Research officer of the Russian State Library, Ph. D. Tatyana Alexandrovna ISACHENKO has decoded and translated into modern Russian a unique manuscript written in 1534 by the court medic of Czar Basil III, Ivan the Terrible's father.
Now she is telling on medical treatment in ancient times.
- Tatyana Alexandrovna, people nowadays suffer mostly from heart troubles, stresses and immunity reduction. What were the main diseases in XVI century?
- The first medical encyclopedia in Russian names the following main diseases: headache, fever with colds, cough and eye troubles. Court medico Nickolay Lubchanin who had written this book paid much attention to asthenia and tachycardia. So, our forefathers were taken by heart problems, too. But nobody thought of immunity reduction caused by bad ecology. And even the idea of immunity appeared several centuries later. There were certainly less stresses at that time, though the Czar's medico gives a piece of advice on how to overcome “black asthenia” and melancholy caused by hard life.
- What instruments did medicine of those times possess to overcome such serious diseases?
- The answer to this question is the title of the ancient manuscript “Book of Cool Garden, Selected by Many Wizards about Various Medical things for People’s Health Sake”. What is there in the garden? There are berries, fruit, herbs. That is why the book consists of descriptions of herbs, food, minerals and advice on maintaining health and hygiene.
- Many people think that knowledge of herbs were much deeper in ancient times, that we have lost many secrets, is that right?
- It is partly right. For instance modern physicians advice to take wormwood liqueur to improve appetite and stir up digestion. Nickolay Lubchanin advises to take wormwood juice with honey and sugar to those suffering from fever. To improve blood composition one must boil wormwood in wine and take it on an empty stomach in the morning.
Another prescription is for ill eyes and eyelids: one must mix up wormwood juice with honey and smear one’s eyelids for “the eyes to become light”. If one drinks this compound, according to Nickolay Lubchanin, it helps conception. Wormwood juice was considered more useful than herb extract. Here is the analogue of modern popular “liver cleaning”: drink wormwood juice ten days running 3 zolotniks (1 zolotnik is equal to about 4,23 gram) mixed with sugar. It will give one a good skin colour.
- Did the ancient Russian medicine use the same herbs which are considered curative today?
- Not only those ones. They used usual garden plants, too. For instance, parsley was advised to use fresh or dried against urolithiasis and menstrual cycle disorders, for cleaning liver and stomach.
There was a prescription for those who liked alcohol and wished to maintain their reputation: boiled cabbage with cabbage seed is pleasant and nobody would get drunk. This broth is also good against insomnia.
- Nowadays everyone takes care of reduction of food calorie content to avoid gaining extra weight. What did they think of that in XVI century?
- Our ancestors had no problem like this. Stoutness was regarded as an advantage, not a drawback. A stout person meant a satisfied and rich one, and thin was a synonym of poor. Nickolay Lubchanin in the chapter of curative characteristics of cheese remarks that this product gives stoutness to a human body. And though the medico considers this as an advantage of the product, his opinion corresponds to the one of modern dietitians who advice people wishing to loose weight to limit the use of not rolls and sugar, but cheese and other rich milk production.
Cow's butter was also mentioned in the medical book: it should be used for smearing the ill small of the back and also chest in case of cold and cough – then it will take moisture out of the chest. Several chapters of the book are devoted to meat because in the ancient times meat was not only limited to beef: goat meat, mutton, venison and bear's flesh were also used.
They did not forget birds as a medicine. Lubchanin advises to use the meat of young hens which have not laid eggs, it improved one's voice. Eggs is a good way to overcome impotence, they can be taken together with onions and turnip. Modern dietitians agree with that: eggs and onion are products increasing men’s and women’s sexuality.
- There are chapters in the manuscript devoted to curative effect of precious stones and metals. Are they just legends or is that efficient to any extent?
- Ancient medicos knew the qualities of precious stones and metals rather well, I mean that they knew the basis of chemistry. For example, Nickolay Lubchanin is right that the diamond cannot be burnt down by fire or take any other harm, and magnet attracts iron. But of course we cannot help smiling when we read that the magnet can help a husband to find out his wife’s attitude towards him: he should put the magnet under her pillow and if she is loyal she will hug her husband without waking up, and if she is not she will fall down from the bed at once as if anyone has pushed her. Or we smile when the Czar’s medico advices the warrior to set a diamond into the handle of his arms at the left side, then the enemy will not be able to do him any harm. It was also considered that one should pound the emerald and drink it with wine, that would make any poison harmless.
- What lesson could we learn from ancient Russian medicos?
- In spite of a deep knowledge of medicine at that time, they never forgot that the main pledge of the individual’s health was his spiritual harmony. It is based on spiritual job which is impossible without God’s help and one’s reconciliation with other people.
PRESCRIPTIONS OF THE MEDICO OF TSAR Basil III
Some licorice juice with sugar should be kept in one’s mouth up to melting and then swallowed, it helps keeping healthy lungs. Pea boiled in fish soup will stop chronic cough. Caraway pounded and mixed up with berries should be boiled in wine and drunk.
Garden mint juice mixed up with the same quantity of vinegar should be used to smear one’s forehead and temples, that will stop the headache. Ox-eye daisy boiled in water and used hot has the same effect. Anise sabadilla is put upon hot coal and smelled, that is good for those who have headache.
Low spirits and spleen medicine:
Juniper oil taken with a drink helps to avoid spleen. Those who suffer from melancholy should smell garden apples. Pounded rosemary flowers taken with warm wine to a reasonable extent will make one joyful and drive away all one’s sorrows.