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Title: Of illness and cures : concepts of health in early modern Malta
Authors: Cassar, Carmel
Keywords: Malta -- History -- Knights of Malta, 1530-1798
Public health -- Malta
Issue Date: 2002
Publisher: Apes
Citation: Cassar, C. (2002). Of illness and cures : concepts of health in early modern Malta. La Storia della Medicina Come Ponte Culturale nel Bacino del Mediterraneo, Malta. 169-183.
Abstract: In early modern Malta, as in the rest of Europe, there existed two major systems by which one could explain health and sickness, life and death or, general success and failure in everyday life. The first was based on the general belief that God's omnipresence in the world served as an active force in which the good were rewarded and the impious Were punished. God showed his hand on the malevolence of the world in the devastation caused by warring activities or, the infliction of famine and plague. It was believed that the only way these scourges could be controlled was by resorting to supernatural power, Belief in supernatural healing may have been largely circular reasoning but since it was mostly ecclesiastical in nature it was believed to be supernatural and had a vast spiritual and therapeutic effect on the majority of the people. The other view was that put forward by learned medicine, based as it was on natural philosophy, which it largely borrowed from the Graeco-Roman world of antiquity and adapted to the Christian tradition. It was a view in which elements and humours were believed to govern everything in the natural world from meteorology to medicine. Pseudo-sciences such as astrology, magic and alchemy formed an integral part of this worldview and claimed to offer ways to understand and control the environment. In essence learned medicine was little different from popular magical healing since the practitioners had no real understanding of the circulation of blood, the nervous system, the digestive system nor anything else. The prescriptions they prepared were of little or no help and were indeed often potentially lethal. In order to give the impression that they were doing something useful physicians normally subjected their patients to a regime of emetics, purges and bleeding, as the normal forms of intervention available. Nonetheless one must admit that for all its weaknesses the medicinal healing of the times had a very powerful effect on the worldview of people from all social levels. In short the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time when the appeal of medical knowledge was almost entirely influenced by classical texts based on Greek, and to some extent Roman, popular knowledge. Medical practice was essentially based on Galenic medicine, which changed very little over the centuries until the late eighteenth century.
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