en tiere, et li douna le segnorie entiere de toutes coses qu’il avoit premierement faites et volt que toutes les coses fussent obeisans à l’oume por çou qu’il est ausi com fins de toutes coses. Si com dist Aristoteles, ke on doit bien savoir que fins est li miudre cose en totes oevres, car par le fin fait on quank on fait.

Or, doit on savoir, puis que toutes coses sont faites des .iiij. elemens, si com vous avés oii, et por çou que cist .iiij. element se remuent tous jors li .i. à le nature de l’autre, et se corrunpent, couvient que toutes le coses ki sont faites des .iiij. elemens se corrunpent, ajovenissent, enviellissent et se cangent, ne ne puent en .i. estat demorer.

Donques, puis que li ons est de ces .iiij. elemens engerrés et fais, ne mie de le nature, com sont les estoiles et li angele ki tous jors sont en .i. estat et ne se cangent, mais li om tant com il vit, ains qu’il muire, se cange de jour en jor, et ja en .i. estat ne porra demou||rer, et por ce, Notre Sires li dona, si com à le plus noble creature qui soit, une science k’on apiele phisike, par le quele il gardast le santé qu’il li dona premierement et peust encore remouvoir les maladies, car phisike est faite especiaument por le santé garder; et n’entendés mie que phisique soit science por l’oume faire vivre tous jours, ains est faite por conduire l’omme jusque la mort naturel. Et sachiés que mors natureus si est en .lxx.ans par nature, et plus et mains, si com il plaist à Nostre Signeur.

Et si vous dirai por coi, car tant com li ons met à croistre en force, en biauté et en vigeur, si est .xxxv. ans et dont couvient tant de tans à envillier et à aler à noient, si com il le proeve par Avicenne. Donques, puet on veir que cil qui murent devant le tierme naturel, c’est par l’outrage qu’il font à lor nature et à lor complexion, et cil qui vivent plus, si lor avient par boine complexion qu’il ont et par boine garde qu’il puent faire de phisique. Et encore i a autres || raisons assés que nous ne dirons pas, por ce k’il couvient assés savoir de clergie qui entendre le vauroit. Et entendés ke çou ke nous vous dirons si est selonc nature, mais li vivres et li mourirs est au plaisir Notre Signor.

Or, dirons dont .i. partie de cele science que nous vous avons noumee, la quele Diex dona à l’omme por garder sen cors, car ele a maintes parties si com nous vous dirons. L’une partie si est por garder le cors, tot ausi le bien sain com le mal sain generaument, si com dist Constentins, et l’autre puet iestre de garder cascun menbre par lui, et por çou, ara en ceste oevre .ij. principals parties, car de ces .ij. entendons nous principaument, et la tierche i sera ki dira des simples coses qu’il convient à oume user, la quarte i sera qui est apelee phisanomie, par coi on counoist l’omme de regarder s’il est boens ou malvais, et cascune partie aura capitaus especiaus si com nous trouverons:

Li premiers est de l’air.

Li secons de mangier.

Li tiers dou boire.

Li quars du dormir et du vellier.

Li .v. du travellier et du reposer.

Li .vi. du baignier.

Li .vii. d’abiter avoec femme.

Li .viii. por coi on se doit garder de courous.

Li .ix. en quel tans on se doit sainier.

Li .x. por coi on se doit ventoser et à coi il fait bien.

Li .xi. à quel cose les sansues font bien et por coi on les use.

Li .xij. por coi on se doit purgier et en quel tans.

Li .xiij. por coi il fait boin user le vomir et à coi il est boins.

Li .xiiij. comment on se doit garder de pestilense et de corruption d’air.

Li .xv. comment on doit le cors garder en cascune saison de l’an.

Li .xvi. comment on doit connoistre les lius et les viles por demorer plus sainnement.

Li .xvij. comment on se doit garder ki veut errer par mer.

Li .xviij. comment li femme se doit garder puis k’ele est encainte et comment on puet aprendre à femme à soi delivrer legierement de sen enfant.

Li .xix. comment on doit l’enfant garder puis qu’il est nés et comment on doit counoistre et eslire le nourice por garder et nourir l’enfant.

Li. xx. comment on doit sen cors garder en cascun aige et comment on puet le villece atargier et soi maintenir jone.

Por ce que nous vous avons dit desus ke nous volions dire d’aucune partie de phisique, si que por entendre miex ce ke nous vous dirons, si dirons tot premierement que est phisike.

Phisique est .i. science par lequele on counoist toutes les manieres du cors de l’hom et par lequele on garde le santé du cors et remue les maladies, et poons dire que ceste science a .ij. parties: l’une des parties est apelee theorike, et l’autre pratike.

Pars theorike, savons nous counoistre et jugier tous les commandemens de phisique, c’est à counoistre et à savoir qu’il sont .iij. manieres de fievres. si avient que les humeurs sont corrunpues, et ceste maniere de fievre apielent li phisitiien phebris pu||trida. L’autre si avient as menbres, la quele il apielent ethica. La tierce si est qui vient des esperis, la quele on apiele effimera. Iceus commandemens de phisique et autres pluiseurs savons nous par theorique.

Par pratique, savons nous comment et en quel maniere on doit ouvrer et maintenir homme en santé et le maladie removoir. Conmençons donques comment on doit savoir garder le santé du cors par pratike, et laissons ester le theorike por ce que de li n’est mie no ententions, et premierement començerons de l’air.

Historical context: 

The countess commissioned a work from Aldobrandino on taking care of the body to bring to her daughters, as he says in his prologue. The text is in French.

Printed source: 

Le Régime du Corps de Maître Aldebrandin de Siénne, ed. Louis Landouzy and Roger Pepin (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1911).