Meister Eberhard on Partridge

The description of partridge – entry 71 – switches into Latin for the first part. Since the dietetic text is German otherwise, this is unusual. Some words in the Latin text are still given in German, too.

<<R71>> Rephun est frigide nature

[Latin text:] Partridges are frigid by nature, though not as frigid as domestic chickens. Its meat is not bad, but tender. Eating it does not harm healthy people much, but it is not good for the sick and causes phlegm (sleymig). Take its gall and mix it with old fat and often anoint yourself with it where lice grow on the skin from the sweat of the flesh (de sudore carnis). It passes through the skin and no more will grow. [Latin text ends]

[German text:] Partridges are very healthy, and Rhazes says of them that if they are eaten boiled, they will drive the evil moisture and any rotten food out of the stomach. They also cause constipation. [German text ends]

The following two entries, too, are in Latin:

<<R72>> Pirckhunn eandem naturam habet

Grouse (Pirckhunn) are of the same nature as those described above, except that their flesh is better to eat for both healthy and sick people than that of the preceding.

<<R73>> Awerhun calidum et aliquantulum humidum est

Capercaillie is hot and a little moist and is therefore good food for both healthy and sick people. If maggots or other worms are eating a man, take its bladder and strongly pulverise it. Take of that powder and put it into the place, and once the worms taste it, they shall die.

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

These parts stand out for the medicinal applications they include as well as the language they are in. A quick search confirms that they are, in fact, not original. These are quotes from Hildegard of Bingen’s Physica VI.15, 16 and 17 (though they are in order 16, 17, 15 here). And that is more surprising than it may feel to moderns, who are used to treating Hildegard as a medieval authority. The writings of Hildegard of Bingen were not widely read in the later middle ages. She was canonised and locally venerated, and copies of her works existed, but she was certainly not at a level with Avicenna or Rhazes, or even popular epitomists like Konrad von Eichstätt or the Tacuinum Sanitatis.

I would really love to know what was going on when our author – Meister Eberhard or not – wrote down these lines. Was he aware that he was quoting someone, or was he just copying a text? Was he quoting an authority, or just excerpting an interesting application? Did he know who he was quoting? If so, did he have access to more of her work? We do not know these things, and so far I have found no indication that we have any evidence either way. But it is fascinating to see St Hildegardis pop up like this.

Meister Eberhard is a recipe collection that belongs into a south German context, most likely associated with the court of Bayern-Landshut during its ascendancy in the first half of the 15th century. We know nothing about the putative author other than that he claims he was part of the kitchen staff there. The text contains an eclectic mix of recipes and dietetic advice heavily cribbed from a variety of sources, including the (unattributed) writings of St Hildegardis Bingensis. The text is published in A. Feyl: Das Kochbuch Meister Eberhards. Diss. Freiburg i.B. 1963 and online on the website of Thomas Gloning.

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