Infectious and Epidemic Disease in History

Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker

Seventeenth Century Medical Practice
according to
(Jean Baptiste Poquelin, 1622-1673)

L'Amour Médecin
Love's Cure-all (1665)
by Molière

Four doctors (Thomès, Fonandrès, Macroton, Bahys) are consulted by a father (Sganarel) concerning the health of his love-sick daughter.  The dialogue includes Sganarel's outspoken housekeeper, Lysetta.

[The doctors are parodies of four real doctors of the day:  Guénaut, Brayer, Des Fougerais, and Valot who attended the fatal illness of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661.]

Scene I

Lysetta.  What will you do, sir, with four physicians?  Is not one enough to kill any one body?

Sganarel.  Hold your tongue.  Four advices are better than one.

Lysetta.  Why, can't your daughter die well enough without the assistance of these gentlemen?

Sganarel.  Do the physicians kill people?

Lysetta.  Undoubtedly; and I knew a man who proved by good reasons that we should never say, such a one is dead of a fever, or a catarrh, but she is dead of four doctors and two apothecaries.

Sganarel.  Hush!  Don't offend these gentlemen.

Lysetta.  Faith, sir, our cat is lately recovered of a fall she had from the top of the house into the street, and was three days without either eating or moving foot or paw; but 'tis very lucky for her that there are no cat-doctors, for 'twould have been over with her, and they would not have failed purging her and bleeding her.

Sganarel.  Will you hold your tongue, I say?  What impertinence is this!  Here they come.

Lysetta.  Take care.  You are going to be greatly edified; they'll tell you in Latin that your daughter is sick.

Scene II
...Lysette informs M. Thomès that a patient he recently treated is dead.
M. Thomès.  [The coachman is d]ead!

Lysetta.  Yes.

M. Thomès.  That can't be.

Lysetta.  I don't know whether it can be or not; but I know well enough that so it is.

M. Thomès.  He can't be dead, I tell you.

Lysetta.  And I tell you that he is dead and buried.

M. Thomès.  You are deceived.

Lysetta.  I saw it.

M. Thomès.  'Tis impossible.  Hippocrates says that these sort of distempers don't terminate till the fourteenth or twenty-first, and he fell sick but six days ago.

Lysetta.  Hippocrates may say what he please; but the coachman is dead....

Scene III

M. Fonandrès.  Paris is wonderfully large, and one must make long jaunts when practice comes on a little.

M. Thomès.  I have an admirable mule for that, and the way I make him go every day is scarce to be believed.

M. Fonandrès.  I have a wonderful horse, and 'tis an indefatigable animal.

M. Thomès.  Do you know the way my mule has gone today?  I first went near the arsenal, from the arsenal to the end of the suburb St. Germain, from the suburb St. Germain to the very end of the marshes, from the end of the marshes to the gate St. Honorius, from the gate St. Honorius to the suburb St. James's, from the suburb St. James's to the gate of Richelieu, from the gate of Richelieu hither, and from hence I must go yet to the Palace-Royal.

M. Fonandrès.  My horse has done all that today, and besides I have been at Ruel to see a patient.

M. Thomès.  ...what side do you take in the dispute betwixt the two physicians, Theophrastus and Artemius? for 'tis an affair which divides all our body.

M. Fonandrès.  I am for Artemius.

M. Thomès.  And I likewise; not but that his advice killed the patient and that of Theophrastus was certainly much the better; but he was wrong in the circumstances, and he ought not to have been of a different opinion to his senior.  What say you of it?

M. Fonandrès.  Without doubt.  The formalities should be always preserved whatever may happen.

M. Thomès.  For my part I am as severe as a devil in that respect, unless it's amongst friends.  Three of us were called in t'other day to a consultation with a strange physician.  I stopped the whole affair, and would not suffer 'em to go on unless things went in order.  The people of the house did what they could, and the distemper increased; but I would not give an inch.  The patient died bravely during this dispute.

M. Fonandrès.  'Twas well done to teach people how to behave, and to show 'em their mistake.

M. Thomès.  A dead man is but a dead man, and of no consequence:  but one formality neglected does a great prejudice to the whole body of physicians.

Scene IV

Sganarel.  Gentlemen, my daughter's oppression increases, pray tell me quickly what you have resolved on....

M. Thomès.  Sir, we have reasoned upon your daughter's distemper; and my opinion, as for my part, is that it proceeds from a great heat of blood:  so I'd have you bleed her as soon as you can.

M. Fonandrès.  And I say that her distemper is a putrefaction of humors, occasioned by too great a repletion, therefore I'd have you give her an emetic.

M. Thomès.  I maintain that an emetic will kill her.

M. Fonandrès.  And I, that bleeding will be the death of her...

M. Thomès.  Do you remember the man you killed a few days ago?

M. Fonandrès.  Do you remember the lady you sent into the other world three days since?

M. Thomès.  (To Sganarel.)  I have told you my opinion.

M. Fonandrès.  (To Sganarel.)  I have told you my thoughts.

M. Thomès.  If you don't bleed your daughter out of hand, she's a dead woman.  (Exits.)

M. Fonandrès.  If you do bleed her, she'll not be alive in a quarter of an hour hence.  (Exits.)

Scene V

Sganarel.  Which of the two am I to believe, and what resolution shall I take upon such opposite advices?  (He turns to MM. Macroton and Bahys for help.)

Gentlemen, I conjure you to determine me, and to tell me without passion, what you think the most proper to give my daughter relief.

M. Macroton. (Drawling out his words.)  Sir, in these mat-ters we must pro-ceed with cir-cum-spec-ti-on, and do no-thing in-consi-de-rate-ly, as they say; for-as-much as the faults which may be com-mit-ted in this case are, ac-cor-ding to our ma-ster Hip-po-cra-tes, of a dan-ge-rous con-se-quence.

M. Bahys. (Sputtering out his words hastily.)  'Tis true.  We must really take care what we do; for this is not child's play; and when we have once faltered 'tis not easy to repair the slip, and to re-establish what we have spoilt.  Experimentum periculosum.  Wherefore we should reason first as we ought to do, weigh things, seriously consider the constitutions of people, examine the causes of the distemper, and see what remedies one ought to apply to it.

Sganarel. (Aside.)  One creeps like a tortoise, and t'other rides post.

M. Macroton.  For, sir, to come to fact, I find your daugh-ter has a chro-ni-cal dis-ease, and that she may be in jeo-par-dy if you don't give her some assis-tance; for-as-much as the symptoms which she has are in-di-ca-tive of a fu-li-gi-nous and mor-di-cant va-por, which pricks the mem-branes of the brain; for this va-por, which we call in Greek at-mos, is caus-ed by pu-trid, te-na-ci-ous, and con-glu-tinous humors, which are con-tain-ed in the abdomen.

M. Bahys.  And as these humors were engendered there by a long succession of time; they are over-baked there, and have acquired this malignity, which fumes towards the region of the brain.

M. Macroton.  So that to draw a-way, loos-en, ex-pel, e-va-cu-ate the said hu-mors, there must be a vi-go-rous pur-ga-tion.  But first of all, I think it proper, and it would not be in-con-ve-ni-ent to make use of some lit-tle a-no-dyne me-de-cines; that is to say, lit-tle e-molli-ent and de-ter-sive cly-sters, and re-fresh-ing ju-leps and sy-rups, which may be mix-ed in her bar-ley wa-ter.

M. Bahys.  Afterwards we'll come to purgation and bleeding, which we'll reiterate if there be need of it.

M. Macroton.  Not but for all this your daughter may die; but at least you'll have done some-thing, and you'll have the con-so-la-ti-on that she di-ed ac-cord-ing to form.

M. Bahys.  It is better to die according to the rules than to recover contrary to 'em....


Le Malade Imaginaire
The Imaginary Invalid 
by Molière 


A burlesque ceremony of the conferment of a doctor's degree.

Participants include eight men bearing syringes, six apothecaries, twenty-two doctors, and the candidate with eight surgeons dancing and two singing. 

All take their places according to their rank.

Learnedissimi doctores,
Medicinae professores,
Qui hic assemblati estis;
Et vos, altri Messiores,
Sententiarum Facultatis
Fideles executores;
Surgeoni, apothecari,
Atque tota company,
Salus, honor, et argentum,
Atque bonum appetitum.
Learned doctors,
Professors of medicine
Who are assembled here;
And you other Gentlemen,
All long-winded faculty members
And faithful practitioners;
Surgeons, apothecaries,
And the whole group,
Health!  Honor! and Wealth!
And bon appetite!
Non possum, docti confreri,
En moi satis admirari
Qualis bona inventio
Est medici professio;
Quam bella chosa est et bene trovata, 
Medicina illa benedicta,
Quae suo nomine solo,
Surprenanti miraculo;
For such a longo tempore, 
Has made à gogo vivere 
So many omni genere.
It's impossible, my fellow doctors
For me to admire sufficiently
The kind of good invention
The medical profession is;
What a good and rare thing it is,
Medicine blesses him
Who on his own
Undertakes to perform miracles;
For such a long time
It has made a life of ease possible
For so many of us.
Per totam terram videmus
Grandam vogam ubi sumus;
Et quod grandes and petiti
Sunt de nobis infatuti:
Totus mundus currens ad nostros remedios.
Nos regardat sicut deus,
Et nostris ordonnanciis
Principes and reges submissive videtis.
All the world sees us
In grand style wherever we are;
The big and the small
Are infatuated with us:
They run to our remedies
And regard us as gods
And to our prescriptions
Principles and regimens, they submit themselves.
'Tis therefore nostrae sapientiae,
Bonus sensus atque prudentiae,
Sturdily to laborare
A nos bene conservare
In tali credito, voga and honore;
And take care to non recevere
In nostro docto corpore
Quam personas capabiles,
Et totas dignas fillire
Has plaças honorabiles.
'Tis therefore wise,
Sensible and prudent,
To work hard
To keep ourselves
In good credit, fashion, and honor;
And to take care not to admit
Just anyone into our learned group--
Only those who are capable,
And worthy
Will have a place of honor.
That's why nunc convocati estis,
Et credo quod trovabitis
Dignam matieram medici,
In learned man that here you see;
Who, in things is omnibus,
Dono ad interrogandum,
Et in depth examinandum
Vostris capacitatibus.
That's why we're gathered here,
And I believe I've found
Worthy materia medica
In the learned man that here you see;
He is versed in a wide range of things.
I give him for interrogation
And in-depth examination
Into your capable hands.

...Learnidissimo bacheliere
Quem estimo and honoro,
Domandabo causum and rationem, quare
Opium facit dormire.
Most learned bachelor
Whom I esteem and honor,
I would like to ask you the cause and reason why
Opium makes one sleep.
...Quia est in eo
Virtus dormitiva,
Cujus est natura
Sensus stupifire.
....The reason is that in opium resides
A dormitive virtue,
Of which it is the nature
To stupefy the senses.
Bene, bene, bene, bene respondere,
Dignus, dignus est intrare
In nostro docto corpore.
Bene, bene respondere.
Well, well, well, well has he answered!
Worthy, worthy is he to enter
Into our learned body.
Well, well has he answered!
...Quae sunt remedia,
Quae in maladia
Called hydropsia
Convenit facere?
...What is the remedy,
Which for the illness
Called dropsy (edema),
It is appropriate to prepare?
Clisterium donare,
Postea bleedare,
Afterwards purgare.

Bene, bene, bene, bene respondere,
Dignus, dignus est intrare
In nostro docto corpore.

Give a clyster (enema),
Then bleed the patient,
Afterwards purge him.
...Quae remedia eticis,
Pulmonicis atque asmaticis
Do you think a propos facere?
...What remedy,
In the case of diseased lungs and asthma,
Do you think is appropriate to prepare?
Clisterium donare,
Postea bleedare,
Afterwards purgare.

Bene, bene, bene, bene respondere,
Dignus, dignus est intrare
In nostro docto corpore.

Last night patientus unus
Chanced to fall in meas manus:
Habet grandam feveram cum redoublamentis
Grandum dolorem capitis,
Et grandum malum in the side,
Cum granda difficultate
Et paina respirare.
Be pleased then to tell me,
Docte bacheliere,
Quid illi facere.

Last night a patient
Chanced to fall into my hands:
He had a great fever and was doubled over
With a great headache
And a great pain in the side,
With much difficulty
And pain, he breathed.
Be pleased then to tell me,
Learned bachelor,
What to do with him.

Clisterium donare,
Postea bleedare,
Afterwards purgare.

Bene, bene, bene, bene respondere,
Dignus, dignus est intrare
In nostro docto corpore.

But if maladia
Non vult se curare
Quid illi facere?
But if the illness
Is stubborn
And doesn't respond to your attention
What do you do?
Clisterium donare,
Postea bleedare,
Afterwards purgare.
Rebleedare, repurgare, and reclysterisare.

Bene, bene, bene, bene respondere,
Dignus, dignus est intrare
In nostro docto corpore.

Give a clyster (enema),
Then bleed the patient,
Afterwards purge him.
Rebleed him, repurge him and reclyster him.

Juras keepare statuta
Per facultatem praescripta
Cum sensu and jugeamento?... 
Do you swear to keep the statutes
As prescribed by the faculty,
With sense and judgment?
I swear.
To be in omnibus
Ancient aviso;
Aut bono,
Aut baddo?...
To be in everything
Considerate of
Ancient advice;
Whether it's good,
Or bad?...
That thou'lt never te servare
De remediis aucunis,
Other than those of doctae facultatis;
Should the patient burst-O
Et mori de suo malo?...

That you will never make use
Of a single remedy
Other than those of the learned faculty;
Should the patient burst
And die of his malady?...
Ego cum isto boneto
Venerabili and docto,
Dono tibi and concedo
Virtutem and poweriam
Et killendi
Impune per totam terram....
I, therefore, with goodness
Respect and esteem,
Give you and concede to you
The virtues and powers to
And kill
With impunity throughout the world....
May all his anni
Be to him boni
And favorable ever
Et n'habere never
Quam plaguas, poxas,
Feveras, pleuresias
Bloody fluxions and dissenterias....
May all his years
Be good to him
And favorable forever
And may he never lack
Cases of plague, pox,
Fever, pleuresy,
Bloody fluxions and dissentery....
Vivat, vivat, vivat, vivat, forever vivat
Novus doctor, qui tam bene speakat,
mille, mille annis, and eatat and drinkat,
Et bleedat and killat....
Vive, vive, vive, vive! forever may he live!
To our doctor, who is so well-spoken,
A thousand, thousand years of eating and drinking,
And bleeding and killing....
Go to:
  • Astronomia Magna (1537) by Paracelsus (1493-1541);
  • excerpts from the Diary of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703):
Weekly Readings
Lecture Notes