Ailments and Cures
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Social Aspects


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The practitioners of medicine in medieval Europe were both members of clergy and laymen. The clergy was educated by the Church, while the laymen either attended universities or joined a medical guild. The people who would normally join the clergy or universities were the sons of nobility. Guilds, on the other hand, offered an attempt at creation of the middle class in medieval Europe. Guilds consisted of merchants, who were not noble born, and their children who had an opportunity to choose a different craft. Usually though the craft "ran" in the family and the children were expected to continue the family tradition of a particular craft.

The concept of the university had its origins in the Middle ages. Schools had existed for centuries, as had academies of higher learning, but formalized, structured organizations created for the express purpose of education a group of scholars in selected disciplines did not come into being until the 13th century.

The course of study was as follows:

  • Students enter the university at the age of 14.
  • First part of schooling includes liberal arts (about 6 years of lectures). These are divided into two parts:
    • trivium - "three ways", consisting of grammar dialectic, and rhetoric
    • quadrivium - "four ways", consisting of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music
  • Two years of debate or disputations - upon the completion of this stage with satisfying results on the examinations, the students would be awarded a bachelor of arts degrees.
  • In order to pursue a master's degree, further studies were necessary. This usually meant another year of study.
  • Finally, students who held master's degrees were allowed to study such disciplines as law, medicine, or theology. Depending on one's course of study, this could mean up to 12 more years of education.

Students in medieval universities experienced the same distractions in their lectures as students today, as seen by the students in this scene of a 14th century German classroom. (From Staatliche Museum, Berlin.)

Medicine became a standard part of the medieval curriculum, and it is not uncommon to encounter educated clerics requesting medical handbooks and both seeking and giving medical advice.

Guilds were efficient and selfish organizations that had as a goal the protection of interest of their respective members. The well-being and honor of the craft depended upon the mutual cooperation of its members. Such attitude provided for great teamwork, exchange of ideas among the members, and development of the craft.

Guilds offered its members a certain level of protection, which turned out to be significant especially in medical guilds. Under the protection of a guild, physicians were allowed to practice medicine undisturbed by the less forgiving outsiders. Additionally, in many cases, guilds would encourage treatment of all patients, the poor and the rich the same, regardless of their financial status. The charge for service was according to what the patient could pay.