Literature & Scholarship

Don’t Try Pre-Modern Medicine at Home!

Yvette Hunt’s new translation of the Medicina Plinii is a welcome addition to the history of medicine, particularly for those who don’t have the linguistic training to read it in Latin.[1] I can imagine it finding a place in the unit on medicine in my Introduction to the History of Science. [2]

Hunt’s English translation of the Medicina Plinii

While the text should be useful as a tool for introducing students to the history of medicine, the disclaimer at the front suggests that the author (or the publisher’s attorney) worries that some people will read it as a how-to manual.

Stunningly, the legal department thinks this English translation of a pre-modern medical text needs a “Don’t Try This At Home” disclaimer.

Do not try these at home

The advice outlined in this text was meant for an ancient audience and does not constitute modern medical advice.
Not only was the vast majority of ancient medicine ineffectual, in some cases it was injurious to patient health. Many of the medicaments used are toxic, and even those which are not are dangerous as it is impossible to determine how an individual might react to chemicals they contain. Yes, these remedies can be considered natural, but natural does not mean safe!
This research was conducted for historical purposes only, and the authors are not responsible for the effects on anyone who experiments with these treatments.

As much as I would like to think the legal department is being overly cautious here, I would not be surprised to hear of somebody trying these treatments in the name of some misguided commitment to a twisted sense of homeopathic remedies. I can imagine the affluent raw water fans in Silicon Valley shelling out $124 (+ tax and shipping) for this book and sharing their favorite recipes.

  1. Or the other languages into which it has been translated.  ↩
  2. In fact, I placed a rush order through our library so I could use it in this coming semester, despite the price.  ↩