Cold temperatures are best for conception

Two weeks ago, we read Giles of Rome’s advice on moderation in the diet, and this week we are examining the best time to conceive children – male and female.  In the Book II, Part I, chapter 17, Giles explains what Aristotle says in Textus poleticorum and De metheoris regarding conception.


Folio 110v-111r. Giles of Rome. De regimine regem et principum. Call no. 10a 212.

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Summer fruits to rid oneself of a hot fever

In medieval medicine, humoral medicine was a common practice.  (For more about the humors, see my earlier post here.)  When patients were ill, food and drugs – often plant-derived – were prescribed, taking into account not only the symptoms, but also his or her temperament, age, location, and time of year.

Balancing the humors seems to me to have been somewhat precarious at times.  If one was too choleric (hot and dry), foods and herbs that were considered cold and moist were prescribed.  However, too much could cause a swing in the opposite direction.  Foods were assigned qualities similar to those of the four humors – for example, cucumbers and watermelons were considered cool and moist.


Folios 65v – 66r. Baptista Massa de Argenta, De fructibus virtutibus, Ferra, Italy. 1471. Call no. 10a 189.

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“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).