Lovesick in the Middle Ages? A Doctor Might Slice You Open
It's Middle Ages Week at Cracked. Put on your tunic, and eat some cabbage!
Today, "lovesick" is just a metaphor. And, now that we think about it, it's a metaphor that people hardly ever use, and we can't remember the last time we heard the word. But still: It's definitely no more than a metaphor today. In The Middle Ages, however, it was considered an actual disease and was subject to medical treatment.
Doctors back then didn't know a whole lot about germs or genes causing diseases, and they instead attributed various afflictions to imbalances in the four humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. No real science backed up the belief, but it was an idea that felt right. Even today, simplistic explanations of mental illness blame imbalances in brain chemistry. Lovesickness, said doctors of yore, resulted from an excess of black bile.
The black bile caused melancholia, which the patient expressed as obsessive, unrequited love. Luckily, doctors offered many remedies. They said a lovesick patient should seek sunlight and spend time in gardens. That's a very low-tech solution, but it can be an effective way of dealing with the blues, as sufferers of seasonal depression know. Doctors also recommended a diet of lamb and fresh fruit. Here too, this sounds like a decent enough idea: Even today, doctors advise depressed people to fill themselves with protein and fresh produce (instead of endless bags of Funyuns).
Other remedies were less innocuous. Some healers used root of hellebore, which is a poison. Hellebore root powder exists as a remedy even today—a quack remedy, with no proven beneficial effects, but which has some potential harmless effects given that it is toxic.
And the surest way to relieve someone of their excess fluids was get those fluids out. That could mean feeding them enough gross stuff so they'd purge the contents of their alimentary canal from either end, or it could mean cutting open their blood vessels so they'd bleed all that nastiness away. "What is love?" the doctor would ask. "Don't hurt me," the patient would reply. "Don't hurt me. No more." But the doctor would not listen.
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Top image: Wellcome Images