Swordsman's blood in the cure of epilepsy: New contributions to an old form of magical treatment

Ferdinand Peter MOOG
Institute for the History of Medicine and Medical Ethics, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

Magical rituals, often involving blood, have traditionally been an integral part of epilepsy treatment in ancient and medieval times (Temkin, 1971). the Roman Encyclopedist Celsus (1 AD) is the first author to mention the blood of a slaughtered gladiator as a remedy to be employed with caution. Celsus' sources, however, are unknown.

One of the next medical authors to refer to swordsman's blood was Alexander of Tralles, although the relevant passage in his Medical Books is not widely known. It is greatly surprising that even Theodor Puschmann, the 19th century editor of Alexander's writings, was unable to identify the sources of this important Byzantine compiler.

This paper introduces new findings and hypotheses about the magical tradition which emerges in both classical authors. A detailed examination of Alexander's text leads to the following conclusions: Marinus, a bishop from Thracia (4th century AD), was mostly the author of a magical formula for epilepsy which was an important source for Alexander. In this way, an important missing link between pagan rituals for epileptics and early Christian treatment can be identified for the first time. Furthermore, Marinus, a controversial figure who played an important role in ecclesiastical history, can be regarded as one of the first clergymen to act as powerful healers against the falling sickness.


Session VII -- Pharmacological and Magical Aspects of Neurology
Friday, 15 June 2001, 3:30 pm

Sixth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Eighth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Cologne, Germany