With the cold and flu season spreading across 48 States, the CDC (the US gov.’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that high flu acitivity continues nationwide meaning that finding ways to avoid and reduce the severity of symptoms is on everyone’s mind. Cold and flu remedies from prescription antivirals to OTC brands to home remedies and immune boosting foods swirl through the media like the airborne viruses they seek to control leaving most of us wondering what is the best way to stay healthy.
Citizens of the early Renaissance relied on the advice and recommendations of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on health and sanitation based on the Taqwim al‑sihha تقويم الصحة (Tables of Health) by Ibn Butlan, a Christian physician born in Baghdad who died in 1068. This eleventh-century Arab medical guide focused on the ancient concepts of the Greek sciences that emphasized balanced eating, sleeping and exercising as a guide to healthy living. The word taccuino in modern Italian means any kind of pocket handbook, guide or notebook; in this case a reference manual with helpful hints for the Renaissance household on how to prevent illness. During the late fourteenth-century in Lombardy this illuminated manuscript of four notebooks was completed with sections on six things that are necessary for every man in the daily preservation of his health.
The first is the treatment of air, which concerns the heart. The second is the right use of food and drinks. The third is the correct use of movement and rest. The fourth is the prohibition of the body from sleep, or excessive wakefulness. The fifth is the correct use of elimination and retention of humors. The sixth is the regulating of the person by moderating joy, anger, fear, and distress. The secret of the preservation of health, in fact, will be in the proper balance . . . from the Tacuinum Sanitatis.
Among the recommendations for the elderly in winter and cold regions is eating dried fruits, nuts, figs and raisins and the drinking of fragrant and mature full-bodied red wine. It seems that the beneficial properties of resveratrol were known even then. The notebooks were definitely holistic in their approach, pointing out the importance of spiritual wellbeing and mention the benefits of listening to music, dancing and having a pleasant conversation.
The Renaissance version of WebMD includes lively illustrations that give us a fascinating picture of the lifestyle of late medieval and early Renaissance Italy with detailed drawings of men and women in their linen shirts and aprons, dresses and caps going about their daily lives and encourages the reader to enjoy each season of the year and the consequences of each type of climate, wind and snow.