The Five Wits in English Medical Literature, 1375-1600

  • Irma Taavitsainen, Dr U. Helsinki
  • Alpo Honkapohja, Dr U. Oslo
Keywords: medieval medicine, dissemination of knowledge, corpora, theory, practice, manuscripts, editions


The five wits were an important component of culture in the Middle Ages, and passages
dealing with the bodily wits occur frequently in early vernacular medical literature (1375-
1600). Our aim is to relate these texts to their readers to detect how the commonplace was
presented to various audiences. We shall apply two lines of research. First, we shall discuss
the linguistic realizations with qualitative discourse analysis. The data come from two digital
corpora, Middle English Medical Texts (Taavitsainen, Pahta and Mäkinen 2005) and Early
Modern English Medical Texts (Taavitsainen et al. 2010), compiled from edited versions.
The scope of these passages is wide, ranging from theoretical treatises of natural philosophy
and surgery to compendia and practical adaptations in recipes and remedybooks. Second,
we provide case studies on the underlying manuscript reality by philological methods and
study the same or related passages in some Cambridge and British Library manuscripts. The
analysis showcases the importance of going back to the versions that reached the medieval
audiences for the dissemination of medical knowledge in the early periods.


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How to Cite
Taavitsainen, Irma, and Alpo Honkapohja. 2023. “The Five Wits in English Medical Literature, 1375-1600”. Revista Canaria De Estudios Ingleses, no. 87 (November), 87-105.