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Doctor Who? Trotula of Salerno

Trotula or a female healer inspecting a urine flask.

She was a physician and a grasp of the artwork of therapeutic who taught others. She is often referred to as Trotula, though her true identify was Trota or Trocta.  For 3 centuries medical works on the well being and remedy of girls circulated underneath her identify: “The Trotula”. She has been lauded as among the many best docs of the European Center Ages or she has been so forgotten that it has been stated that she didn’t even exist. It was solely on the finish of the 20th century that her true apply of drugs was recovered.


Columns of the courtyard of Salerno CathedralColumns of the courtyard of the Salerno Cathedral constructed by Robert Guiscard

Trotula lived in Salerno: however the Salerno of Trotula’s time is nearly as little generally known as she is herself. In her day it was a terrific metropolis. Even earlier than the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard had conquered Salerno, it had been capital of a Lombard principality. Afterwards, it turned the mainland capital of his rising Norman territory. Salerno was so spectacular that William of Apulia, the chronicler of Robert’s deeds, was to effuse:

Rome itself shouldn’t be extra luxurious than this metropolis;
It abounds in ships, timber, wine and sea;
There isn’t any lack right here of fruits, nuts, or lovely palaces,
Nor of female magnificence nore the probity of males.
One half spreads out over the plain, the opposite the hill,
And by any means you want is offered by both the land or the ocean.

William of Apulia, cited in The Trotula, p4.

The individuals of Salerno have been numerous, boasting residents of Lombard, Norman, Greek and Jewish heritage (its Jewish inhabitants of 600 was greater than some other centre in southern Italy). It was one of many main nodes of a maritime commerce at a central crossroads of the Mediterranean. In Trotula’s time, Salerno was one of many main cities of a united southern Italy and Sicily:  a state of affairs that had not existed for half a millennium.

Internal Arabic and European style ornamentation of the Cathedral of Salerno.Fusion of Arabic and European types within the inner ornamentation
of pulpits inside the Salerno Cathedral

Such was the celebrity of Salerno on this period that it drew students from throughout Europe, such because the English monk named Adelard of Tub travelled to Salerno to review the “studying of the Arabs”. Not distant, on the monastery of Monte Cassino a translation centre was established to translate Arabic works of curiosity to a Europe which awaking to the scientific advances occurring within the Islamic world to their south and east. As we will see under “the” Trotula (a e-book relatively than a lady) is related with Monte Cassino.

The Medical Faculty of Salerno

The healing of Robert a legend of the Scuola Medica Salernitana
The Therapeutic of Robert, a legend of the Medical Faculty of Salerno

Drugs was the sector for which Salerno was most recognized on this time and the follow of drugs that grew up there was generally known as the Scuola Medica Salernitana. Benjamin of Tudela who visited Salerno within the 1160s referred to Salerno as “the principal medical college of Christendom“. One other scholar Ordericus Vitalis within the first half to the twelfth century identifies it because the “seat of the chief faculties of European drugs from antiquity”.

A legend in relation to its creation was that it was the work of Rabinus Elinus, Adala and Magister Salernus; respectively a Jew, a Greek and a Latin. As with most legends there’s a grain of fact; though later scholarship is unable to confirm the legend. What has been demonstrated is that the monks of Monte Cassino and the drugs practised in Salerno have been intently linked.

The thread that linked them (and the legends) collectively was Constantine the African. He’s stated to have been a local of “Carthage” – an impossibility – until the time period referred usually to the world of Tunisia (by which the lengthy destroyed historic Carthage is discovered). He seems to have travelled extensively to such locations as Egypt, Baghdad, Babylon (additionally lengthy destroyed on the time) and India. His medical information triggered him to be suspected of sorcery and he finally fled to Salerno, the place on one account a visiting prince from the east observed him and pointed him out to Robert Guiscard. In consequence he served for a time as personal secretary to the Norman duke. Quickly sufficient nevertheless he withdrew to a monastic life in Monte Cassino the place he translated at the very least 20 main treatises on drugs from Arabic into Latin. (Notably his translations sometimes didn’t credit score the Arabic originals.) A few of his works have been to be related with Trotula’s identify as we will see under.

Trotula – The Lifetime of a Lady Doctor

Thus far we have now learnt nearly nothing about our Trotula and certainly she seems in frustratingly few references though so extensively often known as to be generally referred to as “Mom Trot”. Her identify seems as one of many extra outstanding authorities within the earliest compendium of the drugs of Salerno (the Compendium Salernitanum). Within the 1050s a discovered monk visiting Salerno expert in drugs among the many practitioners of Salerno discovered that just one: a “discovered lady” who excelled him in talent. Though this may need been Trotula; it’s simply as more likely to have been considered one of a circle of expert ladies who practised drugs in Salerno presently.

One legend says that Trotula was married to John Platearius, himself a doctor, and that she got here of the “distinguished and noble” Ruggiero household. However in fact little is understood and such legends are of newer confection. Trota was a standard identify in southern Italy within the twelfth century, and the identify seems seventy occasions in Salerno data of the time: however which one is our Trota?

The earliest reference to her happens in a medical treatise the place she is ready to heal a lady’s gynecological situation that different docs had been unable to deal with. She is, in the identical work, known as “appearing” as a professor or instructor. It’s unhappy so little is understood of a lady whose named was so famend.

Some (male) students certainly claimed that there was no lady and actually that Trota was “Trotus”, a male. One other male scholar claimed that “Trot” was a reference to “operating about”. One other asserted that “Trotula” was a transcription error for an historic “Eros Julia”. Suffice to say that trendy scholarship has debunked such theories, though it’s unable to inform a lot of her precise life.

Glimmerings of her life are fictionalized in works such because the Mistress of Dying by Ariana Franklin and (in Italian) Trotula by Paola Presciuttini (who takes the legends because the core of her story).

What might be stated with some certainty is that Trotula was not the one lady who practised the therapeutic arts in Salerno. She was possible considered one of many ladies healers who practised drugs within the metropolis. What makes her notably well-known and distinctive, past her distinctive expertise, is that her writings have come right down to us within the modern-day. However she was the exception fairly than the rule.

As Benton observes:

The professionalization of drugs within the twelfth and thirteenth centuries led to an exclusion of girls practitioners from one of the best paid and most revered medical positions. Male docs managed the educating and concept of girls’s drugs, and their gynecological literature included male expertise, understanding and studying. … the follow of drugs within the Christian West moved from a talent to a career ~ with educational coaching based mostly on authoritative discovered literature ~ with levels and licenses~ and with sanctions towards those that practiced drugs and not using a license. 

John F. Benton, 1983, 84

Monica Inexperienced, one of the prolific students of Trotula tells us the destiny of Perretta Petona, a lady who practised surgical procedure within the fifteenth century in Paris. She was charged with the unlicensed apply of surgical procedure. Slightly than denying she practised drugs, Perretta referred to the normal studying handed right down to her by her kinfolk and different practitioners, explaining her appreciable success within the career. It did her no good. For she was illiterate and interrogated by the college educated males. She was mocked, humiliated and pushed from follow. It is perhaps added that the theories which dominated the ebook studying, by which the male students so prided themselves, have been proven in the middle of time to be virtually solely nonsense.

Trotula’s Guide: Practica Secundum Trotam

Ruins of Roman acqueducts SalernoStays of Roman period aqueduct in Salerno

It was not till 1985 that a work definitively attributable to Trotula was found by John F. Benton in a library in Madrid. This work, as instructed by its title, is the follow of drugs in response to Trota. One other higher recognized work “the remedy of sicknesses” written about 1160 was proven by Benton to include many unattributed extracts from the Practica. Right here eventually was the smoking gun for the existence of Trotula.

What concerning the ebook the Trotula? For hundreds of years it had been attributed to Trota however the story is far more difficult. Over the centuries it the truth is advanced right into a compilation of three works, every with its personal distinctive story. The Ebook on the Circumstances of Ladies, On Remedies for Ladies and On Ladies’s Cosmetics have been these three works.

Constantine the African, it seems, has a task to play within the creation of the Circumstances of Ladies, for this work attracts closely from his Viaticum, itself a replica of a medical work by the Arabic author Ibn Al Jazzar. His work was in flip grounded within the theories of the traditional Greek Galen who believed within the “4 humours”. Briefly nevertheless the Circumstances of Ladies seems largely to be the work of males. It couldn’t have been written by Trotula.

On Ladies’s Cosmetics, as Inexperienced demonstrates was additionally written by a person for different males who may be capable of commerce on this data. Nevertheless the work attracts on statement of the follow of cosmetics by ladies within the writer’s time and place. In Salerno, cosmetics from the Arabic talking world as a lot as from Europe have been trendy.

Probably the most fascinating of the three works for the lifetime of Trotula is On the Circumstances of Ladies. In 2008, Inexperienced established via a cautious evaluation of the textual content that it should have been written by a lady: maybe she was our Trotula (probably the most pure assumption provided that the work is attributed to her). It’s clear that this lady is a talented doctor, somebody who treats illness. Furthermore the work is written for different ladies. It thus factors to group of girls who weren’t solely practising drugs however have been literate; and who have been taught by a feminine grasp of their artwork. 

Legends of Salerno Come Again to Life

Tower of the Cathedral of Salerno

Daremberg, a medical historian visited Salerno in 1849, looking for the heroes of the historical past which was his life. His search was fruitless.

… I wandered sadly via the streets; I sought in useless for some hint or reminder of the illustrious masters whose voice had resounded within the midst of probably the most troubled ages. … Who remembered the gorgeous Trotula or the clever Constantine? In default of a terrific medical faculty what monument, piously consecrated to all of the glories of the varsity, might recall to me some options of its early historical past? No echo of custom, not one stone of the traditional edifice; not one manuscript in a single library …

The Faculty of Salernum: An Historic Sketch, pp 54-55

If Daremberg might return and journey to Salerno in the present day he wouldn’t discover issues so bleak for lovers of medical historical past. Certainly the reminiscence of the Faculty of Salerno is now treasured in a Digital Medical Faculty of Salerno discovered within the previous metropolis.  Right here a digital journey may be taken into the drugs of the medieval ages. Salerno nevertheless has many treasures; a museum filled with historic artefacts, an impressive assortment of medieval carved ivory, a small however fantastic gallery and a Norman period cathedral from the times of Robert Guiscard. 


First picture:  A feminine healer of the Center Ages in a fourteenth century manuscript: maybe Trotula.

Different pictures are personal work.


Monica H. Inexperienced (ed), The Trotula A Medical Compendium of Ladies’s Drugs Edited and Translated by Monica H. Inexperienced, College of Pennsylvania Press, 2001

Monica H. Inexperienced, Making Ladies’s Drugs Masculine: The Rise of Male Authority in Pre-Trendy Gynaecology. Oxford College Press, 2008.

Henry Ebenezer Handerson, The Faculty of Salernum: An Historic Sketch of Mediaeval Drugs, New York, 1883

John F. Benton, Trotula, Ladies’s Issues, and the Professionalisation of Drugs within the Center Ages, Humanities Working Paper 98, Dec 1983, 84.