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Mummies, cannibals and vampires
The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians

Author: Richard Sugg
Publisher: Routledge
Pages: 384
Publication date: 2011

Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires charts in vivid detail the largely forgotten history of European corpse medicine, when kings, ladies, gentlemen, priests and scientists prescribed, swallowed or wore human blood, flesh, bone, fat, brains and skin against epilepsy, bruising, wounds, sores, plague, cancer, gout and depression.

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One thing we are rarely taught at school is this: James I refused corpse medicine; Charles II made his own corpse medicine; and Charles I was made into corpse medicine.

Ranging from the execution scaffolds of Germany and Scandinavia, through the courts and laboratories of Italy, France and Britain, to the battlefields of Holland and Ireland, and on to the tribal man-eating of the Americas, Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires argues that the real cannibals were in fact the Europeans. Medicinal cannibalism utilised the formidable weight of European science, publishing, trade networks and educated theory.

For many, it was also an emphatically Christian phenomenon. And, whilst corpse medicine has sometimes been presented as a medieval therapy, it was at its height during the social and scientific revolutions of early-modern Britain. It survived well into the eighteenth century, and amongst the poor it lingered stubbornly on into the time of Queen Victoria. This innovative book brings to life a little known and often disturbing part of human history.

Extracts from the book:

Swiss physician and herbalist Conrad Gesner (1516-65) refers to 'a most precious water of Albert Magnus.' To make this you should 'distil the blood of a healthful man, by a glass, as men do rose water. With this any disease of the body, if it be anointed therwith, is made whole, and all inward diseases by the drinking thereof. A small quantity thereof received, restoreth them that have lost all their strength: it cureth the palsy effectuously, and preserveth the body from all sickness.' St Albertus Magnus (1206-80 was the greatest scientist of his day.

In Germanic countries hangmen rigorously exploited the bodies of condemned felons for flesh, skin and bone, among other things. Most of all they seem to have been keen to supply themselves with human fat. In Munich the executioner delivered human fat to the apothecaries by the pound until the mid eighteenth century. The same happened in France and Italy. In Italy ... what was sought after above all was the fat, but also the blood, teeth, hair, burnt skull and the navel.

An alleged attempted cure for the dying Pope Innocent VIII in 1492: three healthy youths were bribed by the pope's physician. They youths were cut and bled —blood letting was a routine medical procedure of the time — but the youths were bled to death. The pope drank their blood, still hot and fresh in an attempt to revive his failing powers, but he died soon after.

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Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians


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