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MEDDYGINIAETH, or medicine, numbers as one of "the nine rural arts, known and practised by the ancient Cymry before they became possessed of cities and a sovereignty;"* that is, before the time of Prydain ab Aedd Mawr, which is generally dated about a thousand years anterior to the Christian era. In that remote period the priests and teachers of the people were the GWYDDONIAID, or men of knowledge, obviously so called from their being looked upon as the chief sources and channels of wisdom in the land. It is to these men that the art of healing is attributed, which they seem to have practised mainly, if not wholly, by means of herbs. Indeed Botanology, or a knowledge of the nature and properties of plants, is enumerated as one of the three sciences, which primarily engaged their attention-the other two being Theology and Astronomy, as appears from the following Triad :—
"The three pillars of knowledge, with which the Gwyddoniaid were acquainted, and which they bore in memory from the beginning: the first, a knowledge of Divine things, and of such matters as appertain to the worship of God, and the homage due to goodness; the second, a knowledge of the course of the stars, their names and kinds, and the order of times; the third, a knowledge of the names and use of the herbs of the field, and of their application in practice, in medicine, and in religious worship. These were preserved in the memorials of vocal song, and in the memorials of times, before there were Bards of degree and chair."+
Myv. Arch. iii. p. 129. + L'anover MS.
Most of the nations of antiquity pretended to derive the medical art immediately from their gods. It does not appear, however, that the Cymry went so far as to claim for it a divine origin, except in regard to its elementary principles, though the practice of it was confined to the priesthood. In this latter respect also they differed from many old and powerful races. The most ancient physicians we read of in history were those who embalmed the patriarch Jacob by order of his son Joseph.* Moses styles these physicians servants to Joseph, whence we are sure they were not priests, for in that age the Egyptian priests were in such high favour, that they retained their liberty, when, through a public calamity, all the rest of the people became slaves to the king. In Egypt, then, religion and medicine were not combined together. That the Jewish physicians as a class were absolutely distinct from the priests, is also very certain; for when king Asa was diseased in his feet, "he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians."+ It would appear that such, likewise, was the case with the heathens, who dwelt near the Jews, as may be inferred from what is recorded of Ahaziah, king of Judah; when he sent messengers to enquire of Baalzebub, god of Ekron, concerning his disease, he did not desire any remedy from him or his priest, but only to know whether he should recover or not.‡
But among the Cymry all branches of knowledge were centered indiscriminately in the Gwyddoniaid until the time of Prydain. These in his reign were divided into three orders, Bards, Druids, and Ovates,
* Gen. 1. 2. +2 Chron. xvi. 12.
+2 Kings i. 2.
each having its peculiar duties as well as privileges. It was to the Ovate more especially that the studies and application of terrestrial and natural sciences, such as the one which now engages our attention, were entrusted.
In the Laws of Dyvnwal Moelmud "medicine, commerce, and navigation," are styled "the three civil arts," each having "a peculiar corporate privilege," which privilege is stated to be "by the grant and creation of the lord of the territory, authenticated by the judicature, and distinct from the general privileges of a country and kindred."*
The great legislator is said to have flourished about the year 430 before Christ. At that time, then, supposing the clause in question to be authentic, the art of medicine was protected and encouraged by the state-a fact which, whilst it indicates some progress in medical knowledge, tells much in favour of the humanity and peaceful habits of the people in general.
Soon after the era usually assigned to Dyvnwal Moelmud-about B.C. 400, Hippocrates lived, who is very generally considered as the father of physic, inasmuch as from his time medicine seems to have assumed the form of science among the Greeks. Whether any of the British Ovates became acquainted with his system in the interval between this and the Roman invasion, we are, of course, unable to say. It is possible that they might have derived some information of his medical skill and treatment through the Phoceans, who traded between Marseilles and Britain; and we are certain that they were not men
Ancient Laws and Institutions of Wales, Vol. ii. p. 515.