Sunday, 12 April 2015

se betsta læcedóm

An Old English recipe kills a superbug!

I found the recipe on page 34 of Leechdoms, wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England, being a 1864 translation of Bald’s Leechbook, the Old English book of medicine where the cure was found. I have mentioned this book before, in connection with beer.

Ƿýrc aegsealfe ƿiþ ƿænne gením cropleac ⁊ garleác begea em fela gecnuƿa ƿel tosomne gením ƿín ⁊ fearres geallan begea em fela gemeng ƿiþ þy leace do þonne on arfæt læt standan nigon niht on þam arfate aƿring þurh claþ ⁊ gehlyttre ƿel do on horn · ⁊ ymb niht do mid feþere on ꝥ eage se betsta læcedóm.

"Work an eye salve for a wen, take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time apply it with a feather to the eye ; the best leechdom."

Most of these words have survived into modern English. It becomes clearer if you replace the letter ƿ with the modern w:
wyrc: work
eag: eye
sealfe: salve
wiþ: with
wænne: wen
crop: crop
garleac: garlic
leace: leek
wel: well
win: wine
geallan: gall
þy, þam: the
gemengan: among
do: do
þonne: then
arfæt: vat (minus the ar- prefix)
læt: let
standan: stand
nigon: nine
niht: night
awring: wring (minus the a- prefix)
þurh: through
claþ: cloth
horn: horn
feþere: feather
betsta: best
læcedom: leechdom - -dom is found in kingdom. Leech the doctor is not related to leech the animal.

Words that did not survive:
begea: "both"
em: "equal"
fela: "many, much" (German viel)
gecnuwian: "to pound together"
tosomne: "together" (German zusammen)
fearr: "bull"
gehlyttrian: "to make clear"

A word that sort of survived:
The past participle of genim "take" survives in numb.


Mwncïod said...

The second element of the word "heifer" might have preserved the Old English word "fearr" (bull) but most etymology dictionaries don't seem too confident and offer other possible theories.

JosephK said...

Beautiful! So wonderfully concise: the Old English is shorter than the modern English translation!