c. 1155 | Bingen

Gift from the Sea

There’s nothing a little whale won’t cure.

The whale has fiery heat and watery air in it. It has a certain relationship to the nature of fish as well as to the nature of beasts such as the lion and the bear. It lives in water in accordance with the nature of fish, and in accordance with the nature of beasts, it grows to a large size. It does not shun the human being, but if beasts were able to live in water and grow to an abnormal size, a human would not be able to stay in the water for horror of them. Both day and night, whales seek out the surface and the bottom of the sea.

The strength in their flesh is so great that when eaten, it resists all perverse and weak humors. In creating all animals, God made certain forms in which he shows his strength. He does this in the whale so that this fish senses the iniquities of the devil and sends out his breath against him. The flesh of this fish is healthful and good for healthy and sick people to eat. Disdaining its strength, airy spirits flee. Wherever the whale senses anything diabolic around him, he contracts his skin, shows himself dreadful, and sends out horrible blasts against that phantasm.

A person who is delirious should frequently eat a sufficient amount of this meat, with only bread in addition, and he will recover his senses. One who is virgichtiget should often eat this meat, and the gicht will cease. Its brain is not of value for eating, just as with any brain—whether of fish, bird, or animal. The brain of an animal weakens and harms the person who eats it. But cook the brain of this fish in a new clay pot, boiling it in water while stirring it well with a spoon. Then pour it into another container and pound it well. Add the plant called goutweed and some olive oil. Cook it again in the clay pot, stirring well and so making an unguent. Someone who is tormented by strong gicht, or who has ague or ulcers, should anoint himself with this, and he will be healed.

Whosoever has diurnal, nocturnal, or mutable fevers which change in accordance with the temperature of the air, should cook whale’s lung in water. He should often eat it, and the fevers will go away. Because the lung cannot be saved all year, one should pulverize it moderately and often drink this powder in water or wine. Fevers of any kind, even if ague has raged in him, will cease. One who has eaten or drunk poison should pulverize equal amounts of the lung and liver, adding as much horehound as there is of this powder. He should add a bit of honey, cook it with pure, good wine, and drink it warm in the morning on an empty stomach two or three times before day. He will spew out the poison he had consumed by nausea, or it will pass through him into the privy.

Someone may save the bladder for a year, and if an ulcer grows on a person’s body, the bladder is softened in water and placed over the ulcer. The ulcer will break, and he will be cured. But take away the bladder after the breaking of the ulcer, and if you have scrofula on your body, make it soft again in water and place it on the scrofula, and it will vanish. If there are swollen glands on someone’s body, moisten the whale bladder with your saliva and place it over them, and they will disappear.

One who is troubled by gicht should place the eyelids of this fish in wine for a night or a day and then heat the wine on the fire. He should drink this often, and the gicht will go from him. If one is virgichtiget in his tongue and is unable to talk, shave some of the eyelid in water and give it to him to drink. He will speak immediately, his tongue recovering its strength. Paralysis in talking is often impeded by cold humors but is cured by the fiery heat of these eyelids.

If cows, sheep, or pigs are dying from a pestilence, pulverize the bones of this fish and toss this powder into water. Give this frequently to them to drink, and the sickness will go from them.

Make shoes from whale skin and put them on. You will have healthy feet and legs. Also, make a belt from this skin. Gird yourself with it against your bare skin. Various infirmities will flee from you, and it will make you strong.


Hildegard of Bingen

From the Physica. As the head of a Benedictine convent in the 1140s, Hildegard began wiritng down her visions—which she had experienced since childhood—in her Scivias. At a synod in 1147, the book received a blessing from Pope Eugene III, elevating its author to the rank of celebrity. In the 1150s, she toured Europe, preaching the importance of pacifism, faith, and medicine.