Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The "Viaticum" and Its Commentaries

Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The "Viaticum" and Its Commentaries

Mary F. Wack









According to medieval physicians, lovesickness was an illness of mind and body caused by sexual desire and the sight of beauty. The notorious agony of an unhappy lover was treated as an ailment closely related to melancholia and potentially fatal if not treated. In Lovesickness in the Middle Ages, Mary F. Wack uses newly discovered texts and takes a fresh look at primary sources to offer the first comprehensive analysis of the forms and meanings of the lover's malady in medieval culture. She examines its importance in medieval literature and its role in the transformation of courtly love from literary convention to social practice. Drawing extensively from the Viaticum and its commentaries, studied for centuries in medical schools, Wack also addresses wider questions about the cultural construction of illness, the conflict between medicine and Church morality, the relations between lovesickness and gender, and the lover's malady as a form of behavior in late medieval society. The second part of the book contains annotated editions and translations of six important texts on lovesickness-the Viaticum and four commentaries on it.

Forty-six black-and-white illustrations provide a striking visual perspective on medieval love and medicine. Lovesickness in the Middle Ages will interest literary scholars and students as well as historians of medicine, sexuality, psychology, and women's studies.