Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Figs, haemorrhoids and Israelites

I went to this rather interesting set of talks at the Royal College of Physicians,
which included a tour round the garden. One of the highlights was an explication of the Doctrine of Signatures - the idea that the Almighty had cleverly signposted what plants might cure particular conditions by making them look like they would. So figs are good for haemorrhoids, and haemorrhoids look like figs. At least they did to people in the C16th - so much so that the word 'fig' meant a haemorrhoid. When Shakespeare makes characters say "I care not a fig" he was being just a bit ruder than I suspected, though this post makes it all a bit more complicated.

It did rather make me wonder about the golden haemorrhoids which the Philistines apparently placed in the Ark of the Covenant when they sent it back to the Israelites via express oxen-post, as described in 1 Samuel 6:4. The King James version gives this as emerods, but it is clearly meant to be haemorrhoids, as the more recent translations indicate. Perhaps the King James translators just mistook the text's figs for haemorrhoids, and the Philistines were putting golden figs in the ark. Any thoughts, anyone? I asked the speaker (Dr Henry Oakley, a Garden Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians) but he didn't even know about the haemorrhoids in the Ark, much less whether they were really figs. Is this an example of the dumbing down of medical education?

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