Review of Physicians of Myddfai

Physicians of MyddfaiA facsimile of the Victorian translation of this early 13th/14th-century Welsh medical manuscript has been the most widely available edition up to now. This new book takes the facsimile as its template, complete with both its additional later material and the myth.

The author has met all the right people in the field, and in the process points up the lack of concerted work done on this interesting subject. He expands, corrects and clarifies the text, and his enthusiasm for the subject brings in wide-ranging references. I like his defence of the later section of the 19th-century edition. However, as his own social history section suggests, the 13th-century manuscript deserves a comprehensive and scholarly appraisal.

There is much information compiled in the social history, some of which will be familiar to people already interested in this area, It is clear that each era has its own preoccupations with the Myddfai phenomenon; 19th century cultural nationalism and the Celtic revival. One of the themes of our age is ethnobotany, so, at least a small index of plant names would have made the author’s considerable effort more accessible. He pre-empts criticism by citing publishing restrictions and costs,

ln 1815 Hugh Davies complained that two centuries had elapsed since someone attempted to grapple with old Welsh plant names “but we do not find that any disciple ofAesculapius hath chosen to undertake the task”, Nearly two centuries on we are perhaps hardly in a better state, although as this book demonstrates, it needs not one disciple, or scholar, but a conclave of them. Another piece in the jigsaw, but we await the bigger picture in the public domain.

Gareth Evans
in June 2013 edition of Herbs – the Journal of the Herb Society

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