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Two medieval plague treatises and their afterlife in early modern England


, : Two medieval plague treatises and their afterlife in early modern England. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 58(3): 292-324

This study of an adaptation of the popular John of Burgundy plague treatise by Thomas Moulton, a Dominican friar, ca. 1475, and a translation of the so-called Canutus plague treatise by Thomas Paynell, printed 1534, shows how the medieval traditions they represent were carried forward, well into the sixteenth century, and also subjected to change in light of religious, moral, and medical concerns of early modern England. The former had a long life in print, ca. 1530-1580, whereas Paynell's translation exists in one printed version. Moulton's adaptation differs from its original and from the Canutus treatise in putting great emphasis on the idea that onsets of plague were acts of divine retribution for human sinfulness. In this respect, Moulton reshaped the tradition of the medieval plague treatise and anticipated the religious and social construction of plague that would take shape in the first half of the sixteenth century. Its long history in print indicates that Moulton's treatise expressed the spirit of that construction and probably influenced the construction as well. The contrasting histories of the two treatises attest not only to the dramatic change brought about by religious and social forces in the sixteenth century, but to a growing recognition of the value of the printing press for disseminating medical information-in forms that served social and ideological ends.

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