corner corner The Healing Hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient World

4 journalers for this copy...

Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Saturday, April 12, 2003

8 out of 10

Another one that's hard to categorize. This is a historical overview of the treatment of wounds in the ancient world, from early Mesopotamia through the time of Galen. Sounds dry, but it's far from it (in fact, it's often rather oozy!) - whether the author is describing his own experiments to determine the validity of legends about using the pincers of soldier ants to suture wounds, or is providing the translation of a Mesopotamian charm invoking pus, or is discussing whether medical treatment has improved significantly since the days of the ancient Egyptians, Majno is always fascinating, often enlightening, and frequently very funny. Not for the squeamish or the faint-hearted, this book will reward those who are interested in how humans got by before there were Band-Aids - and when there was a much greater likelihood that someone would be mauled by a large carnivore on any given day. Lots of illustrations, excerpts from the available texts of each period [with lots of commentary on the relative accuracy of the translations and the difficulty of identifying medical conditions as described by someone jotting things down in cuneiform], case studies, ancient recipes for ointments... what more could one want?

To give a flavor of the book, here's an excerpt about the Smith Papyrus, an Egyptian scroll bought by Dr. Edwin Smith in 1862 and translated in the 1920's by James Breasted, and "thus was reborn the most ancient medical text of mankind." [This excerpt's rather tame; if you want the grisly stuff you'll have to read the book!]

"The text is tightly written. Sometimes a whole paragraph is merely suggested by a few catchwords. Breasted suggested that the original may have been a set of notes 'of a lecturer or student'.
"Through seventeen columns of elegant cursive hieroglyphs, the shadows of three men haunt the reader - three men so far off in time that the first two never even saw the wheel. The first shadow is that of the unknown author, who spoke the language of the Old Kingdom and must have lived roughly between 2600 and 2200 B.C. A man of vast experience and sound logic, he assembled dozens of surgical cases and arranged the descriptions so that they followed from the head downward, in order of severity within each group. He also gave each case one of three labels, depending on the chances of successful treatment:

"An ailment which I will treat."
"An ailment with which I will contend."
"An ailment not to be treated."

"The second shadow, several centuries later, is that of the Commentator. By his time several terms of the papyrus had become so obsolete that apparently they could no longer be understood without the help of a scholar; thus, the Commentator inserted sixty-nine short explanations. Little could he guess that many of his glosses would serve their function as long as four thousand years: to Dr. Breasted they were the only clues to the meaning.

"Last, the Scribe appears, a rather careless fellow but with a beautiful hand, which was about average for Egyptian scribes. He keeps alternating between red and black ink, as was customary, without much method; he corrects in black the mistakes he makes in red, and vice versa; he inserts an asterisk (the world's first) where he forgets a word; but then - and this is a true heartbreak for the historian - halfway through the job, in the middle of a word, he just stops. From the waist down the Smith papyrus remains hopelessly blank. This happened about 1650 B.C." 

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Monday, April 21, 2003

This book has not been rated.

Here's the bookray mailing order:

Mom-of-one (Butler, PA)
Too-Ticki (Copenhagen, Denmark)
hootnoodle (Olympia, WA) [last, by request]

I'll just ask everyone to please journal the book when they receive it, PM the next in line for their address, and then pass it along. (Since the book's pretty meaty, it makes sense to allow a good long time to read it - four to six weeks, say? Not a strict limit, just a guideline.)

Hope you enjoy this as much as I have! 

Journal Entry 3 by Mom-of-one from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA on Friday, May 02, 2003

This book has not been rated.

Wow! This book looks absolutley fascinating!!! I'm on the last chapter of Memoirs of a Geisha...and I cant wait to dig into this new read!!! I'm so excited!
Thank you SO much, Gory! I love this kind of stuff!!! 

Journal Entry 4 by Mom-of-one from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA on Thursday, May 22, 2003

7 out of 10

I finished reading this last night. I've been reading non-stop since I received it in the mail! I couldnt put it down! It was so fascinating, informative...and yes, horrifying in some parts! The tales of physicians watching as limbs rotted of gangrene and fell off the body...graphic tales of men dying from tetnus (and the accompanying illustration) made me shiver...trepaning...enemas as cures (My God!) noses being made of the flesh of the forehead......and lots more "gory details"! It was especially hard for me to read about Galen's dissections on living animals. How absolutely dreadful!! All I can say is, I'm glad to have been born into the present era, because I definatley would not have survived in the ancient world! Thanks Gorydetails for giving me the oppurtunity to learn a little something about our past! 

Journal Entry 5 by Mom-of-one at Part of a bookring in Butler, Pennsylvania USA on Thursday, May 22, 2003

This book has not been rated.

Release planned for Friday, May 23, 2003 at Part of a bookring in Butler, Pennsylvania USA.

Being sent to Too-Ticki in Denmark. 

Journal Entry 6 by Too-Ticki from Uppsala, Uppland Sweden on Saturday, July 19, 2003

This book has not been rated.

This one might take a while to read, as it collided with a Bookring. So I'm asking for a little patience and will read it as quickly as I can. It looks very interesting. Thanks! 

Journal Entry 7 by Too-Ticki from Uppsala, Uppland Sweden on Friday, August 08, 2003

9 out of 10

Three fourths (or more?) through and I love it! Majno's love of the subject shines out of every page, whether he's writing about cuneiform writing or Indian earrings. He gets all excited when he finds something interesting, and of course, that's contagious. I never thought I'd find pus intriguing.
And another thing: The next time I hear someone defending some strange medical practice by saying "It's an ancient way of healing," I'll be able to say "Well, so's painting white stripes on someone to heal snakebite". 

Journal Entry 8 by Too-Ticki from Uppsala, Uppland Sweden on Friday, August 22, 2003

This book has not been rated.

Starve them! Bleed them! Pour ink in their wounds and cover it with dirty wool! Oh dear. Bleeding as a cure for... bleeding?
I'm very happy to have read this, and mailed it to hootnoodle today. Have fun! 

Journal Entry 9 by hootnoodle from Olympia, Washington USA on Friday, August 29, 2003

This book has not been rated.

This beautiful book arrived today. I probably won't have time to read it for a while, but I promise to write another journal entry and pass the book along eventually. Thank you all. 

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