We have covered a period in this essay that has come to be known as Medieval or the middle ages. The time period began around the 400 AD and ended around 1500. The aim here was to uncover historical events that have relevance for theories and practices of what today would be called speech-language pathology. Our history separated people and events into three somewhat distinct civilizations: the Eastern Greek or Byzantine, the Latin Western countries comprising what today we call Europe, and the Mideast Arabic world.
Within each of these three civilizations, we examined what was going on in medicine, rhetoric, disability, and education (including speech therapy). We presented, when possible, information on how people with communication problems were diagnosed and treated in these three medieval cultures, but the main focus was on providing a broad outline ideas and practices that had a bearing on what was later to be part of speech-language pathology.
Religion infused the ways the three cultural groups construed their world. In the Greek East monks and bishops worked to synthesize ancient secular medical practices of Hippocrates and Galen with Christian theology. Medical practitioners in the Latin West at first replaced secular medicine with religious medicine. People with illnesses in what is now Europe assumed they were being punished for their sins, and prayed to god, mystics, and saints for forgiveness and a return to health. The greatest medical advances of this medieval period were made by Muslims. For example, they built upon Arabic translations of ancient medical writings, they integrated various versions of ventricular theory and humor theory, and they discovered new diagnostic categories and medical treatments.
Rhetoric in all three civilizations was considered to be significant, and ranked high in the liberal arts curriculum. A primary purpose for rhetoric studies during these medieval times was to understand and improve one's skills in preaching. Persuasive rhetoric was also used to resolve contradictions between secular science and sacred wisdom of religious texts.
Religion also influenced the ways people with disabilities were regarded in these medieval cultures. One of the tenets of medieval Christianity was that people with disabilities would be restored to normal after death. Rather than resulting in full inclusion of the disabled, this belief led to the perverse religious value that people who were disabled should be treated with (Christian) charity.
This medieval period saw considerable number of pilgrimages of disabled and ill people to Christian sacred places in order to have their condition reversed. There are many miracle stories that have been handed down that describe religious cures, with special emphasis on cures of physical disabilities, deafness, muteness, and blindness.
Ancient Arabic cultures were the most progressive in their treatment of people with disabilities. The deaf and blind were part of the mainstream Muslim culture and the insane were provided hospice.
Higher education was formalized in this period, as can be seen from the development of institutions of higher education, both church related and secular. Scholastics often working in monasteries, translated, studied, and revised ancient philosophical and medical texts, with a special emphasis on the work of Aristotle. Some Christian and Muslim scholars focused on accommodating ancient texts to fit their religious frameworks. They also updated ancient medical texts to fit the secular thinking of the day.
Medieval treatments of speech, hearing, and language impairments involved both religious and secular practices. Saint Blaise, a Bishop and physician in the Greek East used scientific treatment for diseases of the throat. Following his death, he was prayed to for cures of those diseases. John of Beverly worked to cure the speech problem of a young man by making the sign of the cross on his tongue. And one can also find medieval examples of using phonetic placement and drill to remediate articulation problems. John of Beverly, for example, also had the boy practice saying his "letters."
Medical practices for treating speech, language or hearing problems included surgery, as well as methods designed to remove excess moisture from the tongue, a condition considered in humor theory to be the cause of speech impairments.
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