• The Hub

    News, Notes, Talk

    Did you know that Medieval physicians tied astrology handbooks to their belts for medical help?

    Jonny Diamond

    October 19, 2021, 10:21am

    Did you know that medieval “doctors” (aka chirugeons, aka physicians, aka barbers, aka chymists, aka… witches?) used to carry around little astrology handbooks to help them plan their doctoring? They were called “girdle books” because they were so important in planning which leeches should go where (and when) that doctors would tie them to their belts (along with onions?). These little books contained information about saints days, eclipses, the sun’s position in the zodiac, and other astrological details; most significantly, they often featured astrological “maps” of the body, with various parts lined up with the zodiac.

    Article continues below

    So, for example:

    Ye aulde physician: “We’re going to need to lop off your leg below the knee and stuff the cavity with mistletoe but not until next Tuesday when Mercury is in Capricorn Rising.”

    Terrified serf: “Ok.”

    If you find this fascinating and strange, and would like to know more, you can read this and/or you can actually buy one of these rare girdle books for the low, low price of around $20,000. Of the roughly 30 of these books known to have survived over the last 700 years, one will be up for auction in North Yorkshire next month. According to Fine Books Magazine:

    Article continues below

    It appears to have been made in England circa 1425, according to the auctioneers, and is comprised of six folded vellum leaves with Latin text written in brown and red ink, stitched together and accompanied by its original silk-lined leather cover. Eminently portable and practical, a girdle book would have sustained daily use by its owner, in this case, likely a physician in southern England.

    Featuring an illuminated miniature of the Zodiac man, an illustration that purports to show which parts of the body relate to which astrological positions, this book would have been particularly useful for planning therapeutic aid.

    Think of the fun you could have at parties, just whipping out Zodiac Man to help your friends with their kickball injuries.

  • Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

    For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.

    x