Medical Poetry

The Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum (or The Medical Poem of the School of Salerne) is a document initially written as a poem and finalized in the 1300’s by learned monks/physicians at a monastery/town (Salerne) in northern Italy. Salerno was a stopping point along one of the main roads leading from Western Europe to the Levant during the years of the Crusades (1095 – 1396).

This poem was well known throughout Europe in its Latin version, only translated to English by Sir John Harington in the late 1500’s. Later (in 1608), it was republished as The Englishmans Doctor, thereafter served as a guide to the basic practice of health and medicine in England. It is the best-known surviving literary example of medieval domestic medical practices. A  12th German century Romance, Hartman von Aue's Der arme Heinrich (Poor Henry) uses Salerno and the medical poem as a plot device to help cure the suffering Henry of leprosy if he travels to Salerno to receive medical advice.

Rather than poetry sung for its entertainment value, the poetic verses were used for their practical mnemonic function: aphorisms, maxims, and the balanced structure of the human body in relation to the universe (sympathy) could be easily memorized in poetic form.  

A properly trained doctor who knew the sympathies between the four elements, four humors, four temperaments, and four complexions of all natural objects could then prescribe a treatment for an imbalanced patient. 


Diagnostic Table


Background on Medical Poetry

Medicine and poetry.pdf