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.