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Towards a History of European Physical Sensibility: Pain in the Later Middle Ages

  • Esther Cohen (a1)
Abstract
The Argument

The study of pain in a historical context requires a consideration of the cultural context in which pain is sensed and expressed. This paper examines attitudes toward physical pain in the later Middle Ages in Europe from several standpoints: theology, law, and medicine. During the later Middle Ages attitudes toward pain shifted from rejection and a demand for impassivity as a mark of status to a conscious attempt to sense, express, and inflict as much pain as possible. Pain became a positive force, a useful tool for reaching a variety of truths. While this attitude stemmed from the religious wish to identify with Christ's passion, it permeated and affected all spheres of cultural expression and investigation. Late permeated and affected all spheres of cultural expression and investigation. Late medieval medicine accepted pain, trying to relieve it only when it became dangerous to the patient. Given the existence of analgesic medicines at the time, this attitude is comprehensible only within the cultural context of the period.

The Argument

The study of pain in a historical context requires a consideration of the cultural context in which pain is sensed and expressed. This paper examines attitudes toward physical pain in the later Middle Ages in Europe from several standpoints: theology, law, and medicine. During the later Middle Ages attitudes toward pain shifted from rejection and a demand for impassivity as a mark of status to a conscious attempt to sense, express, and inflict as much pain as possible. Pain became a positive force, a useful tool for reaching a variety of truths. While this attitude stemmed from the religious wish to identify with Christ's passion, it permeated and affected all spheres of cultural expression and investigation. Late permeated and affected all spheres of cultural expression and investigation. Late medieval medicine accepted pain, trying to relieve it only when it became dangerous to the patient. Given the existence of analgesic medicines at the time, this attitude is comprehensible only within the cultural context of the period.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Mayke De Jong . 1992. “Power and Humility in Carolingian Society: The Public penance of Louis Pious“. Early Medieval Europe 1: 2952.

John Langbein . 1977. Torture and the Law of Proof. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Charles M. Radding 1979. “Superstition to Science: Nature, Fortune and the Passing of the Medieval OrdealAmerican Historical Review 84: 945–99.

John M. Riddle 1974Theory and Practice in Medieval Medicine.“ Viator 5:157–83.

Brent D. Shaw 1993. “The Passion of perpetua.“ Past and Present 139: 335.

Nancy G. Siraisi 1990. Medieval and Early Renaisnce Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice. Chicgo: University of Chicago Press.

Charles T. Wood 1981. “The Doctor's Dilemma: Sin, Salvation and the Menstrual Cycle in Medieval Thought.“ Speculum 56:710–27.

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Science in Context
  • ISSN: 0269-8897
  • EISSN: 1474-0664
  • URL: /core/journals/science-in-context
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