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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. I
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, 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.
* Gen. 1. 2.
+ 2 Chron. xvi. 12.
# 2 Kings i. 2.
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 tradeil between Marseilles and Britain; and we are certain that they were not men to despise any opportunity that fell in their way of adding to the store of their general knowledge.
* Ancient Laws and Institutions of Wales, Vol. ii. p. 515.
In after times, however, we find that Hippocrates was much esteemed by the medical profession in this country, and the Physicians of Myddvai quote him with admiration.* But their acquaintance with him was, no doubt, derived from a perusal of his works, rather than by tradition.
Some people there may be who are unwilling to admit the authority of our native memorials as to the Druidic antiquity of the art of medicine among
the Cymry. But there exists not the slightest reason for any incredulity or doubt on the subject. On the contrary, the classical writers of Greece and Rome, as soon as they are in a position to address us, bear witness in a greater or less degree to the same fact, and support the general correctness of our traditions. The physical researches of the Bards and Druids seem to have caught their especial attention. “The soothsayers,” says Strabo, “are sacrificers and physiologists (puoio doyou.) The Druids in addition to physiology practise ethic philosophy.” Nature both external and human-causes and effects-diseases and their antidotes—all came under their cognizance, and in their hands underwent a complete and practical investigation. Cicero informs us that he was personally acquainted with one of the Gallic Druids, Divitiacus the Æduan, a man of quality in his country, who professed to have a thorough knowledge of the laws of nature, including, as we may well suppose the science of medicine.
* See § 176.
Pliny enumerates some of the plants most in repute among the Britons for their medicinal properties. He mentions the mistletoe, and observes that in Druidical language it signified “All heal,” omnia sanantem—a name indicative of the efficacy which it was supposed to possess; and it is remarkable, as corroborative of his assertion, that Oll iach is to this very day one of the names by which the plant in question is known to the Cymry. Nor does it appear that its virtues, real or traditionary, were forgotten in comparatively recent times. In the Book of Howel Veddyg, a descendant of the celebrated physicians of Myddvai, and which forms the second part of the present volume, we are informed that the mistletoe was efficacious in cases of general debilitynervous complaints-brain fever-rheumatism-affection of the heart, liver, bowels, kidneys, spineepilepsy-paralysis—insanity. It will strengthen the sight and hearing, and all the bodily senses-prevent barreness—and “whosoever takes a spoonful of the powder in his ordinary drink once a day, shall have uninterrupted health, strength of body, and manly vigour.”
Another plant mentioned by Pliny, is the selago,* a kind of club moss, resembling savine, which, according to him, the Druids much admired for its medicinal qualities, particularly in diseases of the eyes.
The samolus,t or marsh wort, is said also to have been greatly used by them to cure their oxen and swine.
Welsh Botanology comprehends several plants, which either by name or tradition, are associated with the art of healing, and may be referred purely
Lycopodium Selago, or Upright Fir Moss. + Samolus Valerandi, or Water Pinupernel.
to Druidical times, or at least to times when the Bardic College enjoyed the protection of the state. Such are the Derwen Vendigaid, or Vervain, the symbol of Alban Hevin, as the Mistletoe was of Alban Arthan-Arian Cor-Arian Gwion—Berwr Taliesin—Bogail Gwener-Boled Olwen-BronwenCerddinen-Clych Enid-Erbin-Eirin Gwion-Ffaen Taliesin— Golch Enid—Llys y Dryw—Llys Taliesin- Meillionen Olwen-Pumbys yr Alban-Yspyddaden, with many others.
We do not know to what extent British medicine was influenced one way or other by the Roman domination. It is very certain that the masters of the world did not generally regard with a favourable eye our native institutions; and as in the matter of medicine they themselves were not particularly celebrated, we are warranted in supposing that the medical college received no very great advantage from their rule. The Bards, however, though pre-eminently conservative, would not reject any real improvements which the Romans might propose to their notice, as we infer from their conduct in other matters, such as their reception of the Roman mode of making parchment and books.
Soon after the departure of the Romans, partiality for medical or physical pursuits becomes once more characteristic of our Cymric ancestors. The following constituents of man are attributed to the “Chief of Bards” in the 6th century.
" THE ELEMENTS OF MAN BY TALIESIN." “ Man consists of eight parts :—the first is the earth, which is sluggish and heavy, whence is the flesh. The second is the stones, which are hard, and these are the materials of the bones. The vird is water, which is moist and cold, and is the substance of the blood.