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Author Topic: Medicine and Healing in Middle-earth
Roll of Honor Gna
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What are the natures of medical practice and the healing arts in Middle-earth, and how do they relate to traditional beliefs about medicine and health in our world?

I have an interest in RL history of medicine and traditional healing practices, so I always take notice of the healing arts as described in Tolkien's works. This passage about Glorfindel, from The Lord of the Rings intrigues me:

quote:
He searched the wound on Frodo's shoulder with his fingers, and his face grew graver, as if what he learned disquieted him. But Frodo felt the chill lessen in his side and arm; a little warmth crept down from his shoulder to his hand, and the pain grew easier. The dusk of evening seemed to grow lighter about him, as if a cloud had been withdrawn. He saw his friends' faces more clearly again, and a measure of new hope and strength returned.
Glorfindel has seen the hilt of the Nazgûl knife-can he sense the presence of the splinter embedded in Frodo's shoulder by simple palpitation, or by some more mysterious means? How does Glorfindel's touch lessen the chill in Frodo's arm, and dispel the haze in his vision? Do Glorfindel's personal qualities, similar to those of a comforting nurse or physician, inspire hope, or is there a transfer of some sort of healing energy? What did Gandalf and Elrond do to heal Frodo at Imladris?

There are many other descriptions of the healing arts in Tolkien's works, but I'll leave it to other citizens to bring them up for discussion.

*will delete if inappropriate for the Library*

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Thingol of Doriath
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Nice topic, my friend. []

Well... I've actually thought of this as well. Especially the medicinal properties of lembas and miruvor. Both had a very restorative effect on the user... almost narcotic in nature.

I was especially thinking of miruvor. Was there any alcohol in it? I know that the original miruvor was made from the honey/nectar of the undying flowers from Yavanna's garden... Elrond's mixture being less potent. Was it fermented? That would cause the user to feel "warm" and "energetic", at least for awhile... like a modern cold medicine.

I'll be back with more thoughts... though after reading your thoughts on Glorfindel, I'm thinking that Elven healing sounds very "New Age". Maybe Tolkien was ahead of his time?

[ 12-10-2003, 04:10 AM: Message edited by: Singollo of Doriath ]

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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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Herbal teas are still used today. I think athelas must have been like aspirin in its pain-killing and fever-reducing properties, as I mentioned in Miz Lobelia's Hobbiton Gardening thread long ago
"Regarding athelas, I thought of wintergreen, used for its minty aroma and for salicylic acid, a pain reliever and fever reducer. Its anti-inflammatory effect might have been just what Frodo needed."
Bethberry and others thought of sage for athelas, also.

[ 12-10-2003, 06:30 AM: Message edited by: Celebrían ]

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Roll of Honor Gna
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Thanks for your input, friends Singollo and Celebrían ! Isn't there a Quenya-speaking miruvor expert floating around the City in an ethereal and gentle manner? []

I think that athelas must have had properties very similar to those of aspirin (salicyclic acid), derived from willows and other Salix species. This is from an article by Sophie Jourdier, on "chembytes ezine":

quote:
Today the most popular uses of aspirin (1) are for preventing heart disease (37.6 per cent), arthritis (23.3 per cent), headache (13.8 per cent), body ache (12.2 per cent) and other pains (14.1 per cent). Its discovery stemmed from enquiries into ancient treatments that used plants of the genu Salix species - eg willow, poplar and beech trees, wintergreen and meadowsweet - in which salicylates occur naturally.

Hippocrates, over 2400 years ago, recommended the leaves of willow trees and the juice of poplar trees for eye diseases and childbirth, and even the Old Testament book of Leviticus speaks of the 'boughs of goodly trees, ... willows of the brook'. Later, in AD1, Dioscorides suggested:

"The leaves [of the willow] being beaten small and dranck with a little pepper and wine doe help such as are troubled with the Iliaca Passio [colic]... The decoction of ye leaves and barck is an excellent formentation for ye Gout ... "

Caius Plinius Secundus (AD23-79) in his Natural history lists many uses for salix species - a corn- and callosite-removing paste made from the ash of willow bark, an infusion of poplar bark for sciatica and the juice of the willow tree as a diuretic, being among them. Salix-based ancient remedies were also used in China, Burma, South Africa, and in North America.


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Dark Lord Andúril
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Well, as many know Tolkien was a christian, so he could have given the Elves, an almost biblical healing power, similar to that which we see some in the Old Testement, and mainly in the stories of Jesus in the Gospels.

Remember, Aragorn was said to have the "hands of a healer" when he came to Minas Tirith. Remind you of anything?

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Earendilyon
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Yes, that reminds me of Medieval kings who said to have had healing powers also. Thereby, one could recognise a true king.

Sounds familiar?

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Roll of Honor Gna
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Well, to a native of southwestern US, the mentions of medicinal herbs and healing hands bring to mind the curandero tradition:

folk medicine

I first became aware of the widespread dependence on curanderos in parts of the US and Mexico while taking a course in medical anthropology as an undergraduate. A folk illness known as susto, in which a frightened or traumatized soul flees the body, leaving the patient weak, listless, and perhaps unconscious, reminds me a bit of Faramir's condition in the Houses of Healing. As both Imrahil and Aragorn realize, Faramir's grave state cannot be attributed to his arrow wound, which has already almost healed. Aragorn realizes that weariness, grief, and above all, the Black Breath, are contributing to Faramir's desperate situation. To bring about Faramir's recovery, Aragorn uses three things that a curandero would use to treat a patient ill with susto : herbs (athelas), a healing touch, and calling the patient's name in that shadow realm where his or her soul walks in a dream.

quote:
For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost.

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CRAM it
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Gna - The passage that you provided regarding Glorfindel brought to mind the art of reflexology and acupuncture. The idea of pressure points on the body and working on certain pressure points to relieve pain in related areas of the body is an ancient idea, something I'm sure Tolkien must of come across in his studies and readings.
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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I've been re-reading The Two Towers, and noticed this -- apparently even Gollum knew some herbal remedies:
quote:
"Sméagol is not pleased. And Sméagol doesn't like smelly leaves. He doesn't eat grasses or roots, no precious, not till he's starving or very sick, poor Sméagol."

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Thingol of Doriath
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Even a dog will eat grass when feeling ill... []
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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*shot down by the proverbial exclusionary lit thread clique, about which so much has been written*

[]

*leaves in a huff*

*comes back, leaves in a minute and a huff*

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Thingol of Doriath
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Aw... come back WT! []

Gollum said "smelly leaves", so it could be kingsfoil that he ate when he felt bad.

[ 12-16-2003, 12:11 PM: Message edited by: Singollo of Doriath ]

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Roll of Honor Gna
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Singollo, even my irretrivably bubble-headed Pekinese mix knows to eat grass once in awhile-it's the other things he consumes while foraging in the backyard that are of greater concern... []

Of course Huan was no ordinary hound, and he was able to find herbs with special properties. From The Silmarillion :

quote:
It is told that Huan pursued the sons of Fëanor, and they fled in fear; and returning he brought to Lúthien a herb out of the forest. With that leaf she staunched Beren's wound, and by her arts and by her love she healed him...
Perhaps the herb that Huan found was calendula (marigold), the leaves and flowers of which are purported to reduce bleeding. Powdered cayenne can also be used to coagulate blood, but it would sting like all get-out. My bet is on calendula.

There are several examples of poisoned wounds in Tolkien's works, inflicted by venomous fangs or tainted weapons. There is venom on Carcharoth's fangs when he bites off Beren's hand with the Silmaril, and of course Shelob uses venom on Frodo. Frodo becomes ill on the anniversary of this poisoning each subsequent year, and thus never seems to recover fully. Any thoughts on the recurrent nature of Shelob's venom effects??

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Thingol of Doriath
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quote:
Powdered cayenne can also be used to coagulate blood, but it would sting like all get-out.
Really? Sounds painful... I'd rather bleed. []

I've never thought about the reoccurence of Shelob's venom. But the text actually say that? I always assumed that it was the memory of the attack...

*goes off to do a little reading*

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Roll of Honor Gna
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Singollo -I don't think the text says anything about Shelob's venom recurring; I just seem to remember something like "Frodo is ill on the anniversary of Shelob's attack". I'll have to check my book when I get home. Perhaps my interpretation of Frodo's persistent illness from the venom is influenced by my geographic location, which is known for abundances of:

a. surly or sneaky venomous creatures
b. recurrent parasitic infections

[]

Frodo's recurring illness somehow reminds me of malaria or amoeba infections-both are almost impossible to eliminate completely, and tend to recur when the patient is under stress. Perhaps Frodo's anxiety on the anniversary of Shelob's attack caused him to be susceptible to residual venom in his system?

*explanation pulled from the nether regions of my deranged brain* []

A [] EDIT: In The Grey Havens , Frodo's illnesses on the thirteenth of March in 1420 and 1421 are mentioned, but the link with Shelob is not made directly. The first time, Farmer Maggot finds Frodo lying on the bed:

quote:
...and he seemed half in a dream.
'It is gone forever,' he said, 'and now all is dark and empty.'

This would fit more with your interpretation, Singollo , that the illness is brought on by memories, and perhaps regret over destroying the Ring. But in Appendix B, it is mentioned that Frodo feels pain or falls ill on both the anniversaries of the knife wound and the Shelob poisoning:

quote:
Oct. 6 (S.R.1419) They cross the Ford of Bruinen; Frodo feels the first return of pain.
March 13 (S.R. 1420) Frodo is taken ill ( on the anniversary of his poisoning by Shelob).



[ 12-18-2003, 06:53 PM: Message edited by: Gna ]

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Thingol of Doriath
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Gna- I'd always assumed that it was the memories that caused Frodo distress... much like how my friend is depressed every year on the anniversary of his twin's death. But the text you quoted makes it sound like physical pain, not emotional...

I can think of no plausible, scientific explanation... therefore it must fall in the realm of magic.

Now, let's go swim some laps! []

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Roll of Honor Gna
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Magic???!!! Your talkin' to one of the world's most reducing reductionists here! []

But as for swimming laps, [] . Aerobic exercise is the best preventive medicine, here or in Middle-earth. If Frodo had been more buff, he could have fought his way through those Shelob-webs faster! []

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Roll of Honor bombadil
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It's both the memory and the magic, I'd think. Notice Frodo was ill March 13, and it was late March 12 or early March 13 when he was stung by Shelob. But he was fine on the 25th, which was the actual day when the Ring was destroyed. At least, according to this passage from the final chapter (emphasis added):

quote:
On the thirteenth of {March} Farmer Cotton found Frodo lying on his bed; he was clutching a white gem that hung on a chain about his neck and he seemed half in a dream.
"It is gone forever," he said, "and now all is dark and empty."
But the fit passed, and when Sam got back on the twenty-fifth, Frodo had recovered, and he said nothing about himself.

So he did not fall ill or feel pain on the anniversary of the Ring's destruction or of Gollum's bite every year; but he felt "pain" and "illness" every year on the anniversaries of Shelob's sting and the Lord of the Nazgûl's stab. (Good quotes from Appendix B, Gna -- and there are more the following year.) Since Gollum was just an ordinary creature with ordinary teeth (albeit likely in great need of serious dental work), but Shelob and the Black Captain's blade both had magical or mystical qualities about them, I'd have to think that made a difference. We know there were spells on the blade, and we know Shelob was the "last child of Ungoliant," so that would certainly set them apart.

EDIT: I'll be swimming laps Wednesday! Too snowy for biking now.

[ 12-29-2003, 06:13 PM: Message edited by: bombadil ]

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Snöwdog
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I guess I'd be curious where the healing knowledge of the Elves was. Elrond seemed to have a good hand, and Aragorn had good knowledge as well. Aragorn and Arwen's kids must of had some good healing knowledge with that combined bloodline.

Good topic this. Another one I missed during a tumultuous year in my life.

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Aiwrendel
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Although I can’t relate it to modern medicine or “traditional beliefs about medicine and health in our world” there are references to Orc healing:
quote:
He [Uglúk] was healing Merry in orc-fashion; and his treatment worked swiftly.
One was a sort of equivalent to miruvor:
quote:
Uglúk thrust a flask between his [Pippen’s] teeth and poured some burning liquid down his throat: he felt a hot fierce glow flow through him. The pain in his legs and ankles vanished. He could stand.
Then there’s a possible antidote to a poisoned Orc blade (if it was poisoned.)
quote:
[Uglúk] tore the bandage off his [Merry’s] head. Then he smeared the wound with some dark stuff out of a small wooden box. . . The gash in his forehead gave him no more trouble, but he bore a brown scar to the end of his days.

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