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People in late medieval England were concerned about their health, and like their modern-day counterparts they might turn to self-help guides. One of the most popular ways to do this in the Late Middle Ages would be to analyze your own urine.
M. Teresa Tavormina, a Professor of Medieval Literature at Michigan State University, has been researching this field of medieval medicine. Last year she spoke at the University of Toronto, giving a lecture on ‘Mapping a Medieval Yukon: The Rough Guide to Middle English Uroscopy Texts’. She has discovered more than 210 manuscripts with uroscopies in Middle English, as well as many more in Latin and French.
While it has long been known that medieval doctors saw studying urine as very important to determining one’s health, the large number of Middle English texts shows that it was popular for the less educated practitioner or as a self-help guide.
Tavormina explains these texts were often short, some being like “cheat sheets” which would list the symptoms and their significance. One could examine urine based on its colour (including white, green or black), its taste (it could be sour, bitter or sweet) and even its smell.
When the urine is described as looking like snot, it meant that it seemed to have phlegm or things floating in the urine. If you were a man this indicating you could be suffering from gout, while for women it could mean that you were pregnant.
Tavormina notes that these texts analyzed urine for both men and women, and that female health was often a special sub-topic in the works. The texts explained that one could determine if a woman was a virgin, had sex recently or was pregnant.
Tavormina also gave a similar lecture – ‘Prognosis v. Diagnosis in Middle English Uroscopic Texts’ at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2012. You can listen to it below:
Tess Tavormina – Prognosis v. Diagnosis in Middle English Uroscopic Texts by Backdoor Broadcasting Company on Mixcloud