Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Befriend That Bear!

Keogh Zoologia Medicinalis HibernicaJohn K’eogh (1681-1754) was an Irish naturalist and the author of Botanologia Universalis Hibernica (1735), an early Irish herbal, and Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica (1739). His intent with both works was to show that his country was self-sufficient to produce all remedies to cure the locals of any sickness without the need to import foreign medicines.

Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, owned by Falk Library, is quite rare. It is bound in a modern Morocco leather, with gilded lettering on the spine. The paper used by the Irish printer might have come from the local mill, but one used by a binder has a clearly visible watermark of “Maid of Dort” which ties in to a Dutch master papermaker of the 18th century.

The book on the medicinal virtues of animals, written before the standardization of FDA regulations or the need to prove efficacy, offers information on remedies in a typical hearsay fashion for the times. K’eogh is familiar with medical classics. He cites Galen, Avicenna, and Rhases. He also refers to earlier naturalists such as Pliny the Elder, Albertus Magnus, Johann Hartmann, Jan Jonston, Ulisse Aldrovandi, and others.

“The flesh of a long crested lark eaten roasted, or boiled, as Galen reports, eases the pain of the colic”

He provides indices of Latin and Irish names, but lists all the remedies made from different animal parts under the English names of animals.

“The fat of a bear wonderfully cures alopecia or baldness”

“The dung (of a fox) mixt with vinegar helps to cure leprosy” while “the grease is good against the alopecia and of falling of the hair”

“A liver of a mad dog…is said to cure the biting of a mad dog”

Some of K’eogh’s advices may be looked upon as the first attempt at immunization.

“The heart taken out of a mouse when alive, and tied about the arm of a woman prevents conception, as Sextus saith.”

Others seem humorous by today’s standards. While we may laugh at the early birth control advice, it perhaps had some potential for effectiveness if a bloody mouse heart would serve to discourage amorous desires.

Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica ends with an entry on the medicinal virtues of the parts extracted from human bodies. Shiver or laugh, but befriend that bear if a receding hairline is your concern!

The book can be viewed in the Rare Book Room by appointment. Please email or call 412-648-4162 at least 24 hours in advance.

~ Gosia Fort