The Chirurgeon’s Tale

Lady Filippa di Genevra Francesca was Chirurgeon to the Principality when I first joined the SCA, and at my first Rowany Festival she gave this collegium on medieval diseases during one of the last feasts ever held at the Festival.

[Easter 1992]

Chirurgeons, while they like to keep it quiet, are more than merely leech-infested quacks.
They have a certain skill – so don’t deny it – for giving people sudden heart attacks.
A very good example, fairly recent, is Filippa, Chirurgeon at the time;
A lady with a knack I call indecent, for running rather graphic pantomime.

It happened, through an aggregate of factors, that Filippa was called upon to speak
On antiquated illness, using actors; a lesson both amusing and unique.
She gathered some accomplices together, and gave them all a list of what she had:
Diseases to be acted, hell for leather, and symptoms clearly labelled, good and bad.

And thus, with little formal preparation, began an epic not to be ignored;
For seeking to expand our education, she guaranteed that none of us were bored.
It started, as the people sat at dinner, when Morag brought her husband to the hall:
The unsuccessful Duncan, Scottish sinner, with wounds received that morning in a brawl.

Chirurgeon’s help was useless, he diminished; the wound was too severe, his life was done;
His wife however, clearly wasn’t finished: her loud lamenting deafened everyone.
Then Elenora rose, and started running, afflicted by the dread St Vitus Dance,
With fingers made of sausage, truly cunning, ejected as she stumbled in a trance.

And Mungo of the Rock, a noble fighter, upon a famous bridge had been harpooned.
He wished he’d merely died, the sorry blighter, when Lady Fili cauterised the wound.
But all the noise had roused a certain Laurel, our autocrat, the Mistress Marguerite
Who found the doc and had a mighty quarrel, asserting all this acting wasn’t meet.

So Filippa replied, all posh and plummy, describing all the sickness she’d ignored:
Venereal disease, and upset tummy, and poisoning from food, to be abhorred.
But when the Lady Laurel heard the latter, she clutched her throat and died upon the sand.
An unrehearsed and unexpected matter, the sign that this was getting out of hand.

For suddenly a leper, quite at random, approached amid the general disarray,
And all of Fili’s table mates, in tandem, descended to the ground and slid away.
And here was Martin’s cue – the storm was rising. He strode toward the Prince and Viscountess
And showed the sores (a trick of his devising) of scrofula, a source of great distress.

The cure was to be touched by someone royal, and Elfinn wasn’t pleased to fit the bill
His guard, a man both menacing and loyal, reminded Martin dead was worse than ill.
He wasn’t moved; he begged for Elfinn’s finger, to touch the sore and make his body clean.
He did, as custom said, but didn’t linger: the Lady Rowan’s face was turning green!

And when the prince at last removed his digit, the sores, all made of putty, came away.
The Viscountess, discreet, began to fidget, and asked to be excused without delay.
This episode, so trying for the gentry, was nonetheless occasion for a smile:
To take a topic, one so elementary, and make it so alluring spoke of style.

But never underestimate the rabble, the Lady Fili quickly came to see:
As certain noises rose above the babble, the whole event approached an apogee.
Sebastian, who sat at Fili’s table, was first to stand, to cough a bit, and die,
Then Gillian, her knees a bit unstable, she also coughed, departed with a sigh.

Then every diner sitting in her section, contracted (all at once) pneumonic plague,
Except for one, who smiled in her direction, and said “I feel all right, though somewhat vague.”
So peace arrived, for maybe half a second, till Alistair appeared in tartan dress,
And said, “I got a spider here, I reckoned, it’s sittin’ in me sporran — more or less.”

Another voice, from over by the Eric, concurred with this: “Tarantula!” it screamed,
The crowd (who love a dance) became hysteric, as with a thousand bugs the tavern teemed.
So up they got, the spider-bit and dying, and up they got, the mindless hangers-on,
And danced the tarantella, fairly flying, away across the darkened plain and gone.

And Filippa, Chirurgeon, stood and waited, till all the noise and chatter died away,
“So that was my collegium,” she stated. “I hope you learnt a thing or two today.”