On Urines

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

A sixteenth-century copy of a Middle English commentary on Giles of Corbeil's verse treatise De urinis, closely related to Glasgow, University Library, MS Hunter 328. According to Professor Tess Tavormina, Michigan State University, 'The copy in the Manchester manuscript doesn't have the prologue in Hunter 328, and it also omits the quotations of passages from Giles's Latin text that occur in the Glasgow manuscript, but it does repeat the line drawings of urine flasks in the earlier copy and the English texts are very close in the passages I was able to compare, from the beginning, middle and end.' (Email to Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, 4 September 2006.)

Contents: (1) ff. 1-13v, 'Blac vryn hath evermor' a swartnesse and a dymnes the which accordith most to blacnesse... and make a confection therof and vse it often τελοσ.' A treatise on the diagnosis of urine by colour. The colours are in the same order as in British Library, Sloane 568, ff. 201-14: 'blac', 'bloo', 'whyte', 'glauk', 'mylkye', 'karapos', 'pale', 'citrine', 'rufe', 'subruf', 'red', 'rubicunde', 'ynopos' and 'grene'. Line drawings of urine flasks in text.

(2) ff. 13v-21, 'Ther ben iiii regiouns in mannys body vrin gordianus the first... uryn blac and watry in a fat man mortes significat.' The treatise covers the 'regions', 'circule', 'ampulla', 'granum vel granula', 'nubecula', 'spuma', 'sanies', fatness, thinness, oiliness, sediments (f. 19v To the ypostasis shuld long v condicions... ), signs of death, etc.. A similar Latin text is in British Library, Harley 1612, ff. 4v-9v ('Regiones urine sunt quatuor...' (f. 9v) Ypostasis debet habere v conditiones...').

In both items sentences usually end with the name of an authority, for example Ysaac, Avicenna, Egidius, Walterius, Gordianus, Galen, Ptolomeus, Theophilus and Gilbertus.

Script: Both items are in the same secretary hand: the bracket is employed to show a parenthesis (f. 16v: 'Also it is to be vnderstond that (as techeth the commentoure upon gilis) that iii thingis...'). Written space: 230 x 150 mm. c.40 long lines.

Secundo folio: Blac vrin.

Decoration: 5-line, 3-line, and 2-line initials in red ink.

Other features: No ruling: the edge of the leaf has been folded to make a vertical bounder. There are ink drawings of urine flasks on ff. 1r, 2v, 3v, 5v, 6v, 7r, 8r, 9r, 10r, 11r, 12r, 12v and 13r.

Description derived from N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 427-8. By permission of Oxford University Press.

Administrative / Biographical History

Giles (or Gilles) of Corbeil (c.1140-c.1224) was one of the founders of medical education in Paris in the late twelfth century. He avowed humble origins, and Alexander Neckam claimed that his mother was a wet-nurse to King Richard. He studied at Salerno and his subsequent teaching was based upon Salernitan theories and practice. He attached great importance to memorizing, and his verse compositions on medical subjects were intended as mnemonic aids for his students. He wrote two important Latin verses treatises on urines and pulses, De urinis and De pulsibus, which were largely restatements of the writings of Theophilus and Philaretus. They were widely copied and remained popular throughout the later Middle Ages, as easily remembered diagnostic aids for a wide range of ailments. Giles also wrote a lengthy non-medical poem of some 6,000 hexameter verses, entitled Ierapigra ad purgandos praelatos, satirizing the excesses and corruption of the clergy, and prescribing a good purging as a remedy. He was a canon of Notre Dame in Paris for much of his life. There is also some evidence that he was a royal physician. Sources: Ausécache; Rath; Baldwin, pp. 147, 150, 152, 156; O'Boyle, pp. 112-13 (see Bibliography below for full citations).

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Deposited with Owens College (later the University of Manchester) by the Manchester Medical Society in 1875.

Custodial History

(1) Manchester Medical Society, MS F26. Annotated 'Perfect T.W. 1879'. Thomas Windsor (1831-1910) was the Librarian of the Manchester Medical Society from 1858 to 1883. He catalogued the library and oversaw its transfer to Owens College (later the University of Manchester) in 1875. For further information see his biographical file in the Manchester Medical Collection. The relevant slip from a sale catalogue is pasted inside the cover.

Related Material

Professor Tess Tavormina, Michigan State University, has drawn attention to the similarity between English MS 1310 and Glasgow University Library, GB 0247 MS Hunter 328.


Mireille Ausécache, 'Gilles de Corbeil ou le médecin pédagogue au tournant des xiie et xiiie siècles', Early science and medicine, vol. 3, no. 3 (1998), pp. 187-214.

John W. Baldwin, 'Masters at Paris from 1179 to 1215: a social perspective', in Robert Louis Benson and others, Renaissance and renewal in the twelfth century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 138-72.

Edward Grant, A source book in medieval science (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974); pp. 748-50 contain a translation of Giles of Corbeil's treatise on urines, by Michael McVaugh.

N.R. (Neil Ripley) Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 427-8.

G.A. (Godfrey Allen) Lester, The index of Middle English prose. Handlist 2, a handlist of manuscripts containing Middle English prose in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester and Chetham's Library, Manchester (Cambridge: Brewer, 1985), pp. 66-7.

Cornelius O'Boyle, The art of medicine: medical teaching at the University of Paris, 1250-1400 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 1998).

Gernot Rath, 'Gilles de Corbeil as critic of his age', Bulletin of the history of medicine, vol. 38 (1964), pp.133-8.

Rossell Hope Robbins, 'Medical manuscripts in Middle English', Speculum, vol. 45, no. 3 (1970), pp. 393-415; provides useful contextual information but does not cite this manuscript.