Unknown, Italian

Doctors Visiting a Sick Man

Reference Type:
Sphere of Apuleius B15f53v diagram 300 dpi.jpg
14th century
Medieval texts describe the use of various tables by physicians in diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. These included calendars, tables of planets, lunar and solar eclipses, and rules for phlebotomy and urine analysis. The tables consisted of several pieces of parchment, folded to form strips about 7 inches long and 2 inches wide. In this painting one of the visiting physicians holds such strips in his hand. Each strip related to part of the diagnosis: when the illness started; the position of the sun and moon to predict how long it would last; which planet ruled the ailing body part; which vein to cut; and the 24 kinds of urine and what they meant. In an early attempt at triage, some also carried the Sphere of Apuleius, which had numerology tables for calculating equations based on letters in the patient’s name that informed the physician if the patient would live or die. These manuscripts seem to have been produced in large quantities in Oxford from the 12th century on. Urinalysis was the least dangerous and most common form of diagnosis, so the urinal flask became a symbol of the medical profession. Description of Sphere of Apuleius from the website of St. Johns College, Cambridge “…. The letters of the patient’s name were first to be assigned numbers according to the scheme written in the outer ring of the sphere. To this was to be added a number for the day of the week on which the patient fell ill, calculated according to the text at the four corners of the sphere. Following further addition and division the doctor would arrive at a number between 1 and 30, which he would then find in the row of numbers running down the centre of the sphere. A number in the top half of the sphere, labelled vita, indicated life, while a number in the bottom half, labelled mors, portended death.” http://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/library/special_collections/manuscripts/medieval_manuscripts/medman/A/Web%20images/B15f53v.htm. Image credit for Sphere of Apuleius by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge and any re-use requires prior permission of St. John's. Notes by Dr. Linda Pessar and Mariann Smith
Art of Medicine
History of Medicine
Private Collection