LEIGHEAS Manuscript of the Month: July 2024

Maynooth University Library MS C8 (3 A 8)

Deborah Hayden

View the manuscript online

Maynooth University Library MS C 8 (3 A 8), p. 43: The beginning of an Irish commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates (image courtesy of Irish Script on Screen)

This Irish medical codex comprises two parts: one a paper manuscript of 170 pages that has tentatively been dated to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on palaeographical grounds, and the other consisting of fragments of two printed books along with a few handwritten pages and fragments of medical material. The first part may have been written by three separate scribes; no certain names, dates or places are mentioned in relation to them, but various notes in the manuscript suggest that the codex subsequently passed through the hands of several individuals. These include ‘John Shiell’ (1650 and 1672), ‘Brian Mac Canna’ (1708) and ‘Semus Dubh Mac Bheathadh’. In the eighteenth century, the manuscript seems to have been in northeast Ulster; a note on p. 152, for example, mentions the parish of Inniskeen in County Monaghan.

The manuscript portion of the codex contains several Aristotelian aphorisms and an Irish translation of a commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, beginning with the famous opening phrase Vita brevis ars vero longa (‘life is short but skill is long [i.e. takes time]’). The manuscript also contains fragmentary Irish translations of the Hippocratic Prognostics and of the Colliget of Averroes, the latter of which was a widely used textbook from the later Middle Ages up to the eighteenth century. In addition, the collection includes Irish renderings of the De medicina by the Roman encyclopaedist Celsus (fl. first century AD) and of the popular text known as De pulsibus, a lengthy poem on Galenic pulsology by the twelfth-century French physician Gilles de Corbeil.

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