Arts, architecture, culture in Norman Italy

Medical culture : the legacy of oriental science

Although the Mezzogiorno had no prestigious university like Bologna or Paris, being close to the Moslem world, it did play an acknowledged role in medicine. In Italy, medical culture was spread through the monasteries. The major figure here was Constantine the African, who translated medical texts from the Arabic. Born possibly in North Africa, he lived at Monte Cassino, where he knew Alfanus of Salerno, himself a translator of medical texts (from the Greek). Helped by their pupils, these two translated a great many texts and built up a veritable corpus of western medicine in Latin.

But it was mainly in the town of Salerno in the 11th century that there was an extremely active medical circle, especially of practitioners, based on the Western tradition of the high Middle Ages. People like Garioponto, Petrello and others studied anatomy, and their acquaintance with Constantine’s translations gave rise to what became known as the Medical School of Salerno. It was the only entity to compare with the other great intellectual centres anywhere in the West.

previous page  The Normans in the Mediterranean  next page