Gerard of Berry


Little is known about the Parisien physician Gerard of Berry, save that he probably lived and worked in the late twelfth century between 1180 CE and 1200. However, his influence in the medieval field of medicine is evident, given the number of other physicians who refer to him in their writings and the number of surviving manuscripts of his Glosses on the Viaticum.

Gerard is Constantine the African's first commentator, and he tells us in a preface to his gloss that he is undertaking the commentary for the sake of his Parisien colleagues who find Constantine too brief and negligent of some important points (Wack 39). Gerard's gloss contains some significant deviations from Constantine's text that deserve mentioning. First, he discards the humoural explanation of the disease. Instead, he defines lovesickness as a malfunctioning of the "estimative faculty" of the brain, an explanation that derives from a popular theory of the time that mental functions such as perceiving, judging, and remembering were localized in certain regions of the brain, often called ventricles or cells. Accordingly, the estimative faculty is the one that makes instinctive judgments. In the case of lovesickness, this faculty malfunctions because of "an excessively pleasing sense perception, so strong that it eclipses other sense impressions that might contradict it" (56). Upon perceiving a beautiful person, the estimative faculty orders the imaginative faculty--Chaucer's "celle fantastik" (KT 1376)-- to fix its gaze upon the individual. The imaginative faculty then orders the concupiscible faculty to desire the person, and lovesickness sets into full swing.

The second difference is etymological. Apparently, Gerard's manuscript of the Viaticum began with the phrase "Love that is also called heros," a popular transliteration of 'ishk or eros (61). Gerard takes this and glosses that "Heroes are said to be noble men who, on account of riches and the softness of their lives, are more likely to suffer this disease." For Gerard, wealth and leisure--the prerogatives of the nobility--lead to lovesickness. This sociopolitical localizing of the disease was a new twist on the lover's malady, one that would reinforce the popular artistic convention of "courtly" or "noble" love--love of and between the rich (60).



The Text of Glosses on the Viaticum


LOVE THAT IS CALLED HEROS. This disease is called a melancholic worry by medical authors. It is indeed very similar to melancholy, because the entire attention and thought, aided by desire, is fixed on the beauty of some form or figure.

It is difficult to understand what the cause of this disease is, by which the faculties are hindered. The cause, then, of this disease is a malfunction of the estimative faculty, which is misled by sensed intentions into apprehending non-sensed accidents that perhaps are not in the person. Thus it believes some woman to be better and more noble and more desirable than all others. Thus it is, for sometimes some sensed object appears very pleasing and acceptable to the soul, so that it judges other sense objects to be dissimilar [i.e., not pleasing]. Any unfitting sensations are, as a consequence, obscured by the non-sensed intentions [i.e. that the person is more noble, better, etc.] deeply fixed in the soul. The estimative [faculty], then, which is the nobler judge among the perceptions on the part of the sensible soul, orders the imagination to fix its gaze on such a person. The imaginative [faculty orders] the concupiscible, ill fact, so that the concupiscible desires this one alone, for just as the concupiscible [faculty] obeys the imaginative, so the imaginative [obeys] the estimative, at whose command the others are inclined toward the person whom the estimative judges to be fitting, though this may not be so. Moreover, the imaginative faculty is fixated on it on account of the imbalanced complexion, cold and dry, that is in its organ, for the spiritus and innate heat are drawn to the middle ventricle [of the brain], where the estimative faculty functions intensely. The first ventricle therefore grows cold and dries out, so that there remains a melancholic disposition and worry. Where the concupiscible power is located, however, I will not decide.

Now, some of the signs of this disease are drawn from the soul's part, some from the body's part. From the soul's part are depressed thoughts and worries, so that if someone talks about something, [the patient] scarcely understands; if, however, he speaks of the beloved, he's immediately moved. From the body's part are the signs: sunken eyes, since they follow the spiritus racing to the place of the estimative [faculty]; also, dryness of the eyes and lack of tears unless weeping occurs on account of the desired object. There is a continual motion of the eyelids, so that he laughs easily and is easily changed from tears to laughter. But nevertheless he weeps when he hears love songs and especially if mention is made of rejection and separation of beloved objects. All his members dry out. His pulse is disordered, for sometimes it is frequent and swift when he recalls something similar to the beloved object.

This disease cannot be perfectly cured without intercourse and the permission of law and faith. For then the faculties and the body return to their natural disposition. Before it is established, therefore, consider whether there may be burning of humor; if there is, purge it. Then administer lengthy sleep, humectation, and good nourishment, and freshwater baths.

Occupy the patients with various things, so that they are distracted from what they love. In this, moreover, the counsel of old women is very useful, who may relate many disparagements and the stinking dispositions of the desired thing. Also useful is consorting with and embracing girls, sleeping with them repeatedly, and switching various ones. Hunting and various types of games also help.

Love that [is called] heros: Heroes are said to be noble men who, on account of riches and the softness of their lives, are more likely to suffer this disease. contiguous to the brain: that is, incessant, because of the incessant preoccupation of the brain with the beloved thing, and the damage is transferred from the brain to all the parts of the body. loyalty: for whoever intimately cherishes another reveals all his secrets to him, and conceals whatever has been revealed to him. the extreme form of pleasure: for though he may delight in others, nevertheless in that one [he delights] most powerfully and extremely. sometimes of this love: he touches here on false "love," which is nothing but getting rid of superfluities. sometimes also hereos: he touches here on the cause of true love. in a similar: for when he sees something similar to the desired thing, he is more greatly moved and grows mad. the body follows the action of the soul: like tool and craftsman. the soul the body: for the soul is moved to various operations according to various natural or accidental complexions. For the Philosopher says that innate in the soul is a love of animating bodies. Thus it rejoices in those things that preserve it in the body and grows sad from those that separate it from the body, such as overwhelming emotions. Galen says: the faculty of the soul: that is, the function of the faculty. follows the complexion etc.: for the soul is moved to acting according to the complexion of the body. [It acts in this way] according to nature, I mean, for otherwise [it acts] according to habits acquired from philosophy or conviction, since a choleric complexion moves it to wrath, and similarly for the others. sound like spiritus: the sound of musical instruments is compared to the soul, for the soul delights most greatly in them, whence the delight is transferred to the body, for it is closely allied to the body. Because, therefore, the body suffers in love as well as the soul, he thus teaches a common remedy for both. let him drink wine: for temperate wine moistens the body.

Back to the Medical Texts Page

*All texts taken from:

Wack, Mary Frances. Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and its Commentaries.

Philadelphia: U Pennsylvania P, 1990.


Heffernan, Carol Falvo. The Melancholy Muse: Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Early Medicine. Pittsburgh: Duquesne U P, 1995.

Lowes, John Livingston. "The Loveres Maladye of Hereos." Modern Philology 11: 4 (1914): 491-546.

Wack, Mary Frances. Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and Its Commentaries. Philadelphia: U Pennsylvania P, 1990.

This page is part of a project created in May 1998 by Carey Smith, Aaron Welborn, and K. Braden Phillips for Dr. Susan Hagen's Chaucer course (EH 350) at Birmingham-Southern College.