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7 oct. 2011

Los moriscos y la medicina

Ron Barkai

LUIS GARCIA BALLESTER, Los moriscos y la medicina, Barcelona, Editorial Labor,1984, 8vo, pp. 256

This book is the result of long years of research by one of the outstanding historians of Spanish medicine. According to the author's preface, the book is a continuation of his previous work, Historia de la medicina en la Espania de los siglos XIII al XVI, vol. I (Madrid, AKAL, 1976) and includes a revised and enlarged version of one of its sections, 'La minoria musulmana y morisca' (pp. 77-182). The book is, in fact, devoted entirely to the medical practices of the Moriscos, a Spanish-Moslem community forcibly converted to Christianity at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Because they were ultimately unable to assimilate into Christian society, the Moriscos-who had lived in Spain for hundreds of years-were expelled from the country a hundred years later.

The book approaches its subject, with no small measure of empathy for the persecuted minority, from two different but complimentary angles. First, it measures the great loss suffered by Spanish science in general, and Spanish medicine, in particular, because of discriminatory practices and, second, it offers a multi-faceted examination of Moriscan medicine and medical practices.

Sixteenth-century Spain had a great advantage over its fellow European nations during the period of "scientific renaissance" and Galenic "medical humanism". It had access to most of the very precise Arabic translations of Greek medical treatises, together with commentaries upon them by Moslem and Jewish scholars, such as Avicenna's Canon ofmedicine. It has as well a large community of Moriscos who knew Arabic well and could have made these treasures of medical lore available to Spanish scientists. But the opportunity was lost because of the religious fanaticism of Christian Spain. The Moriscos were ostracized and persecuted and the use and study of Arabic prohibited. The over-zealousness and narrow-mindedness of Spanish society proved tragic for the Moriscos, but it was no less tragic for the development of Spanish intellectual life.

In dealing with Moriscan medicine itself, the author performs a masterful job of anthropo-sociological reconstruction, illuminating the variety of medical branches in both their scientific and social aspects. The undertaking was made possible by the wealth of material painstakingly extracted from the reports of interrogations and legal proceedings carried out by the courts of the Inquisition against Moriscos suspected of secretly adhering to Islamic law or simply transgressing against the precepts of Christian orthodoxy. Thanks to the unusual monograph of the French historian, Emmanual Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 a 1324 (Paris, Gallimard, 1975), we have become a good deal more cognizant of the value of the Inquisitorial archives. The great advantage of these sources over other written records of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is that they enable us to study not the learned culture but the beliefs and views of the common people. Were it not for the fact that so many were hauled before the Inquisitorial courts, we would have had very little evidence about them at all. In this particular case, these sources are of inestimable value because they constitute almost the only source of information on Moriscan medical practices to which we have access at present. Garcia Ballester, with the assistance of Rosa Blasco, was able to piece together the facts from scattered testimonials and reports to produce a comprehensive-and riveting-picture of both prescriptive and popular Moriscan medicine. It covers the field, dealing with the training of doctors and healers, their connexions with traditional Moslem medicine, the way in which medical knowledge was preserved and passed on from generation to generation, and the complex system of relations which obtained between Moriscan medicine and Christian society.

A third section of the book comprises a selection of sources from the records of the Inquisitorial courts and provides us, as it were, with the historical realities of Moriscan medicine. In his introduction to this section of the book, the author stresses the fact that it was not his intention merely to attach a documentary appendix to the first two parts of the book.

Rather, he hoped to bring the reader face to face with the reality of the Moriscan medical sub-culture while at the same time illustrating the process of scientific disintegration which set in in the wake of the confrontations between "Old Christians" and "New Christians". The pressures exerted by the former on the Moriscos pushed them into the margins of society, and Moriscan medicine, thus excluded from the mainstream of scientific inquiry, came to depend more and more on praxis and less and less on theory.

While these documents provide the reader with great insights into the history of Moriscan medicine, it would appear that such total dependence upon Inquisitorial sources leaves something to be desired. True, there are very few medical documents written in Aljamiado, the Spanish language transliterated into Arabic and commonly used by the Moriscos, and even fewer in Andalusian Arabic. Nonetheless, every effort should be made to publish whatever material of this sort is available and to try to uncover more. This would prove, after all, the more authoritative source for an understanding of Moriscan medical concepts.

Still, Garcia Ballester's work is exceptional and is a must for anyone interested in the history of sixteenth-century medicine. It goes without saying that it is an important contribution to Moriscan historiography, not the least because of the author's skill as a writer and his interdisciplinary approach, in which sociology and anthropology are given their due within the general framework of historical research.

Fuente: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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