“One should know how the zodiac signs correspond to the body”

Diagram showing the zodiac signs, humors, and elements, f. 81v, Constantinus Africanus, Viaticum, ca. 1220-1244, Z10 76


The first ring of the diagram identifies the zodiac signs with the related humors and elements.  The four humors played a large part in medieval lives.  A person whose humors were in balance was healthy; unbalanced humors caused illnesses.  Basically, the human body was believed to be made of four substances: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.  Each substance was linked to a season, an element, an organ, a temperament, and other qualities.  For example, black bile was related to autumn, earth, the gallbladder, melancholy, and was considered to have cold and dry properties.

People also believed the zodiac signs presided over parts of the body and were associated with an element.  The bull, Taurus, ruled over the throat, neck, thyroid gland, vocal tract; and was affiliated with black bile (melancholy).

These complex astrological charts were used to determine diagnoses and treatments, which were based not only on the actual physical symptoms, but also temperaments and birth signs.  This diagram illustrates the medieval worldview in which everything was connected in a tenuous balance, including mankind and his health (microcosm), and the Earth and the universe (macrocosm).

They don’t make pen-work like this anymore!

Puzzle letter, f. 1r, Constantinus Africanus, Viaticum, ca. 1220-1244, Z10 76


Pen-flourished initials (Latin littera florissae) like this one marked the beginning of a work, chapter, or other section.  The most common colors used for these initials were red and blue.  While this particular initial is not as elaborate as some, the red line-drawings inside almost resemble a seashell or something similar to my eyes.

“This WILL be on the test!”

Manicule, f. 68r, Constantinus Africanus, Viaticum, ca. 1220-1244, Z10 76


Welcome to #MedievalMonday!  Every Monday, Chrissie Perella, Archivist, will be showing off one of the Library’s medieval manuscripts.

For the first installment of #MedievalMonday, meet Constantinus Africanus.  Dated somewhere between 1220 and 1244, Constantinus was the oldest manuscript in our collection until several weeks ago (more on that in upcoming posts).  The first text in this manuscript, Constantinus’ Viaticum, is one of the earliest examples of an Arabic medical text translated into Latin.

Constantinus Africanus was likely born in Carthage, and entered the monastery of Montecassino in southern Italy somewhere around 1060.  His Viaticum is an important work in the history of medicine.  He translated the Kitab Zad al-musafir wa-qut al-hadir (Provisions for the Traveler and the Nourishment of the Settled), written by the 10th-century Arabic physician known as Ibn al-Jazzar, sometime during the 11th century.  It represents one of the earliest Western translations of an Arabic medical work, and demonstrates the beginnings of the flow of knowledge from the East to the West.

This codex illustrates many interesting aspects of medieval manuscripts.  One of my personal favorite features is this manicule (f. 68r).  Manicules were used as markers to denote parts of the text readers found important.  This one is especially interesting as it has fingernails and a sleeve cuff.